Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

I had a splendid Halloween! 
Today I taught at Shimada. The school has only 64 students, so all the students know me, and I have been pumping them up for Halloween for nearly a month now. 

One of the students at Shiamada absolutely loves Halloween. He is a special needs student, and most of the time he seems to just be confused about who I am, and why I look so different. When he found out that Halloween is an American holiday, and I am an American his excitement was palatable. 

This student loves Halloween year round, and he works very hard to bring Halloween to life in his own life (in fact I would say he has a gift for it). This year, the school gave him a small piece of land to grow Halloween pumpkins on. He has been caring for them since last June, as they grew he brushed dirt and other vegetation off so that they would grow as round and perfectly orange as possible. Today for Halloween he finally cut them. He grew five perfect pumpkins, and then he cut them into Jack-o-lanterns.

Not often in your life will you get the chance to participate in someone else's perfect day, but I got the opportunity to participate in his. All the students and teachers at the school knew that today was first and formost his special day, because it was halloween. All the students were excited for him, and for halloween. The teachers were eager to let me add to his special day. No-one in his real life had ever fully participated in Halloween before, so when I showed up in full costume, he began to cry with joy, which left me, and almost anyone who saw him, holding back their own tears.

He knew that you could cut the pumpkins, but he didn't know that you could eat the seeds. The teachers let me make candied pumpkin seeds with the seeds he scooped out of his five perfect pumpkins. His gratitude towards this treat was overwhelming, his first reaction after eating his first seed was to run to his teaching aid and insist that she enjoy it too. This boy has such a big heart, his first response whenever he is happy is to make sure that his friends are happy too.

This student understands the fundamentals of Trick-or-treat, but he has never been rewarded for his knowledge. I came to school prepared with a couple hundred stickers, so that I could let all the students trick-or-treat in the English room. I enjoyed watching him teach the other students that if they knocked on the door and said "Trick-or-treat" they could get a present from me. 

The day was wonderful, his happiness emanated in all the teachers. The most wonderful moment of the day came after lunch. He came to me with his teaching aid, and said (through translation)
"This Halloween is everything I ever dreamed of. You are a bear, which is wonderful, and you are a Halloween person. Thank you for making Halloween so wonderful! I want to give you one of my Jack-o-lanterns to say thank you." He gave me one of his perfect Jack-o-Lanterns. Few gifts in my life have come with such profound meaning. 

This Halloween was an absolute treasure because of a boy who took the time to experience his own profound joy, and in that joy, shared it with those around him. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I caught a lucky break this week with Halloween. Normally I am not suppose to wear (much) makeup to school, but this week with Halloween I have been caking my face in makeup. It’s a good thing I can wear so much makeup because I have a massive bruise above my right eyebrow. It pis massive, yellow, and really puffy. Luckily neon pink is a fantastic color for hiding bruises.
How did I get this bruise?
Well, I decided to sneak tickle attack this handsome gentleman I live with. The attack was highly successful, but his lightning quick reaction left me with a thundering headache. I do not regret my actions, but next time I might wear a helmet.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Care Bear

Halloween is this Wednesday  and so in my classes this week the students are having Halloween parties. Students know of halloween, but everything they have learned about Halloween has been through disney. There is no fear factor to Halloween. 

I love halloween. My favorite part is putting on insane makeup. I asked permission at all of my schools to go whole hog with the costumes, and each school gave me an excited thumbs up. I have two costumes this year one is a care bear, the other is a witch. 

The teachers and kids absolutely loved my care bear costume today. The teachers had never seen anything like it, and the kids squeeled like rabid fans when they saw me. Many students doubled over in laughter, and most just stared open mouthed at me. 

I found the costume at a Don Quixote for 1000 yen (about $10) the makeup is only blush and eyeliner. All in all I spent 1400 yen on the whole costume, and I love it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Election 2012

It's important to vote, especially when you are young. It's easy to be apathetic, lazy, or feel irrelevant, but it's really important that you are active in shaping the world you live in. 

Ben and I are able to vote in this election. We registered at our local registration office before we left. It was easy and only took about 5 minutes. 

We filled out our ballots out online, printed them, and then sent them back with proof of identification.

For all of you waiting out the campaign season and all the ads and campaigns that come with it, all I have to say is... Na na ni boo boo!!! 

Don't Forget to Vote!

Friday, October 26, 2012

No Adult Supervision

Last night Ben and I had popcorn and jelly beans for dinner.... I no longer remotely feel like  an adult, especially after the outstanding sugar crash Ben and I had.
We couldn't help ourselves... Popcorn is rare here, and so are jelly beans, but recently we acquired 16lbs of both, so we went crazy.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rock Paper Scissors

Americans have botched the wholes system of Rock Paper Scissors. Do you show your hand on "Scissors" or wait till just after you say scissors, or do you show when you say "shoot". It's not standardized, and this makes it far less useful. When I came to Japan I was taught by my students "how Americans play Rock Scissors Paper". 
1. The new order of the words is Rock Scissors Paper
2. You say the word Rock and make the rock gesture with your hand, then say scissors and do the gesture, then say Paper and do the gesture
3. After you say "Rock Scissors Paper" you but your hand behind your back and Say 1,2,3. On three you throw your gesture.
4. If you tie, you just say 1,2,3 again and throw a new symbol on 3, keep repeating 1,2,3, until someone is victorious.

This is an outstanding tool in life. As a teacher I use it to pick which student gets to be a volunteer when many students want to be a volunteer ( if you loose to me, you're out, I weed them out until there is only one left). Ben and I use this system when we disagree on who has to clean the toilet. Kids on the street run up to me and play Rock Scissors Paper, just because they get a kick out of winning... or loosing. They're just happy that I go along with it.

Japanese kids have many sadistic systems for using Rock Scissors Paper to beat the snot out of each other  It's the Japanese equivalent of bloody knuckles. My favorite Rock Scissors Paper version to watch is one where if you win you get to grab a chunk of the other persons face, if you win again you use your other hand to grab another chunk of that persons face, and when you have both hands on their face you stretch their face around to hurt them and make them have funny faces.

My vote is that we just institute the english language version of Japanese Rock Scissors Paper. It works well, and is much less confusing.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

iPhones are Useless in Japan

iPhone dropped the ball. I know that I'm singing the same tune as everyone else who owns an iPhone, but the new maps system is horrible.

First of all, google maps is really stupid. Anyone who spends more than 5 minutes in Japan quickly learns that all all street signs, all train signs, and all signs that are at all useful for navigation in Japan have romaji on them (English alphabet). This is because Kanji is very difficult especially when it comes to names. Kanji can have multiple readings, so if you are lost and looking at signs, even the locals can have trouble understanding whether they are in Otsuki or Daitsuki, two possible readings for 大月. Ben is good at Japanese, but his kanji is still pretty rudimentary, it is a constant frustration for Ben and I that although we typed the search in romaji, the street names and block names are all in kanji.

I am actually baffled by how utterly useless the iPhone is now for navigation in Japan.
Here are the recent changes
1. The iPhone now only registers my current location about 1/3rd of the time, including places with full service, and a clear view of the sky.
2. Romaji versions of Japanese Addresses (i.e. the way you would write the address on a letter to Japan from the United States) are no longer valid when searching on the iPhone.
3. Searching for addresses in Japanese only works for major landmarks (you can no longer search for Ben and my house on the iPhone)

I searched for Uenohara Station... that is not Uenohara station

4. Most train stations no longer register as valid locations on the phone

5. Driving directions are now gobbledygook.
First of all, the directions are in miles. Miles are useless here,  it would be better if they gave me directions based on the length of a unicorn horn, at least it would make me smile. (I changed my map settings to km, but my directions still show up in miles).
Often the directions say "take exit" without giving the exit name (in Japan it is not unheard of to half a dozen exits within a km of each other).
Often the Kanji is just plain wrong.
And now, often, the directions get you to wrong places.

6. Walking directions now never work...ever. I wish you could at least pull up a map and watch it move as you walk around, but it can't track you (it never really could).
7. Directions often direct you to wrong places.
My search by public transportation
8. The stupidest part of the new system is it no longer allows you to get directions using public transportation. You can get anywhere worth going by train in Japan, and the entire country is built around their marvelous train system. I am so dumbfounded by this, I can't think of a single person in Japan that would find this useful now that it no longer allows directions by train.

I hope they fix the maps system soon.  If anyone knows a good app for navigating in Japan, please let me know!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Spirit of a City


St. Petersburg
Most cities I have been in feel like they have their own personality. There is a sort of  continuity, and they leave an overall impression. Edinburgh, Scotland feels homey, there is a warm coziness to the whole city, and you feel like people have been warm and cozy in it for centuries. St. Petersburg is majestic, there is a royal but cold feeling to the architecture, there are grand rivers and bridges throughout the city, and it feels like a page from a dark fairy tale. San Francisco feels like it’s ebbing and flowing, the city rolls up and down large hills, and the different economic levels throughout the city transition seamlessly into each other. You feel like each of these cities has a personality, and the architects that have the honor of building in them are inspired by their predecessors, and must eagerly anticipate building something to add to that city’s characteristic.

In my home town we have the University of Colorado. Each campus building is built with sandstone and is topped with red tile roofs. Each building’s architecture is unique and beautiful, but built with the same elements so that every building reflects the buildings built before it. If one of the buildings were to stand alone amongst dissimilar buildings, I don’t think I would ever even notice it, but as individual pieces in an overarching theme, I think it looks exquisite.

Tokyo is eclectic. It feels to me like the city that was built without any planners. Western style houses sit amongst Japanese style houses and scattered amongst those are apartment complexes that look like they are entirely built out of plastic. There is no continuity. Even the sky scrapers lack style. I feel like the city of Tokyo is the antithesis to the culture of Tokyo. Japanese people strive to be part of the whole. There is a big beautiful culture and each individual is a part of it. Every person is part of something so much bigger than them, and the individuals are elevated and motivated by being part of the whole.

Tokyo is a remarkable place, but because there is no overarching theme, no continuity, it feels to me like it has no spirit, no personality. In movies Tokyo is either portrayed as a city of neon lights, or as a very traditionally Asian city. It has both elements, but they might be found one right next to the other. Tokyo feels like many individual elements, all trying to be uniquely their own style, that are all smashed together into the same mass, and that mass is called Tokyo. 

Monday, October 22, 2012


Our friend Wendy is moving back to the States. We met her here early on in our stay, the town brought us together by the assumption that all foreigners should know each other. Wendy is famous in town because she has been here for nearly 15 years... and she was on TV.

Wendy has an amazingly flexible face, which lends itself well to stupid human tricks, which is the crux of Japanese TV.

 Wendy is a joy to be around, she's really funny, and has greatly helped us out in town. She has taught us so much, and has passed on one trick that we will treasure for ever.
These are the things that make me so proud to be his wife!

We are very sad to see her go, but she has eased the pain by letting us borrow many house hold items. We now have an oven, a bread maker, a blender, and a heater. These make our lives so much more comfortable, and make our cooking so much better.

Take care in America! We will miss you Wendy!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dairy Allergy in Japan

I have been out of commission for the last week, and unfortunately it is due to my old nemesis... milk. I had a cold three weeks ago, and so I got myself some vitamin C. The cold kept getting worse and worse until Friday when I had to miss a day of work because I was just too nauseous and exhausted (despite my nearly 15 hours of sleep every night). Luckily in my boredom I decided to read the label of my vitamin C, and found out that they had dairy in them. I wasn't sick, I had been poisoning myself.

I have a very bad dairy allergy. Even small amounts of dairy (less then a teaspoon) will have me praying to the porcelain gods for hours. In Japan milk is not a traditional ingredient in most foods, but it's still somewhat difficult to avoid eating dairy. For those of you out there with dairy allergies, the familiar enemies casein  and whey, are snuck into countless processed foods. By and large, I cannot eat junk food in Japan, this is extremely healthy for me.

For those of you with dairy allergies who are coming to Japan here are my tips and tricks for avoiding dairy.
For eating in restaurants your key phrase is:
Sumimasen. Watashi wa gyunyu arerugi desu. Gyunyu  batta  chiizu ya kurimu rui wa mattaku taberaremasen.
which means
Sorry. I have a dairy allergy. I cannot eat things with milk, cheese, cream, or anything like that.
You are not safe just saying I have a dairy allergy. The term for lactose intolerance is dairy allergy, so they assume that butter and cheese are safe.
If they say "______ haiteiru" or "dame". That means you cannot eat it.
I really recommend getting a dairy allergy card if you do not speak much Japanese.
Dairy Allergy Card

Luckily, since dairy is not a traditional ingredient in Japanese foods, eating a very traditionally Japanese diet will be safe. Western style foods will almost never be safe, and western restaurants usually use copious amounts of butter in their foods. The few times Ben and I have gone to a western restaurant, I have not eaten anything. I recommend if you are visiting, to just avoid western restaurants. It is also very risky to eat in fast food places, chain restaurants often have whey in their batters to keep things cheap but satiating. Do not eat curry here, they always have dairy.

When selecting a restaurant I recommend looking for places with very limited menus, and places that are very traditionally Japanese. Mom and pop style restaurants are almost always safe from my experience.

Grocery shopping is very tricky. All chocolate, breads, and chips tend to have dairy in them. I have drastically changed my diet here, I eat very little processed foods here. The junk foods that I do tend to eat are only a few guilty pleasures: Haribo Gummies, Oreos, and Soda Popsicles. I miss junk foods, but I feel really healthy, so I can't complain too much. I tend to buy all of my western food at costco, where the labels are still in English.

Dango and mochi are usually dairy free, avoid the big chain brands though. They are very tasty dessert, and found everywhere in Japan.

Overall I think it is easier to eat out in Japan then in the US. Food is very delicious, and unless you dislike Japanese food, Japan is a wonderful place for people with dairy allergies. I feel far less restricted here then I do in the US. I am a pretty good cook, which makes my life really easy. As long as I am eating delicious food, I generally don't miss what I can't eat.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pumpkin Coconut Soup

I've been sick this week, along with nearly all my students. I've been going to bed right when I've gotten home each night.
Tonight Ben treated me to an amazing pumpkin soup.
He based it off this recipe, but replaced cream with coconut milk.
Pumpkin Coconut Soup

Friday, October 12, 2012

Shrimp Chips

Every country has it's own unique range for chip flavors. In Russia I had pickle flavored chips, in Brazil I had Chicken. I've had tomato flavored, worcestershire, haggis, and sea weed flavored chips in my wonderful adventures around the world. The one flavor of chip I have seen in every country, other then America has been shrimp chips. Sea food flavored chips are popular all over the world, but are rarely found in the states. 

I think it's an excellent chip flavor. They taste like cheetos, but not orange, which is a good thing. I particularly like fried puffed chips that they serve in restaurants, they are starchy, greasy, and slightly shrimpy, a perfect bar snack.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Coming up: Tokyo Fashion week

Tokyo Fashion Week is coming up, and I am really excited. I've been looking forward to this for over a year. I love fashion, but my home town Boulder is a fashion black hole. It is more popular to go to school in your PJs, than to look like you have any idea of style.

I don't like to spend money on clothes ( I don't have the money to spend). But I love clothes, love shoes, but most of all I love makeup. I have extremely pale skin, and a dramatic hair color, I can easily look dark and brooding, or fresh faced and innocent. It's a hobby of mine, and one of the few I was able to bring with me to Japan.

Japan is an outstanding place for street fashion. There are amazing looks in a huge range. The most common look is an innocent femminine look, but sprinkled throughout the population are your punks, your lolitas, your cosplayers, and the art of mixing plaids. The way Japanese girls mix textures, patterns, and neutrals is an art. There is a purpose to the looks around me, other than the "I don't even have to try, to be hot" look.

The fashion magazines are addictive here, I never buy them, because frankly no one cares if you stand in a convenience store for half and hour and read an entire magazine, everyone does it. They give amazing run downs of how to put together a look. My favorite are the street style magazines that are organized into sections: First clothes, then shoes, then makeup, then nails, then hair. I can't read any Japanese, but you really don't need to in the fashion magazines.

I also like reading some of the Tokyo fashion Blogs, my favorites are:
Japan Streets
Tokyo Fashion

They tend to focus on more of the lolita and cosplay style stuff, but those are more interesting in a photo setting anyway. They are a minority, and these guys capture only the best, but I think that they're great blogs for spying on Japanese Fashion.

Fashion week takes place in Shibuya the week of the 15th, There hundreds of events, fashion shows, installations, and exhibitions  I don't honestly quite understand how everything works, but I'm excited. I think just the energy in Shibuya will be phenomenal.
More information:
Tokyo Fashion Week

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Happy Birthday Kelly!

My sister and dad had their birthdays recently. Although I still have no ideas for a gift for my dad I have found my sister her gift. 
My sister asked for a gift that was so cute it was scary, and I found it. 
It came from a store so pink, your eyes had to adjust before you could enter. The store clerk looked like he rarely saw the light of day, and instead spent every waking hour making his ultimate creations of cuteness. 
The creation I found for Kelly is a Korirakkuma. An iconic bear that is seen everywhere in Japan. This one is decked out in a tutu, bows, angel wings, bows, crystals, and it's own teddy bear. It has enough shiny on it to only slightly damage your eyes. 
It is absurd.

I will send it to her soon, but for now she will have to just know that I have her absurdly awesome gift waiting with me here in Japan.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Getting work as a Couple in Japan

For those of you lucky enough  to have someone to bring with you on your journey to Japan, here are a few tips and tricks to getting work while sticking together. Ben and I both work in the same town, we live in town, and my longest walking commute is about half an hour. We're pretty lucky, but there are many couples whom I've met who are in similar situations to us.

When to Apply:
The school year in Japan starts in April. Start applying for work by December at the latest.

What to Apply to:
JET is always a great choice for couples, though at this point it's almost a lottery to see who gets in and who doesn't. I highly recommend applying only for full-time work, and make sure you find jobs that will sponsor your visa. If you both apply as full-time ALTs then you will be working similar hours, whereas if you work part time, you may risk the chance of one of you working daytime, and the other evenings. Companies that are region specific will have an easier time placing you in the same place.

Tell the company off the bat that you are applying with your significant other. Many companies get so many applicants that there is no way for them to interview all of them. By letting them know that you are looking for work together they'll usually give your significant other higher priority.

Be very careful if you decide that one of you will work, and the other will be a dependent  Usually an ALTs salary is not enough to support two people. Dependent visas are also more difficult to come by, and you may risk the chance of one of you getting booted. It also makes finding an apartment really complicated, because it is very difficult for foreigners to find apartments  and companies do not like to sponsor apartments to people who are not part of the company.

Companies love to place couples in rural areas. Usually the logistics of trying to place two people in the same area of Tokyo are too complicated, and it sometimes leaves both people in the couple with ridiculous commutes. Be open to living in more rural areas, it often will give you a major leg up in the job search.

Personal Conduct:
PDA is a big no! Even holding hands in our small town is forbidden. Kisses, even goodbye kisses will get you in major trouble. If your company gets a complaint from your school, or local school board they may have no choice but to fire you.

Tourists in Japan: What to Wear

Pack the Right Clothes
Horrible Tourists!
Westerners are very casual, in mannerisms, and dress. It is the tendency for most Americans to wear tennis shoes, jeans, and t-shirts. Please do not wear this outfit in Japan unless you are climbing a mountain. American tourists are easily spotted in any country, and while Americans view themselves as dressing for comfort and practicality, they are doing this at the cost of disrespecting the culture they are visiting.  I would equate this to going to someone’s house and unbuttoning your pants for comfort, it’s awkward, rude, and way too casual. Do bring your tennis shoes, but know that they will only be used for hiking, garden viewing, or other outdoors activities.

Here are my good and bad choices for clothes in Japan


Jeans, Cargo Pants, Anything with holes, or anything “distressed”
Dress shoes
Fashion shoes (if you like to make a statement with your shoes, you’ll be right at home in Japan, this can include bold stylized tennis shoes)
Anything with holes
Anything you shouldn’t wear socks with (it is rude not to wear socks  if you are entering someone’s home, or place of business where they request you remove your shoes)
Colorful shirts with a black or grey pair of pants are best, plaids, stripes, and solid colors are all great
Don’t wear all black, or  all white. This is surprisingly  important.
Button up is best
They do not need to have long sleeves.
You do not need to look professional (that would also be weird) you just need to look like you care
Sweaters, and sweater vests are pretty popular
Band shirts, t-shirts, Anything too big
Watches (anything goes as long as there is no Velcro)
Rings (as long as they are not huge)
Buddhist beads
Be really, really careful if you want to wear jewelry my sweeping recommendation is don’t.   People here, men and women, don’t really wear Jewelry.
Carrying your stuff
A murse, or satchel of almost any type is fine
Don’t stuff your pockets-find any other way to carry your stuff,

That being said, if you are fashionable, then keep doing what you are doing, Japan will love you. Japanese men look very fashionable and will groomed (and often somewhat flamboyant). The most important things are, no holes in anything, Wear something colored (ie something other then just black and white), everything should look like it fits, and look like you care.


Almost anything goes
Flats are probably your best choice, because you can wear socks with them.
Wear socks whenever possible (nylons sometimes count) You’ll end up taking off your shoes a lot in Japan, and it’s really rude to go barefoot, in fact if you are wearing shoes that you can’t wear socks with, I would recommend packing a pair in your purse for the day.
Tennis shoes, flip flops, crocs, masculine sandals
Slacks or anything really fashionable that is not on the bad list
You can wear jeans that are not blue or black (ie very bold colors)
Jeans, Jeggings, Cargo Pants, anything that you could work out in (ie Sweat Pants)
Cotton leggings
Go as short as you want

Jean Skirts
Never wear pants of any sort under a skirt, (ie non sheer tights)
Something colorful
Spagetti Straps! (This is probably the most important tip, Spagetti Straps are considered underwear here)
Don’t wear a t-shirt with just pants, 
The most popular is pastels, but almost anything goes
All black, and all white.
Be careful if you are wearing a lot of really bright colors, don’t make an outfit too loud
Purses, hats, delicate jewelry
Big statement piece jewelry is not a good idea in Japan. I would highly recommend leaving your big Jewelry at home
Have fun! Highly patterned tights are really popular in Japan
Don’t wear anything that looks like pants, cotton leggings are usually a bad idea.
Make up
A very natural look is most popular, If you are going to wear something that is very bold make sure that it stays extremely tidy
It is fine to not wear makeup just make sure you don’t look like it was because you just rolled out of bed

A comfy and practical tourism outfit!
Doll up a little more then you are use to, especially if you are in a big city. Japanese do not dress nearly as casual, and an overly casual look will look like you don’t care. The most important things are nothing with holes, no tennis shoes, no cotton leggings, and make sure not to wear all black/all white/all black and white.

A shot in a train station.

Again, you may not care how you look, but that is not acceptable in Japan. You will be treated much more kindly, and be invited to experience so much more if you look like you care. Japanese do not yet have enough experience with foreigners to differentiate their experiences with a particular person from how an entire culture acts. Your kindness/rudeness/apathy will make much more of an impression then you will ever realize.