Monday, April 30, 2012

Magic Sauce

Ben and my dinner tonight. It was ramen...ish.
Ben's friend, Akihide, told us that there was a magic sauce that was the key to cooking here in Japan.
It's ingredients are soy sauce and mirin. He is absolutely right! Thank goodness he told us, because we are still learning the basics here, and just about anything can be made better with the right blend of soy sauce and mirin.

Thank you Akihide!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Internet and Service Providers

Cool Statue
We finally got internet! We have been mooching of a very slow wireless connection up till now, which has been frustrating, especially because we have no other form of connection to the outside world here. We still don't have phones. 

We spent the day cleaning the house and waiting for the cable guy to come. Ben and I had fun, but mostly just because we're easily amused.

Any service man who comes into your house (cable men, TV men, refrigerator delivery men) will come on time in Japan. They also take off their shoes when they enter your home. They bring cleaning tools necessary to clean any possible mess they make. In general they leave your home more tidy then when they arrived. This was a very pleasant surprise for Ben and I.

Ben and I went on a walk today. We brought my camera along because I wanted to show how great I look now. I've lost 20lbs and I feel great! 

Saturday, April 28, 2012


America is the capital of choice. There is an entire aisle devoted to laundry supplies. There are 6 types of apples to choose from on any given day. There are menus that look like books (Cheesecake Factory). That is not the case in Japan. There is less variety of ingredients at the grocery store. Menus are short, and often very by the day, month, or season. I miss my option to choose, but I think my lack of choice is probably keeping me more satisfied. If I had more options, I would wonder more about the option I did not select.

I watched this video a long time ago, but I've been thinking about it a lot lately. It talks about the the correlation of choices, and our satisfaction.
Ted Talk- The Paradox of Choice

"The key to happiness is low expectations"-Barry Schwartz

Friday, April 27, 2012


Today I didn't wear any foundation. I didn't really think about it, I do it all the time at home. They tried to send me home. Not because they thought I looked unprofessional or anything. They thought I had a serious rash all over my face. Teachers kept telling me I had little dots on my face. They were very concerned. I usually cover up my skin pretty well, and my arms and chest are covered. Some of the teachers were legitimately surprised that I had the little spots all over my body. For some reason I have about 10 times the freckles now than I did back home. I think my skin likes the humidity. I like my freckles, and am excited for them to come into full bloom.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

School Size in Japan

I teach at quite a few schools here in Japan. I have in total about 1100 students. Uenohara Elementary school is the largest school that I teach at with 600 students. Uenoharanishi has 500 students. Shimada is by far my smallest school with 60 students. Although each school has it’s own nuances, I will be focusing on only the aspects that are dependant on school size.

In Japan, the students clean the schools. They sweep, scrub, dust, they do everything. This has a few significant benefits. Students here learn respect for their environment at a very young age, they are the ones who will have to clean up whatever mess they make, so they are careful not to go over board. Each individual kid is a terrible cleaner, but some how the sheer number of students participating makes the whole process very effective. The schools do not hire janitors, there is no need. At Shimada, with so few students, there are less little hands to clean at the end of the day. This means Shimada is dirty. This school could really benefit from a professional. I have heard that once per trimester all the parents come in and help clean the school at Shimada. The community take on school maintenance is very new to me, I like it.

At a large group shy students can blend in and remain unnoticed, small schools they are forced to interact. It sounds like a form of tough love, but I think that It’s the best way. I was shy as a child, I got over it. I think having an environment where no part of the community can go unnoticed is the perfect environment for forcing out shyness. Shyness is actually a huge issue in Japan, I will write on it in a future post.

When it comes down to student performance, Shimada takes the cake. The students are advanced in nearly every topic. Their English skills are so far advanced from the other schools that I can’t even remotely use the lesson plans I have written for the other schools. The students truly benefit from the smaller class sizes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Earthquake and Street Rivers

In Boulder we have wind. It is powerful, and intimidating. I love wind. The wind is loud, but other than that, it doesn't bother me. I know that it can do damage, but it's such a part of everyday life at home, that I don't put much thought into it.

Everywhere in the world Mother Nature boastfully lets you know that she is in control. In Japan they have earthquakes. They scare the pants off me! This morning, at about 5 am, there was an earthquake. It did no damage, but it was loud and woke me from my sleep. It completely shakes my reality when there is an earthquake. The ground is solid, and stationary, I'm suppose to be able to count on that.

There is a lot of water in Uenohara. We've hit rainy season, which means, everything is wet. Ben and I have been learning everything about the rainy season the hard way. Umbrellas are surprisingly tricky to get the hang of. They have an odd gutter system here. The roads are really narrow, and so instead of wasting precious space on curbs and sidewalks, they just put grates in the streets. Now that it's rainy season, I can see the genius of it. It makes the streets sound like rivers though, which is really disorienting. It's soothing to hear the water, but when all I can see is a concrete jungle, my brain has trouble deciding whether it should be enjoying a hike, or watching out for oncoming traffic.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Language Barrier Diet

I have lost 20 lbs. since coming to Japan! The weight is just falling off. I cut a lot of corners back home, that could have kept me in better health. I walk everywhere here. (My pedometer tells me I walk at leaste 15000 steps per day). I can't eat any processed food here in Japan because Ben and I can't read food labels, and I don't trust food not to have dairy in it. Ben has the nerve to eat things like chocolate infront of me... I'm surprised he's survived this long. All the food we have in the house, for me, has fewer than 5 ingredients in it. By necessity, and stupidity, I have started a very healthy lifestyle.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Empathy and Book Recomendation

American's often joke how emotive latin American's are. I think Japanese must have the same jokes about Americans. One of my principals said he liked to hire Americans because it's like buying smiles. He thinks it is so funny that I just walk around smiling and waving at people, and loves the staffs improvement in moral. My parents always taught me, "life is 90% attitude", which is even more true when you have a huge language gap.

There is a huge culture gap in the department of empathy. A few days ago, one of the students was hit by a car while walking to school, it was devastating news (the student went to the hospital, but there is no predicted permanent damage). The person who told me, said it while smiling the entire time. In America, you would assume that person was a psychopath. It was very off-putting. For me as an American, there is often a disjunct between the content of the conversation, and the emotion portrayed by the Japanese person. It is bazaar. Today a women said that her daughter had a baby over the weekend. She said she was happy, and that she had wanted a grandchild for a long time. I kept getting really confused and expected there to be something wrong, because she said it with absolutely no emotion. It was very strange for me.

Japanese people laugh at my emotiveness. They say it takes quite a few drinks before they can be as "energetic" as me. I think they accept that that's just the way foreigners are, which is good, because I don't think I could ever have that much discipline.

Find it on Amazon

One of Ben's colleagues gave him a book to read, it's called "My Darling is a Foreigner". It's ridiculously funny. It does a great job of portraying cultural differences, in an extremely humorous way. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a good book or wants to learn about Japanese culture.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Engrish and Amazing Dinner

Ben and I are not very mature
Ben and I hit the engrish jackpot today. We decided to go into Hachioji for a change of scenery, and to run some errands. We had fun.
Tittie Red Riding Hood... 


 Ben and I found this today. It is a new record in Ben and my books for most absurd Hello Kitty themed thing. I would really like to see your guesses as to what you think it is, please comment below!

Ben and I had one of our best dinners so far. I originally noticed the restaurant because I thought it was a shinto shrine, Ben and I were lured in by the extremely low prices. The food was phenomenal. You only order your own entree, and they bring appetizers and dessert. The appetizer was veggies with a miso sauce. For our entrees we ordered the noodle dish pictured. It had noodles, green onions, sesame flavored pork, and a raw egg. It was so good! We also had another noodle dish with a broth dipping sauce, it was fantastic. One thing that I was really impressed with was the water... for some reason it tasted fantastic, it tasted like the smell of sprite, I'm not sure how it tasted so good. All the food was locally grown, and there were bios on the farmers, and the chefs in the menu. There was a sitting fee at the restaurant, but it was really reasonable for how nice the restaurant was, and how cheap the food was, it came out to $3 a person. The whole meal including the sitting fee came out to $22. It was a little more than we set out to spend, but it was a fantastic experience, Ben and I fully plan on returning to this restaurant as soon as we get our first paycheck. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Healthy Diet and 4/20

I have run into my first real health issue here. I am highly allergic to dairy, it makes me extremely sick. At home I read all labels, which is difficult enough, but here it is absolutely impossible. So far I have avoided the issue by eating stuff that couldn't possibly have dairy (whole foods).  I felt fantastic! Unfortunately I made the mistake of trusting someone else to check for me. It is common for teachers to eat the school lunches (they taste really good). The school was informed that I had a dairy allergy, but mistakes were made. It's been a rough week... I am still not feeling great, but Ben has brought me home the cure.

Japan has a zero drug policy. Illicit drugs are highly illegal. The penalty for possession of 0.1 g of marijuana is up to 5 years in Jail, and a up to a $300,000 fine. Unlike at home where the legality of marijuana is largely ignored, the drug law is enforced by the culture as well as by officers. Unfortunately Ben and I are now under some unwanted scrutiny because our hometown, Boulder, Colorado is in the news over here. There were news reports here on Wednessday that Boulder hosts the largest gathering of marijuana smokers in the world for 4/20. This lead to an extremely awkward discussion at one of my schools. One of the teachers approached me and informed me that there had been a report on the news about our home town. She told me that it might be a good idea for a while to not mention the name of my home town, and that I might experience a bit more mistrust in the town for a while. I hope that she was being overly dramatic, and I would like to think that the content of my character, (and the results of my drug test) would be enough to dissuade the rumors.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Uenohara Elementary School

700 Year old Tree
I teach at 3 different schools. One of them is called Uenohara Elementary School. It's a 1 minute walk from my house. There are 600 kids at the school. The building is 3 stories tall. I have my own english room. It's big, and has a beautiful view. There are no chairs, which is perfect for an active classroom. There is a beautiful view. On the premices of the school is a 700 year tree. Part of it is dead and blackened, but it's due to carry leaves very soon. It's so cool to see something so old!

Thursday, April 19, 2012


 We are now upon the the grand finally of the cherry blossom season. I was perfectly content with the abundance of white flowers, but this phase is even better. The leaves are starting to come in, there is a new multitude colors. My favorite part is the "confetti" littering every street. It truly feels like the end of a celebration.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Yin and Yang of Japanese Toilets

Going to the bathroom is a gamble. Sometimes you get a toilet that has come from the future, and it knows exactly what you need. Music for ambiance (or covering up impolite noises), flush levels, bidet settings, and fans to dry you. They are quite the adventure.

Then there are the toilets that laugh in your face. "Ha" they say "you think you know what to do with me, because you have camped? Witness my spray back abilities!" Squat toilets are horrible. I still don't know what to do with them. I'm fairly certain the only way for me to use one with confidence is if I walk into the stall buck naked, and hose myself off when I'm done. I still do not understand them at all!
Here's a video I found that is both helpful and humorous.

I'm still trying to decide which is harder, squat toilets, or space toilets...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Start of the Rainy season, and I'm Learning Japanese....NOT!

The rainy season has begun! Rain came down in waves, thunder shook the school, the lights flickered. The rainy season made a dramatic entrance. I learned the term zaza which is the term for when "it's raining cats and dogs."
Apparently I have been Borating all my coworkers. In Japanese there are many levels of formality, words subtly change depending on the formality level between people. In general the more formal, the longer the word. (Example to Ben I would say onegai (please) to a coworker I would say onegaishimasu (please) to my boss I would say onegaiitashimasu (please)). I thought that the phrase janai made things more polite;  I was wrong. I have been using it liberally to try to be polite at work. It basically means 'not'.
Many people asked me "Do you like the Sakura?" I emphatically responded. Hai, ski de wa janai! Yes, I like the flowers...NOT! I tried Jedi mind tricks on all the people who asked me if the books I were holding were mine. Hai, watashi no hon de wa ja nai. Yes, these are the not my books. People looked at me in very odd ways, I knew I was making mistakes, but I thought the janai at the end would let them know I was sincerely trying to be polite. Ooops! I have learned that the people whom I work with are incredibly patient with me, and I am very grateful for that. Hopefully by the time I leave, I will be able to tell them clearly how grateful I am for all they have done!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Laundry, Cooking, and Bathroom

Washing Macine
I thought I would talk a little about day to day life here. There are no dryers in Japan. It's very humid, and rains all the time. I miss my dryer. Ben and I are still getting the hang of air drying our clothes. We're not sure if there is a trick to keeping clothes from getting really wrinkly, we seem to have mastered the opposite technique.  We don't technically have a clothes iron, we use my hair straightener. After Ben and I move away from Japan, we are going to start our own new MacGyver show.

Ohh, hair straightener. You are so much more than a beauty tool.

Ben and I love to cook. It's a hobby we love to do together. Our set up here is nothing like our situation at home. We were well equipped at home. We had a large kitchen with lots of cabinet space, and more importantly counter space. Ben and I are pretty clever cooks, so we're making great tasting food still. But it takes a lot more thought. We have a pretty fantastic stove, it's a gas burner system, it can put out some serious heat. It has a small broiler, I'm going to try to bake in it, because I really love baking. I'll let you know how it goes.

I have previously mentioned that bath time here in Japan is magical. They have mastered the whole bathing system. Bathrooms are lined from floor to ceiling (doors and everything). You could do a cannon ball in your bathtub, and the splash wouldn't be a problem. There is a drain in the bathtub, and one on bathroom floor. You can shower on the bathroom floor. The bathtubs are deep, you can sit up right in them, and the water comes all the way up to your armpits. They also have the most amazing water heater. They're called tankless water heaters. You can't possibly run out of hot water. Which is heaven! We can completely fill our bathtub, and then take two showers with no problem at all.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hanami and Spirit Gauge

First Day of Sakura. 
Ben and I have been enjoying the sakura this week. They exploded out of no-where, and are already fading away.

This is the river near our house, one of the banks is completely lined with sakura.

Hanami is the Japanese term for flower viewing. Generally it is accompanied by a picnic, and possibly some sake. Today was the perfect day for appreciating the sakura. We stuck to just Uenohara, which turned out to be a fantastic choice.
 This is the grove just next to our house. It took us about three minutes to walk there. The town is completely littered with sakura groves, or paths lined with blooming trees. 
After the grove just by our house we went to the buddhist temple close to our house. In Japan there is a saying. "You're born shinto, you're married a christian, you die a buddhist." This refers to the rituals performed at each stage of a Japanese person's life. There is a huge graveyard attached to the buddhist temple near our house. It's beautiful, and the view of the city from it is breathtaking.

View from the graveyard

 After we toured around our house, we went to Lake Ohno. It's famous for Hanami. It's in west Uenohara, we had to drive there. It was everything we could have asked of the beauty of sakura. One of the sides had well groomed paths, while the other had hiking trails, and was completely wild.
Shrine on the Lake

 I liked the wild sakura better. Ben and I felt our spirits completely revitalized.  We start to feel just a little lost if we haven't seen some real nature in a while. The bird calls, overgrown paths, and spectacularly beautiful sakura groves made us feel like we could absolutely take on the world. Ben and I joked that our spirit gauges just needed a little ramp up. We love it in Japan, we just really need hikes.

The water was an amazing teal color

After climbing up a very steep hill we were rewarded with a perfect place for a picnic. 

There was a small shrine at the top of one of the hills, It was unkempt, but this gave it a certain appeal. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

My name is panties and AKB48

Boys at all my schools have been walking up to me and saying "Hello, my name is Pantsu" (Pantsu means panties). I make a buzzer noise, and dramatically let them know that I know that's not their name. They instantly feel more comfortable with me, and start practicing whatever English they can. (They still try to trick me, but at least they're practicing english!) It's funny how such a little gesture instantly opens up so much communication.
The girls want to know who my favorite AKB48 singer is. AKB48 is an obsession of many girls in Japan. It's a band consisting of 48 members. They sing very girly pop music, and do very cutsey dances. There are AKB48 stores every where. Just about anything can be found with an AKB48 logo on it. There are even trading cards with the members bios on them. I have chosen Sayaka to be my favorite, because her profile came up easily on my computer.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

English Conversation Club and Town Celebrities

Tonight Ben and I went to Uenohara English Conversation Club. It was really fun! The people in the club are all really good at english, and they are all very interesting people. They meet weekly, and Ben and I are hoping that we can attend regularly. Mr. Kurobe, who has been so kind to us, is part of the club. They asked about some of our idioms, like "I put my foot in my mouth", and "a stroke of luck." Everyone was so kind. They wanted to make sure we had everything we needed. I am so glad we get to meet so many kind people. There was one girl from Canada, she's been helping out in the club for a while. She's part of the JET programme. She was so nice.

I'm having so much fun here. People know about Ben and I, we kind of feel like celebrities. Ben is the tall, skinny, hansom guy. I am "the girl with the hair". I have about one thousand students, most of them live pretty close to me in town. They run up to me when I'm walking around and are really excited just to say a few words in English. I love it. I'm so glad they are excited. They have very high expectations of me. Ganbare! (I'll do my best!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Water Bottles and Cherry Blossoms

There are some really odd uses of clear, plastic, water bottles here. Sometimes they are set around doorways, sometimes they are set along paths, or along the edges of yards. Today I saw the extreme case of someone put dozens on their yard. I was told that the bottles are to scare away stray cats or dogs. The light reflecting out of the bottles annoys the them, and when they get close to the bottles they see their reflection, which is big and distorted, and they get scared. People apparently put them on their yards, and around their yards to keep animals from relieving themselves on the yard. It is also suppose to prevent animals from destroying newly planted vegetation. It looks really funny to me.
Here is a link proving/disproving the use of water bottles to scare cats.

The cherry blossoms are finally here! I am so excited. They are late this year, there was suppose to be a festival last weekend for the flowers, but it was postponed. Hopefully, we'll get to celebrate this weekend.  They really exploded out of nowhere. Monday there were no blossoms, but now the the trees are laden with flowers. There are hundreds of trees in the town. Now that they are covered in flowers, they truly are remarkable.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

First Lesson and Willy Wonka Elevator

I taught my very first class. It went great. The children learned, the teacher was pleased, and the students were really excited about the class. I really enjoyed teaching too. This job is more fun that most of the jobs I’ve had in my life. Though for the most part I’ve had pretty awesome jobs. I’m really glad I’m teaching elementary school. I think in every respect it’s the right age group for me. I think I’ll learn the most Japanese, I have a more developed skill set with this age group, and the teachers just let me plan and execute my own lessons. The children don’t have any sort of standardized test they have to take on English, so the teachers are very flexible. The teachers don’t speak very much English, so for the most part they defer to my judgment, which is a lot more pressure, but also a lot more rewarding.  My main job is to get them excited about learning English. I absolutely love this job.

I have an amazing journey to school on Tuesdays and Fridays. I take a Willy Wonka elevator up the side of a mountain. It’s beautiful and amazing. The elevator goes diagonally up the side of a mountain. It takes 5 minutes to get from bottom to top.The elevator has glass sides so that you can enjoy the ride. It really feels quite magical.

There is also an escalator option for the rush hour direction.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Twilight Zone Lunch and First Dinner

Today I experienced my first real bout of culture shock in Japan. I don’t mean the sensation where you just feel out of place, and everything is a little odd. I mean the feeling where alarm bells start screaming “WRONG!” in your head. It just felt so wrong, and I didn’t like it. I taught at Uenohara elementary school today, and it is often customary for the teachers to eat with the students, as a way of harboring good relations between teachers and students. This school has one cafeteria where all 600 students eat at the same time. As soon as I walked into the cafeteria a huge wall of wrong hit me. The entire room was silent. Not a single child was talking. They were all eating as quickly and quietly as they could. In a room full of hundreds of children there was no mirth. The worst part was when one of the 1styear students spilled her milk on her lap; for a good 5 minutes the only sound in the room was the sound of that girl crying. It just felt so wrong to me. I see the merit of having order in the lunchroom, but the whole situation felt so inorganic. At the end of the lunch there was a ritualized cleaning of the whole cafeteria, all the dishes were stacked, all the tables were washed, and the floors were scrubbed, all in complete silence. I felt like there was something terribly wrong. What must have happened to these children to make them not act like children?
Culture shock is a weird phenomenon; it absolutely defies reason. Every sensible aspect of my brain sees the merit in that system, but it still rubs me wrong.

Ben and I cooked our first dinner in our house. It was delicious. We made a stew, a salad, and rice. We ate it on our brand new table. Though please don’t look too hard at our table… it will start to look remarkably like a cardboard box.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Home Video and Town Pride

Today Ben and I got a stove, it was the last item of our must have check list, so we're all set up in our home. We're not really equipped for guests, but I'm sure we'll get things sorted out. I thought I would give all of you a video tour of our place. Please be warned though, it is a little dizzying....

I'll do another video in a few months when we have everything sorted out, but I hope you felt like our guests for a moment in our lovely home in Uenohara.