Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jelawat

If your train leaves Machida at 6:00 pm, and it takes and hour and a half to get home, what time will you get home?
2:00 am because Jelawat will throw a tree at a train!

Ben and I were aiming for a lazy day, and just wanted to lounge about in the city, but we got hit with a typhoon. It looks like it did some damage in southern Japan (News Here). The typhoon didn't really do any damage in our region other then one tree that hit a train/train track (we couldn't really understand), and stopped all train service to our town.

We had a good time regardless, but are very very tired!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hakone: Kinreisou Hotel


Ben and my hotel in Hakone was great, it was a tiny little hotel with only two guest rooms. We were in the smaller of the two rooms, but it was still very spacious. It was a traditional Japanese style room, with tatami mat flooring. There was a small low table in the center of the room, with all the settings for tea. 

Ben and I haven't spent many nights in hotels before, so we don't really know the terms. Our booking receipt told us that we had booked 1 room, with a half-board, we had no idea what that ment, and were delighted to find out it ment dinner and breakfast were provided with our stay. 


The dinner was devine, it was a absolute feast, and every component was amazing. The breakfast the next morning was also excellent. The meals were a perfect end and start to days of tourism. I usually skip the complimentary breakfasts at hotels in America because they make me very sick, but the breakfast was healthy and delicious. 

The hotel also had a wonderful hot springs bath in it. It was great for Ben and I because the rules of the rules of this bath were much more enjoyable for honeymooners than any of the others around Hakone. Mixed gender bathing was acceptable, and the bath was private. Many Japanese hot springs charge a small fortune for private baths. 
 

The hotel was in our budget (which is impressive), and the stay was amazing. It was beyond perfect for any young couple on a budget. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hakone: Open Air Museum and Hakone Mountain



Over the weekend, Ben and I treated ourselves to a mini-honeymoon. It was a perfect holiday.


We arrived in Hakone on the first day of fall, it was both the calendar first day of fall, and the season had suddenly changed from ridiculously hot, to a perfect room temperature throughout the city. The city is perfectly designed for vacationing, there are many destinations within the city, giving you plenty of options and no possibility of boredom, the public transportation is simultaneously effective and enjoyable, there are dozens of hotels through out the city in a wide variety of prices, and there are hot springs all over the city to sooth a body tired from a hard day of sightseeing. The city gets a lot of tourists, but it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap, which is an incredible feat in city design in my opinion.


Ben and my first stop in Hakone was the Open Air Museum, an outdoor gallery of statues, installations, and landscaping prowess. The whole museum was so utterly enjoyable, the art was amazing, and the idea of an art museum where you walk around outside to appreciate the imaginations of people far more creative than yourself is profound. There was a foot bath hotspring with an excellent view of the grounds, it was fantastic.

Ben and I ate lunch at the dim sum restaurant in the museum, the food was excellent, I particularly enjoyed the soup filled dumplings. The restaurant was elevated so that you could see the whole museum from the window of the restaurant and the beautiful mountains in the back ground.

















After the museum we decided to go to the top of mount Hakone. To get there we took a train, until the mountain was to steep for that, then we took a cable car, until the mountain was too steep, and then transferred to a ropeway. It was beautiful floating over the Japanese forests, which were green and lush. When we reached the top we saw geysers, and sulfur springs everywhere. Ben and I felt no remorse as we completely ripped ass in the small cable cars over a cloud of sulfur, we felt like the mountain itself was challenging us, and dim sum is not ideal for digestion. We climbed around on the mountain, there was a little shack at the top of the mountain that sold black eggs. The black eggs are made by boiling chicken eggs in geysers, which turns the shell black, and gives them magical properties. If you eat 1 black egg, you will live an extra 7 years, if you eat 2, you will live an extra 14 years. The whole area was littered in egg shells, and smelled like rotten eggs/sulfur I honestly couldn’t tell you which I was smelling.
We decided after climbing around the mountain to find our hotel, our hotel stay was amazing… stay tuned for part 2.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Perfect Moment

Over the weekend Ben and I went to Hakone for a mini-honeymoon. We had an amazing time! I really wanted and should have written about Hakone before now, and I did try, but I kept feeling dissatisfied with my entries, because they in no way reflected the amazing time I had. I will write about my whole weekend, but for now I have to write about just this one moment.
I had a perfect moment over the weekend. I haven't had many perfect moments in my life, in fact I haven't had enough to count on more than one hand, and I can list all my previous perfect moments on cue.
1. Watching the elation of my dog 'Flash', with my family, the first time he saw sanddunes
2. The moment I opened my bassoon case for the very first time
3.  Sitting on top of my car, listening to music during my senior year after getting accepted into the colleges I wanted to go to, and figuring out that Ben and I would still be a couple when I headed off to college
4. The moment I saw Ben when I was walking down the aisle at our wedding

The reason that all of these moments are perfect is because each and every one came as the satisfaction to something I had been desiring for years, and the sheer luck of everything all coming together perfectly at the same time.

Here is the background you need to know to understand why I had this perfect moment:

-Ben and I dated for 7 years before getting married. We started dating in high school, and we were really just kids then. Very few dreams have lasted all those years, not because they were squelched  but rather because dreams have just changed. One of the few dreams that Ben and I have  kept for all that time was moving to Japan, so to be in Japan as a married couple is a dream come true.

-I lost 40 lbs., the scale hit the 40 lb. mark the morning we left for Hakone. It's been a long hard battle, and I'm not done yet. A little girl on the train pointed at me and said that I was pretty, which made me feel like I had accomplished so much.

-I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I have a family who loves me, and amazing friends. One of my friends back home was an art history major, and really likes the artist Rodin. The Open Air Museum features Rodin's "Balzac". Walking around the exhibit and seeing pieces that I knew she would love, reminded me of just how happy and lucky I am to have wonderful friends and family.

-I have been dreaming of the art in Japan for years, and specifically I have been dreaming of seeing this statue since I was in high school. To use the most cliche terms possible, this statue just speaks to me. I've made up stories in my head of why this head is what it is, why the artist made it, why they left blank eyes.  For years when my mind wandered I have thought of stories about this floating head. I think it is beautiful, haunting, and zen.

-We arrived in Hakone of the first day of fall, the day was 70 degrees, which was incredible  it hadn't dipped below 80 since we had gotten back for our wedding.

-Ben and I had designated this weekend as a honeymoon, which ment that Ben and I were reminding ourselves and each other of how happy we were to be together, and in love.

-Hakone is beautiful, and the Open Air Museum is one of the most spectacular places in the world.

So here was my perfect moment.
Ben and I had walked around the museum, we had seen the statue I had longed to see for years, we had seen Rodin's "Balzac", we snuck a kiss in a romantic corner, and had made our way to the museums finest gift to it's guests... the hot springs foot bath. We dipped our feet into the hot water, and looked out over the beautiful landscape and grounds. Then the perfect moment happened, Ben reached over and held my hand. Everything came together, everything was perfect. I was incredibly comfortable, exactly where I wanted to be, exactly what I wanted to be at the moment, and with the person I most wanted to be with. My life is so wonderful, my future looks amazing, and I have so many amazing people in my life. I am so amazingly happy!




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Autumn

The first day of fall is a national holiday here in Japan. It fell on a Saturday this year, so I don't know if people usually get a day off of work, but the day is marked as a holiday in calendars. The best part is that fall actually started on that day, Friday 80+ degrees out and insanely humid, Saturday was in the low 70's, the nights are in the 60's, which means that I am sleeping like a rock!
I love fall, it is my favorite season, and now that it is not tainted with a dread of mid-terms I feel everyday is worth celebrating.
The food is really good now too, the local vegetables are in season right now, and many of the local gardeners offer us their delicious bell peppers, and purple sweet potatoes as we enjoy the new fall air.
September might just be the perfect month to be in Japan.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Overtime

I don't think there is such a thing as overtime in Japan***, well at leaste you don't get paid for it. Ben and I have been working a ton of overtime. We're only contracted as English teachers, but when something big is going on, we're another able body that they can and will put to what ever good use they can. Usually I don't mind staying late, or doing strange tasks, it usually gives me the chance to socialize, or leads to an invitation to socialize later. These last few weeks I have been working a lot of overtime, and way too much of it has involved brisk paces. It's really tiring, but very satisfying. I will be putting together a Halloween festival for the students at my school, which means I really have my work cut out for me this month. The students and teachers are really excited, and I think it's going to be a blast. Wish me luck!

*** I am completely wrong about this, my schools thought I was getting paid overtime, and assumed I was getting paid for my extra work.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Aum Shinrikyo


A few weeks ago was September 11th, many Japanese people asked us about the day, and spoke about tragedies regarding terrorists in general.  This is when I learned about the group called Aum Shinrikyo, the group responsible for the largest terrorist attack in Japanese history.

Aum Shinrikyo was started in 1984 by a man named Shoko Asahara. Asahara claimed that he had reached enlightenment, and formed a religion with origins based in Buddhism, Hinduism, Yoga, and Christianity. In 1989 the group applied for the status as an official religion of Japan, and was approved.

Asahara delivered highly dynamic sermons. He incorporated references from pop culture, science fiction, and popular manga. He criticized older religions for losing their followers due to dull, lifeless sermons. The Aum group also used modern advertising techniques to draw in new followers1. The religion was highly intriguing and modern lending itself to many of the elite in Japan, who were dissatisfied with their lives and sought spiritual guidance in the modern time.  The religious group gained high popularity, and at its peak had more than 40,000 members, 10,000 in Japan, and 30,000 throughout Russia2.

Aum Shinrikyo’s main doctrine was built around an obsession about the apocalypse. Asahara referred to himself as Christ, he was to be the savior to all his followers, and he alone could guide them to their survival at the end of days4.  Asahara strove to take over Japan and the world in the wake of an apocalyptic WWIII. Asahara said that a war would start between the America and Japan, and would result in a nuclear Armageddon, thus the end of days.

On March 20th, 1995, Aum Shirikyo conducted the most devastating terrorist attack in modern Japanese history.  5 subway lines, all of which converged in Kasumigasuki and Nagatachoo, grounds for the Japanese government, were simultaneously attacked. Canisters of Sarin, a potent and highly volatile nerve agent, were punctured and then released on the five trains. The day of the incident, 13 people were killed, 54 were injured, 980 became very ill, and more than 5,000 were temporarily blinded. In the aftermath more than 1,000 have been disabled or remain permanently ill due to contact with a person who was on the train at the time of the incident. Many health workers fell ill as a result of their work on that day.

 In the wake of the Sarin Gas Attack police lead raids on Aum facilities across the country. At this time they found thousands of kilograms of the chemical precursors to sarin, enough to kill 4,000, 000 people. A Russian military helicopter, the illicit drugs LSD, and meth, safes with millions of dollars worth of gold, as well as explosives were all found. Biological weapons were found, including anthrax and Ebola. It was later found that the group had intended to aerosolize the Sarin and distribute it around the city using the helicopter2.

As a result of the raids by the government, the cult felt a strengthened sense of unity. In the eyes of the members, this only goes to prove the vindictive nature of the government, which is one of the fundamental teachings of Asahara4. The groups retaliated by promising to devastate the country beyond anything that the nation had ever seen on April 15th, 1995. A state of emergency was declared, and hospitals stocked up on nerve agent antidotes, and the Japanese Self-Defense Force was put on standby. The day passed by, the entire city of Tokyo debilitatingly scared, but no attacks were made6.

Since the attacks were made much has been revealed about the cult and its members. It was also found that the group had carried out a smaller practice attack on a residential neighborhood. 7 were killed in that attack and 100 injured, in what officials had previously only known as a mysterious attack2.

At least nine biological warfare attacks had been made by Aum in Japan prior to the 1995 Sarin Gas attack. All had been ineffective because none of the strains used were sufficiently virulent3. Attacks had been made on the imperial palace and surrounding city, and the American Base at Yokosuka. No one was killed or harmed as a result of the biological attacks carried out by the group, which lead to their decision to use chemicals in future attacks.  

May 5th, 1995 two bags were found in Shinjuku station, (the busiest station in the world), during rush hour. One contained sulfuric acid, the other sodium cyanide, which when combined produce the lethal hydrogen cyanide gas7. The bags were found before the chemicals combined. If the attack had successfully been carried out successfully it would have likely killed upwards of around 20,000 people.

Aum has made a staggering number of attacks; many lives have been lost to them. All the incidences involving Aum are outlined here: http://cns.miis.edu/reports/pdfs/aum_chrn.pdf

Aum still survives, though it now goes by the name Aleph, and in 2005 pulled in a staggering income of over $300,000 by selling products online through unsalaried cult members. More then 500 live in cult communes, and the group still heralds over 2000 members4. Though the group has had no attacks since 1999, the group is closely monitored by police forces. Aum members are highly disliked in Japan, many companies refuse to hire those affiliated with Aum, local offices refuse to provide residence status, and homeowners refuse to rent or sell properties to members4. According to their website they are apologetic for the incidences their group caused, and are steering future endeavors in a new direction. They still believe follow the teachings of Asahara, due to his “genius in meditation”. As a group reform they have steered away from appointing a new guru, and will continue to follow the meditative teachings of Asahara. The website indicates that all changes outlined are to be approved of by Asahara5.

1. Onishi, N. (2004, February 24). After 8-year trial in Japan, cultist is sentenced to death. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/28/world/after-8-year-trial-in-japan-cultist-is-sentenced-to-death.html?src=pm
2. Fletcher, H. (2012, June 19). Aum shinrikyo. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from http://www.cfr.org/japan/aum-shinrikyo/p9238
3. Broad, W. J. (1998, May 26). Sowing death: A special report.; how japan germ terror alerted world. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/26/world/sowing-death-a-special-report-how-japan-germ-terror-alerted-world.html
4. Marshall, A. (1999, July 15). It gassed the tokyo subway, microwaved its enemies and tortured its members. so why is the aum cult thriving?. The Gaurdian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/1999/jul/15/features11.g2
5. Joyu, F. (2000, January 18). Outlook on the aum-related incidents. Retrieved from http://english.aleph.to/pr/01.html
6. Bellamy, P. (n.d.). False prophet: The aum cult of terror.Crime Library, Retrieved from http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/terrorists_spies/terrorists/prophet/20.html
7. Monterey Institute of International Studies. (2001).Chronology of aum shinrikyo's cbw activites .       
            Retrieved from http://cns.miis.edu/reports/pdfs/aum_chrn.pdf 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I think America needs to Reevaluate Sportsmanship

American children are now taught "everyone's a winner." There are participation ribbons, and even the kid in the corner who mostly just stared at butterflies is congratulated for their effort. Young soccer teams all congratulate themselves on their "teamwork".

I think this is appalling. I think that Americans are robbing their children of an opportunity for greater happiness in adulthood. 

Sports are mostly meaningless in life, and that's sort of the point. They are suppose to be fun, and are often very cathartic. 

In life you will fail. You might not get the job you were hoping for, you might not get into your top choice school, or maybe your latest project at work just didn't go so well. If you played sports, and were allowed to win and lose, then you have the emotional skill set to deal with these things. 

When you are part of an athletic team, you learn so much more then just how to be an athlete. You learn how to work with people, even if you don't necessarily like them. You learn to push yourself, and others to do their best. You learn to recognize when you've had a bad day, and learn how to avoid the next. You learn that sometimes your best isn't the best there is, somebody that doesn't need to try nearly as hard as you can still beat you. You learn to cope with losing, which I think is the most important thing about sports. 

We have taken away the emotional part of losing from children; when they are faced with losing at something in life (which is quite common in the work force) they won't have the emotional tools to deal with it. 

In Japanese sports there are winners and losers. I think that this is in part what creates such an amazingly cohesive society. Individuals learn from a young age how do deal with their emotions, and learn to manage themselves as part of a team. Watching sports day here in Japan, to me, was the epitome of Japanese culture. I am so glad I got to be part of it. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sports Festival (Dances)

Interspersed between the different games during the day were dances. These were particularly impressive to me. I was proud of all of them, they all were part of something that was so amazing that I just had to take time to marvel in how magical they were. 

There were three dances.

A pop dance done by the 1st and 2nd graders.
It was outstandingly cute. 250 six and seven year olds all doing a pseudo thug style dance is something you can't miss. They all wore huge T-Shirts, and made their best cool guy faces. 


A traditional style dance called the Takeda was done by the 3rd and 4th graders.
They had clappers that snapped, which made the dance much more sensational. Their energy and enthusiasm were palpable. 


The 5th and 6th graders did a dance that brought tears to many people's eyes. It was done to gentle music, and was done as a series of poses. Although I did not get video of this dance, I did get pictures, which capture the essence of the dance. I cannot express how hard the students have worked, and how incredible their final product was. All the teachers were proud of the students, all the parents were proud, all the attending members of the community were proud, it was magical to be part of the audience.


















Monday, September 17, 2012

Sports Festivals

Put going to a Japanese elementary school Sports Festival on your bucket list. It is an exemplary performance in every respect of what it truly means to be human. 
Japanese are all about community. Each individual works hard to be a functioning cog in the clockwork called society. When hundreds of students all work together, all pushing each other and themselves  to do their best, I really cannot think of anything finer in life to witness. 

I realize that the juxtaposition between America and Japan may be what made watching a Japanese sports day so extraordinary, and frankly it made me embarrassed to be an American. The Japanese know how to make a sports day and the end result is extraordinary, I will not enumerate on why America fails in this respect, instead I assume that by an accurate account of the day the comparison will be self evident.

The sports day is planned and practiced for weeks, even months. Each student has many roles to play during the planning and execution process. Irregardless of age, each student is a crucial part of the day, because on the day of the festival, the adults will only be there to watch and cheer. The students make the decorations, set up the field, clean the school and bleachers, adults during this whole process are only gentle guides, and schedule planners, the kids do all the work. 

On the day of the festival the kids show up by eight, and their parents show up by nine. The morning of, the kids carry down all the chairs for the students and teachers. They bring coolers down, and bring out all of the sports equipment for the day. The teachers are there in the morning to help remind them what to do next, and to cheer them on. 

Opening ceremonies, opening ceremonies are about 15 minutes of pomp and circumstance to remind the students that they are all there to do their best. Only one team will win, but everyone can go home proud as long as they try their hardest. Each school has multiple teams, they divide the school into different color teams. Each color team competes in various events, and depending on their placement (1st, 2nd, 3rd, ...), they are allotted a certain number of points. At the end of the day, one team will be the champion, and will be given an award.

The games:
Japanese students really try their hardest. In a race they run as fast as they can, in tug of war they pull as hard as they can. Each competition through out the day is a game where the strongest team is only as strong as their weakest link. Students are constantly supportive of each other. With each game I would like to point out the finer examples of humanity witnessed.

Relay:
Rules - There were 6 relays throughout the day at Nishi Elementary School. There was the 1st grader relay, the 2nd grader... every single student in every single grade participates in the relay. 
Each relay race is an entire grade level, and every single student runs a leg for their team. 
Take away -What really amazed me is how hard they all tried. When a student fell, they got back up finished their portion of the race, and then limped off to the nurse. No-one gave up, and even when it was clear they were going to be the last place, they still fought as hard as they could to do their best.


Tug of war race:
Rules - 5 ropes were placed on the field. When the whistle blew 10 students from a team would race out and compete to get as many of the ropes over to their side as possible. If a group realized that the rope they were pulling on was not going to be won, they let go, and helped pull on another rope. The team with the most ropes on their side at the end was the winner. You had to be both fast and strong to win. 
Take away- Students had to figure out when to cut their losses, and when to fight till the bitter end. 


 Jumprope, Under, Rock-Scissors-Paper
Rules- With a partner students would run to the first obstacle. One student would role the dice, and the other would have to us a hula-hoop as a jump rope to jump that many times. Next one student would have to go under a hurdle, then the students would have to win against a teacher sitting at the end at rock-scissors-paper, and run back so that the next pair of students on their team could start. The first team to finish with all the students was the winner.
Take away- Students loved the luck aspect of the game.













Don't Drop the Ball
Rules- Students worked in groups of 5 to carry a ball balanced precariously in a circle. They had to carry it to the cone, and back to their team, and if they dropped the ball they had to stop and get it. Once all members of the team finished with the ball portion they all had to stand in a line holding hands, and get a hula hoop from one end of the line to the other without letting go of eachothers hands.
Take away-Team work

Tug-of-war
Rules-Regular tug of war with massive teams.
Take away- Never seen so many people play the same game at the same time.








Ball Toss
Rules- Teams competed to get the most balls in their basket before time ran out.
Take away- None of the kids spaced out, or stopped trying








 3 man Skis
Rules - Skis 3 food straps on each were given to each team. In groups of 3 the students had to run to the cone and back, so that the next group could go. The first team to finish won.
Take Away- This game was hilarious, everyone was laughing. Kids kept falling, and there were piles of kids, it was hilarious. One team did so badly that they had about half their team left when the 2nd to last place team finished, but they still kept going, until every member got their turn.



Fat Man Pants
Rules-  A huge pair of pants was given to each pair of students, each student had to get in one leg, and they had to run around the cone and back, and then give the pants to the next pair.
Take away - if one student in the pants ran faster then the other, then they would bot fall. Almost every student fell, and on the speakers going they played Yakety Sax style music.


Huge Ball Race
Rules- The students had to push giant balls around a cone, and then over all their team mates (crowd surfing style).
Take away- Telling kids that everyone is a winner makes everyone feel like a loser, but if a game is ridiculous, and really fun, the kids don't care that much if they win.

There were dances through out the day, which I will describe tomorrow
To Be Continued...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sea Monster

GAH!
Most things that come out of the ocean scare the poop out of me. Due to a recent news reports, I have now learned that the old sea serpents of legend are real.

Imagine a creature with a long serpent like body, a head remarkably like a shark, and an un-hinging jaw big enough to other sharks, and teeth that bend as to lock it's prey inside it's pit of doom. If you had told me to draw one, I probably would add scales, demon eyes, and fiery breath, but the scales and fiery breath would be inaccurate.
Off the coast of Japan in the depths of the ocean (aka hell) is where this creature lives, and in my opinion, where it should stay. Lately though for some reason unknown to the masochistic scientists that study these sorts of things, the monster has been coming to the surface much more frequently.  I don't like this at all.
The real name for this creature is a frill shark. They are evil looking creatures with horribleness on every inch of them. Bleh, bleh, bleh....

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Costco

We went to Costco!

Costco in Japan is a magical portal back to America. It's amazing, all the Costcos here look exactly like Costcos in the states, they have the same layout, the same familiar foods; candies, pastas, and most importantly SALSA! Ben and I would have probably gotten a Costco membership just for access to salsa.






We had so much fun, it really felt like a mini vacation back home. There was a large christmas section which was really reassuring, now we know where we can go for christmas if we're feeling really home sick. I can picture it now, Ben and I sitting next to a christmas tree in the Costco exchanging gifts. 
Thank you Costco for being amazing!