Sunday, January 27, 2013

For the health of children

In Japan, the emphasis on health is remarkable. Health education starts from the day you enter school. School lunch is designed by nutritionists, made from local ingredients, and generally consists of fish, rice, soup, and a variety of side dishes. The portions are all reasonable, and each student is served between 550-750 calories per meal. Everyday during meal time the ingredients and nutrients are read out loud so that each student can start to get an instinct for healthy foods.
Please read a more in depth article on this topic here:
Washington Post-On Japan's school lunch menu; A healthy meal made from scratch

A healthy meal everyday is amazing, and child health in schools doesn't stop there. Each term the children have a health evaluation, and among other tests, children's weight and height are taken into account. If the child is not healthy, a nurse will talk with the child and their parents, and discuss a plan.

In other countries it's your own prerogative how you treat your body, feed your kids, and maintain your health. In Japan, not only is it a social faux pa to let your physic slide, at the age of 40, it actually becomes illegal be very overweight.
NY Times-Japan seeking trim waists, measures millions

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Adrift in Tokyo

This week kicked both Ben and my butts, sick kids, leaky roof, and grumpy co-workers. Today we had to just recuperate.

We stayed in and watched the movie called "Adrift in Tokyo" (available on Netflix).

I'm tired of seeing movies about the Tokyo the city of neon lights, that Tokyo seems to exist only in the minds of film creators. This movie follows two men as they walk through Tokyo, they walk through the Tokyo I know.

I would recommend this movie to anybody, it's funny, and thought provoking. I see myself coming back to this movie when I'm feeling sentimental about Japan and want to revisit it for a moment.




Adrift in Tokyo has the kind of low-key, effortless charm that most movies sweat for. ... it is a masterpiece of throwaway lines and little oddities. This is a lovely film that should not be missed.”
David Austin, Cinema Strikes Back


How I'm learning Spanish

Ben and I have been studying Spanish for about a month now. Our language skills are coming along nicely, and I am increadibly impressed by Ben's language learning abilities.
I have an advantage, I took Spanish in High School, and in Colorado, there is so much Spanish in restaurants, on shampoo bottles, on public notices, it's hard not to learn some of the language. Ben took german in High School, so he is starting at square one.

Here is how we're learning Spanish:

Duolingo!
There are hundreds of free online courses to learn foreign languages online. Unfortunately most of them stink.  Duolingo is a crowd sourced online language course, that is incredible. It works as well if not better than any of the paid courses in any language I have ever taken, and it's completely free.
Duolingo lets you learn at your own pace. You can get skill points from completing a lesson, or practicing your weakest words.
The lessons are set up in a skill tree, which allows you to choose what you want to learn, and when to master a skill. I find that being able to hop between a few diffent topics, and review as I please greatly increases the amount of time I can study a language, before I burn out.
 If you like video games, this program will motivate you. During each lesson you get 3 hearts, if you loose all your hearts (by making errors), it's game over and you will have to try the lesson again.
I use this program to learn grammar, in a structured and effective way.

Television
Television in the language you are learning is an incredible tool. I found a Sitcom called Extra en Espanol that is specifically aimed at those learning Spanish. They speak much slower, and more punctuated. The show fairly amusing, and it's a great stepping stone for Ben and I to start listening to spoken Spanish. We watch an episode everyday, it really helps our Spanish.
We also watch Disney movies, and plan on watching many more Television programs in Spanish.


Wikipedia
I do this in all the languages I try to learn, but I pull up an easy topic in the language I'm trying to learn (Example- Manzana - Spanish for apple). I read through it and try to get the gist of it. When I come across a blue word that I don't know I click on it and try to figure out what that new world means. It's surprisingly effective and has really worked for my Russian, and I'm sure will help with my Spanish.
Manzana-Wikipedia

Being crazy....
The key to learning a new language is speaking as much as possible. Unfortunately, while I am still in Japan I have no Spanish speakers to talk to, so I talk to myself.
My favorite thing to do is think of a word (either from memory, or by looking a new word up) and then making a sentence with it. I then take one of the words from the sentence I made and use it in a new sentence, and keep repeating until my brain wanders off.

Singing to myself
Grammar is really difficult, but really important. When I learn a grammar point, and am having trouble remembering how to use it I make a song. Here is one of my songs where I focus on si (if) and using the conjugated and non conjugated form of verbs appropriately. It also really helps to record yourself in a new language because then you can hear all the mistakes you made.


Future plans for learning
Ben and I are getting an old copy of Rosetta Stone soon so we will be using that. We plan on doing language exchanges with Spanish speakers who are interested in improving their English (or Russian, or Japanese). We may also hire a tutor just to really jet fuel the process.

¡Deséenme suerte!


What comes next?

Ben and my contract ends at the end of March, and we have decided not to renew it. We have had a wonderful adventure here in Japan, which has just increased our thirst for world knowledge.

Our plan is to travel Asia for part April, we're waiting to get our next paycheck to buy our tickets. Thailand is our first choice, but right now we're also planning to go to South Korea and either Cambodia or Vietnam.

After we're done in Asia we're going to head back to The States. Ben is trying to get a job with Boulder County Youth Corps, or some other environmental agency. I would like to get a job as a lab tech. We're going to work, live with our parents, and save up as much money as we can.

In August we're moving to Spain! Ben and I are going to teach English in Spain, we don't yet know where in Spain, we're hoping to live in Andalusia. We're going to get our TEFL certifications, in August, and then begin work in September (when the school year starts).

Since the blog is about Katie and Ben in Japan, and I would like to keep it about Japan, I have created 2 separate websites:

 Katie and Ben in Spain
 This is my new blog about Spain. In the next couple weeks, I will be sharing how we're learning Spanish (spoilers, my husband is incredible), how we're preparing for our trip to Spain (Ben and I have learned a lot about moving to a new country the hard way), and even some recipes that I've learned from Spanish friends over the years.
Look forward to this blog in August when our adventure in Spain begins.

Katie and Ben in The World
Ben and I plan on traveling for the rest of our lives, and this is where we invite you to join us. Every blog from Ben and Katie in Japan is posted here, Every blog from any country we visit will be here. This is the spot for anyone interested in following all of our adventures. If you enjoy my writing, I recomend switching over to this website especially starting in April.

I have also included at the top of the page easy tabs so that anyone interested in another location will always have easy access.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Shotty Construction

The neighborhood I grew up in consist of houses mainly built in the 50’s and 60’s. That means the houses are about 50-60 years old. Although the houses were once a pop-up community, the construction was solid, and the layout of the neighborhood is pleasant, so the neighborhood continues to flourish.

College students occupy most of the smaller houses. College students have occupied many of those houses for my entire life (25 years), and even with the poor maintenance practices of college students, paired with apathetic landlords, the houses remain solid, and will likely be around for many more years.

I think Japan must be an architect’s nightmare. Loose soils,and earthquakes are enough to make my head spin, but paired with steep slopes,heavy summer rainfall, and tsunamis, there are a lot of elements to fight in this country. I don’t think this is an excuse for the abysmal construction work I see around town. Houses for the most part in my area aren't intended to last more than 30 years. On my walk home from Uenohara ES, I walk by houses that are literally crumbling, some of the houses are only about 25 years old, the windows have to be boarded up, because the house has warped too much, and the windows shatter. There are gaping holes in the walls, and in some, there are pieces of plywood over holes in the floor of the upper grounds. If it were a choice between homelessness, and a roof over my head, I see that these houses in ruins are the better option. The part that makes me sad though is that at some point these people had enough money to buy the house outright, but it now has no value. Even the land the houses are built on aren't enough to help the people whose homes have crumbled around them. In town the cost of tearing down a house costs more than the land it occupies.  One of the houses is on the main street, it no longer has doors, most of the windows are broken, and the floor inside is so littered in holes I see them stepping from hole to hole instead of on the floor boards. Sometimes when a house is no longer fit to live in, and the family has enough money to build a new one, the old house is just left abandoned, this gives an opportunity to those whose houses are too dangerous to live in, or someone who has recently come on hard times.


In my town, the value of houses increases almost regardless of other factors. There have been houses drenched in cat pee, and infested with a whole zoo’s worth of critters, but the house still sold for more than an average person makes in a year. Building a house in Japan costs less than in the states, but it would cost more than a year’s wages for a middle class family.The idea that you would have to throw a year’s worth of wages at something that in 30 years would be worth nothing, just flabbergasts me.
House on Main Street

House on Main Street

To me it is just mind boggling that houses here are constructed so poorly. Laminates are used for flooring, wall papers are plastered up on walls that let moisture seep into the house constantly, the walls are so thin that without some sort of energy input the house is always the same temperature inside as outside. The houses don’t look nice for very long, and make you constantly choose between comfort, or extreme power consumption.
New and Old

In a mostly socialist first world country, the housing system just seems absurd. I can’t imagine that it wouldn't help people economically to have lasting quality housing, with insulation, that would remain safe for generations. For the betterment of Japanese people, I really think there needs to be a change. 

I understand I should be laughing

There's an awkward thing that happens when you're immersed in a foreign language...
Here's the situation, it's break time at work, everyone is gathered round the coffee pot/water cooler/tea station and shootin' the shit, you cozy up to everyone else, watching/listening to the ping pong of conversation going on around you. Someone says something funny, and you laugh on cue with everyone else... Then it happens, that awkward moment... someone turns to you and asks in an excited voice "Ohh, did you understand?"

The feeling that you fit in shatters, you've been outed! I have no idea what they said, and in fact, you directly addressing me has shattered my thoughts of penguins riding unicorns. I didn't understand a word they said, but I understood that I should be laughing.

Years of social conditioning are not undone by a mere language barrier. I'm at work, everyone is higher on the social ladder than me, and suddenly one of them has given every social cue that they've said something funny, the head tilt, the slightly proud smile, and the twinkle in the eyes. I can't not laugh... But then someone calls you out on the fraud you are. Most likely they were sincerely excited at your sudden understanding of the new language, but your ego deflates, and you become much more fastidious with your chuckles and giggles.

Flu

Japanese have a strange relationship with disease. Anyone who has been to Japan will notice many people wearing surgical masks. During healthy months I would estimate about 1/10 people wear a mask, during the flu season (now) I would say about 1/3 people wears a mask.
Unfortunately, the Japanese have rendered the masks little more than a security blanket. Now that it’s winter, I never see people washing their hands, whether after the bathroom, after a nasty sneeze, or any other activity. Schools do not have hot water, and most people were reluctant to wash their hands before the cold set in. 
Sleep is essential for good health. Japanese beds are terrible. Futons should be reserved for the nights your drunk friend needs to crash. Ben and I have a good futon, but it’s still a futon. Regardless of the quality of their beds, Japanese people get less sleep on average then Americans.
My parents ran a preschool in their house. Every day, a dozen kids, between the ages of 2-4, trumbled through my home, and at pick up and drop of time I generally ran into at least one pregnant mother. I went to school every day. I felt like the ultimate conduit for disease, so I got every immunization the doctors could throw at me. I feel that it is every able persons ethical obligation to get immunized, firstly because the more people that get immunized, the more effective the immunization is on a population, secondly, not everyone can get a shot it’s not fair to compromise their health (especially if the reason they cannot get immunized due to health reasons). Most of the teachers I have talked to have not gotten a flu shot, which makes me nervous.
Why is disease on my mind?
Flu season is in full swing here in Uenohara, and a huge number of people have been hit. Today out of my 115 students I was suppose to teach, 21 were home with the flu. The small elementary school that Ben teaches at had 7 students out of 15 missing. All of my schools have instituted a mandatory mask rule, (English classes are significantly less effective with masks). Any teacher that gets the flu is required to get a note from a doctor clearing them for work. Any student is required to wait 3 symptom free days before returning to school. The teachers tell me we have not yet hit the peak of this flu season, which makes me nervous.


Ben tells me that when too many kids in a class get the flu, the whole class gets sent home.
So far 4 of his classes have been sent home out of 12 at the middle school.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Racism

Racism comes in a million forms.
Recently I had each of my students make a book about themselves, in the books they had one page that said "I like..." and a separate page that said "I don't like..." students were to draw pictures of things they liked. Unfortunately many of the students started drawing flags, and it taught me who Japanese are racist to.

The majority of children who drew flags, drew an American flag and a Japanese flag on the "I like..." page, and drew a Korean flag and a Chinese flag on the "I don't like..." page.

I know that many of the east Asian countries have strenuous relationships with each other. Much of this comes a history of brutal wars, occupations, and even exterminations. Neighboring countries who are struggling for power often become enemies.

I don't think my students have studied enough history to make their own judgements on the morality of the actions between countries. Their racism is being passed down from their parents. The racists in and around town that dislike Koreans and Chinese people tend to pat themselves on the back for not disliking all foreigners, and thus don't consder themselves racist.

Now sometimes racism can escalate, China and Japan have been pushing each others buttons over a set of uninhabited islands located between Okinawa and Taiwan. Both claim the islands belong to them. It seems to me that the two countries did not, and do not plan to negotiate an arrangement of who the islands belong to, instead both countries have been sending ships and airplanes over disputed/sovereign waters. The number of petty actions that have been taken on both sides are absurd, I'm not sure if other disputes seemed as petty and pointless as they bubbled into war, everything seems so to have been blown completely out of proportion.

One matter that I am very confused on, (I would greatly appreciate some comments below to guide me) is the matter of how Japan could go to war. Japan does not have it's own military, as an agreement from WWII, it has a self defense force, and the American military to protect itself. If it goes to war, will that mean that American military men will be fighting Chinese forces? If so, it would that mean that America was at war with China?

I haven't lost hope that this is all political theater, and will never grace the pages of history text books.



I have a vested interest in this matter. My opinion here is not unbiased, and I am not the most qualified person speak on this matter. If you would like to catch up on this topic, I would recomend reading the following articles.
Could Asia really go to war over these? (September 2012)
Japan Warns It May Fire On Chinese Aircraft Over Disputed Islands; China Retorts: "There Will Be No Second Shot"
5 New Reasons China and Japan May go to War Over Disputed Islands
China Blasts Clinton’s Comments Regarding Japan Island Dispute
Here is a very informative blog that uses articles to outline the dispute.
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/japanese-chinese-war-in-the-east-china-sea/

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Osaka



Ben and I spent the last chunk or our honeymoon in Osaka. It’s not the tourist haven that Kyoto, and Tokyo are, but if you are coming to Japan for food, Osaka should definitely be high on your list. Osaka has been the “kitchen” of Japan. It is a large port city, and was a major trading point both internationally and within Japan. Foods from all over the nation have been brought to Osaka where they have been amped up, and in my opinion perfected. Japanese food is excellent, but it all starts to taste the same. Without a very refined palate (which I cannot afford), I don’t think most people would be able to tell you one chef from the next, foods are highly standardized. In Osaka, the chef defines the meal, we had okonomiyaki  3 times in Osaka, (think of a the heavenly child of an omelet and a pizza). They were all very different and quite delicious, some of them used western ingredients like sausages, others made them with tons of seafood. The chefs in Osaka are quite imaginative, and made Japanese foods the way Ben and I had always dreamed they would be made.

Western food in Osaka is significantly less bastardized than in other regions of Japan, they used pepper, spices, and aromatics, which are all essential to good western cooking, but are generally not found in other regions of Japan. The greatest downfall of Japanese cooking is the lack of aromatics. Japanese tend to favor milder flavors that would be easily overpowered by any addition of herbs so it is understandable that they are not used, but some foods such as onigiri (rice balls) and many of the soups are quite bland and would be easily improved with the right addition of spices. The people of Osaka tend to take more risks with their flavors, and although sometimes this turns out very badly, I prefer the more imaginative and flavor intensive foods of Osaka to the more traditional foods of Tokyo

Ben and I did a bit of sightseeing during our stay in Osaka, but to be honest we were so worn out by our other honeymoon adventures, that we were much more content just plopping down in whatever restaurant we could find and enjoying the cuisine.

The only notable destination we went to was Himeji castle. We were really excited. The pictures of Himeji are beautiful, a pristine white palace, with on an expansive canvas of stunning gardens… Unfortunately the castle is under renovation. Instead of the lovely white castle, all we were able to see was a completely square building, which was built around it for the duration of repairs. The repairs began in 2012, and the best estimate of the guards around it was that the castle would not be viewable again until 2020. I really think Himeji will be worth a trip back someday, but right now there are better castles to visit, and better gardens to visit. When it opens again, I would recommend coming in late June to early July because it looked like the garden had a beautiful rose garden, and a lot of hydrangea. 
Wikipedia image of Himeji

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Osaka Tabe-Nomihodai



Ben and my most fun evening in Osaka actually took place in our hotel. The restaurant on the first floor offered a tabe-nomihodai (all you can eat, all you can drink), you pay for the meal, and then for the next 90 minutes you can eat and drink as much as you want. Ben and I walked past this sign about 6 times before Ben could no longer stand the challenge to his manhood, and was determined to eat like the king he is.  This tabe-nomihodai was unlike any that Ben and I had ever seen, the quality of the food was outstanding, it felt more like a 7 course meal then an all you can eat affair. The drinks were also very good (read strong), and Ben and I ended up having and uproariously fantastic evening.  Here is what they brought us in order.
Edemame- Soy beans in the pod, we ate them readily because we knew we would need the lubricant… in a day or so. This was accompanied by a glass of whiskey for Ben, and a Peach Chew-Hi for me.
Sausage platter- a plate of many meats with a reduced balsamic vinegar as a dipping sauce
Seared sunfish- a small plate of seared sunfish, with course black pepper and Yuzuu (I could be wrong on the type of fish, the meat was very grey, but delicious) This was accompanied by a whiskey for Ben and another chew-hi for me.
Fried chicken- Breaded deep fried chicken, seasoned in a western style, It was absolutely delicious!
Deep fried spaghetti- Deep fried uncooked spaghetti, I’m not sure if this is a thing or not, but it was really good, it was also very fun to eat. At this point in the meal Ben and I were full, and a bit intoxicated, keep in mind, this is at about the 45 minute mark. Deep fried spaghetti can easily look like walrus tusks, or cat whiskers, and since Ben and I had our own private dining area, we did not refrain from such immature acts. This dish was accompanied by some wine and more whiskey, which was a bit unnecessary.
Next came Salmon- Salmon cooked in tinfoil with onions and lemons, This was Ben’s favorite dish, and he spent most of his time explaining to me how he was going to make this for me someday, and how happy it would make him. I had been reduced to giggles at this point, and for some reason my husband’s desire to make me a delicious meal was the most hilarious thing in the world.
Spaghetti- Cold spaghetti with legumes, and interesting dish, that in the end was left mostly untouched.
All you can eat is always a terrible idea for Ben and I, it always results in both of us at the end of the meal trying to bribe the other person to eat the last bits of food. We also find everything hilarious, but cannot laugh too hard without our stomachs protesting. I’m not sure if everyone else’s brains shut down after consuming a lot of food, but Ben and I become complete idiots, I’m not sure anyone else would find us amusing, but we tend to find each other the most hilarious things on the planet after a massive meal.
We were glad we had done the tabe-nomihodai in our hotel, trains would have been very unpleasant for everyone involved. We had truly taken advantage of the immense amount of food and alcohol offered to us. We laughed ourselves into tears every time our back ends sang the song of gorging, and our back ends hooted every time we began to sing our songs of intoxication. We spent a surprisingly enjoyable evening of intoxication and flatulence, in a room far too small. We watched Japanese game shows, and made stupid bets with each other. We enjoyed one of those nights that are only perfect if done with the person you love.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tourists in Tokyo

Although travelers often try to distinguish themselves from tourists, sometimes it is just fun to be a tourist. The Japanese are tourist aficionados, and so in order to gain a profound understanding of the culture, I am encouraged to embrace my inner tourist.
Ben's parents came out to Japan this past week, and Ben and I had a great time. On Saturday, we all went out to Tokyo for a day of delicious food and tourism.
We started out at Tokyo station, renovations were completed this year, and the station is lovely. The large brick building, looks like it was stolen from another city, architecturally it looks entirely western. The station exterior is beautiful, and a welcome sight in contrast to the majority of Japanese train stations.


We got to Tokyo station at about noon, and we had a lovely lunch. In the Maru building mall, just across the street from the station, is an amazing Indian restaurant called Raj. I love Indian food, and haven't had any in about 9 months, so curry, naan, and kabobs were divine.

After lunch we headed to the imperial palace, which to be frank was a disappointment  The grounds of the imperial palace cover 3.4 sq. km in the heart of Tokyo. I anticipated seeing outstanding Japanese historical architecture, and lovely gardens. I was looking forward to wandering the grounds for a few hours on the surprisingly sunny and warm winter day. Instead we were allowed to walk on the graveled grounds, and only from behind walls and trees look at the palace. I did not anticipate how much of the grounds would be completely closed off to the public. What we could see was very beautiful, which made me even more disappointing that I couldn't see more.

My favorite part of our visit to the imperial palace was the statue of Kusunoki Masashige ( a 14th century samurai). His armor was just so cool, his armor looked more to me like an artists interpretive version of armor, as apposed to an armor designed for function. I was most impressed with the horse, it looked powerful, it's hair flowed with so much motion, that I was almost surprised the statue remained in place, and the artist took the time to accentuate key veins, and tendons. The rust stains were what really made me fall in love with the statue, it elevated it from a piece of art, to a piece of time.



After the statue we headed over to Meiji shrine, near Harajuku. There were thousands of people on the grounds of the shrine, and so we were part of a constant crowd. Many people are still making their first shrine visit of the year, and so when we got to the shrine there were over a dozen lines, each about 45 minutes long, of people all waiting to ring the bells. It was fun to see all the people, some were wearing kimonos, many were tourists like ourselves. We were even lucky enough to come on a day when they had an ice carving competition. The sculptures were amazing, the judges picked a pair of carved elk for first place, I have to agree with them, it was my favorite.



After Meiji shine, we went to Shinjuku, we walked around for a little while, but by that point we were all pretty tired, and my sore knee was cursing at our activity choices for the day. We ate dinner at Ben and my favorite sushi restaurant, Midori Shushi. The sushi was amazing, but Ben got a special treat at the end of this already special day... Cold Stone Ice cream!

It was a wonderful day of tourism in Tokyo, great food, great weather, and great company.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Snow Day!!!

There are few things in life more satisfying than a snow day. A free unexpected day off. It's some how more rewarding than the third day of a long weekend, or even being sent home early. It feels like you have been given a universal signal to go home and be a slug.

I'm sitting at home now, in front of my heater, in my cozy pajamas. I have some chocolate, and my new awesome computer. When I'm done with this post, I am going to call my mom, and then read a book (In the Shadow of Babylon).

I feel like I earned my day off, I got up early to give myself extra driving time. When I got out to my car, it was completely frozen shut, every door, window, and lock was frozen. I couldn't get into the car, I had to have a strong gentleman come and yank my car open. I started warming up the car while I scrapped it. Unfortunately scraping the outside was only half the battle, the inside was completely frosted over. Scraping the inside of a car is much more awkward then the outside, especially when your car is toy sized. All in all it took about 40 minutes to get my car ready to drive, at the end of which I got a call from work telling me that due to backed up traffic, I have a snow day!


Snow

Today we got our first real day of snow. Apparently it doesn't snow much here in Japan. Despite the fact that it only snowed a little over an inch, most trains were delayed (or canceled), and many cars got stuck in awkward places.

The scenery was beautiful today, the mountains looked more like our mountains at home.

After hours of giggling outside my window, I was impressed to look out my window and find a snow Sgt. Frog.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

This cold is a pain in my ... knee!

Japan lacks the colorful terms of much colder places to describe the misery of being cold. My favorite way to complain about a cold day is to say "It's so cold out here, it could freeze the balls of a brass monkey".

Japan doesn't actually get that cold outside, but the lack of heating can chill you to the bone.

I don't have any heating at work, I'm not saying that there is no heating in schools, they have just determined that it is unnecessary to heat the english classroom because the students are only there for 45 minutes of the day. Unfortunately for me, I am in there all day everyday, and it's taking a toll on me. When I'm cold I shiver, my mouth doesn't move, but my legs shake, and after shaking for 4-6 hours a day, this can lead to pain.

When I walk now, my knee sounds like it's filled with bubble wrap, and yells at me anytime I take a step on it. My leg and knee are so sore, that I'm having trouble walking. My entire body is sore, but my knee is apparently an attention whore. The cold has defeated me, so next year look for a blog called Katie and Ben in the Sahari dessert, or Katie and Ben in Hawaii.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Where do we live?

The act of specifying where a place is, is done very differently in the United States then in Japan. In America it is done as if we are constantly zooming in on a grid like system, we use the cardinal directions, and orders to specify locations. Japan specifies places as if you are zooming all the way into the nucleus of a specific cell on someone, and feels more like constant elimination.

Americans are use to a grid like system. To locate my favorite Thai Restaurant at Home …
North America is located in the northern/western hemisphere. The United States is in the center of North America. Colorado is located near the middle of the country, in the western region of the United States. Boulder is located northwest of Denver, and just west of the Rocky Mountains. Aloy Thai is located at 2720 Canyon Blvd. Once the city has been found in the United States, it is sufficient to just give the address after that, because street numbers are sequential, street names are relatively alphabetical, and house numbers are sequential, with the use of a map, and a general understanding, it would be quite simple to find the location of that restaurant.
Finding where something is in Japan an entirely different story. To get to our house you would have to do the following.
Our Address for reference, written in Japanese Style, but in English Lettering
409-0112
Yamanashi-ken Uenohara-shi Uenohara 634-1
Sato Kashiya 
Japan is made up of 5 main Islands. Ben and I live on the largest island called Honshu. We are located in the Chubo region, the central region of the main island.  We live in Yamanashi, one of the 47 prefectures (indicated by ken) of Japan. In Yamanashi we live in the Uenohara municipality (indicated by shi). In the Uenohara city. In Uenohara city we live in the shinmachi district. In Shinmachi we live in 634 which is our block number. Sato Kashiya is the name of our building. Check out below to see this represented in pictures.


Honshu Island
Chubo Region
Yamanashi prefecture

Uenohara Municipality


Uenohara City

Shinmachi 


Our House











Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What Year is It?



It’s that awkward time of year, where everyone writes the wrong year on everything. For some of us it takes longer than others. The brute force of muscle memory, overpowers a weaker brain, and the first few weeks (months) serve as a constant reminder of how slow we are.



It’s 2013, we can all agree on that, but the Japanese have much more to say on that matter.

It is  Heisei 25. It is the 25th year of the Heisei era, or the 25th year of the reign of the current emperor, whom after death will be referred to as Emperor Heisei. 1987, the year I was born was Showa 62.  The Gregorian year (currently 2013) and the era year (Heisei 25), are used differently depending on the document or use. Any date that accompanies a Hanko (Japanese form of signature), uses the era year. Dates of things that happened in the past are usually referred to by their era year, future dates seem to generally use the Gregorian year, though there doesn’t seem to be any steadfast rule. For those of you who have done the math, and are now wondering how the calendar transitions, 1989 is both Showa 64, and Heisei 1, the Heisei period started on January 8th 1989, the day after the last reigning emperors death.
Today’s date (January 9th, 2013)
Gregorian

 (the order in Japan is written Year’Month’Day, you cannot truncate 2013 to 13 as this could be confused with an era year)
Era
25平成1月9日

This is the year of the snake.

The animals of the Chinese zodiac are observed here. Depending on that years animal, different fortunes follow you throughout the year. This year is to be a great year for finances. For those of you who are familiar with the Chinese zodiac, you might feel that I am jumping the gun, Chinese New Year is not until mid-February. That may be true, but Japanese start the new year with the Gregorian calendar, though the animals of the zodiac came here from China, they have adopted them as part of their own culture. As far as I’m concerned those lucky few who were born between January 1st, and Chinese new year (usually around mid-February) have a choice of two animals to associate themselves with. Babies born this month can either choose to be year of the dragon, or year of the snake.
What’s the significance of the Animal for Japanese people? It’s a symbol of the year, at the beginning of the year it is traditional to send post cards to friends and family, and give money to children, snakes are the mascot of the new year. Card stores have a wide array of New Year’s cards, most of which have an image of a snake on them. People also enjoy hearing their fortune, depending on when you were born, you will be affected differently by it now being the year of the snake.
Due to the nature of the snake, this year is predicted to be a year of prosperity and peace. Saving money and being thrifty should be your top priorities. Delusion and deception are common in the year of the snake, so caution is necessary. Be cautious and thoughtful of your money, and this year will be in your favor.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ninja!

After nearly a year of honing my instincts from living in Japan I have finally been able to see my first Ninja! He was headed towards Himeji castle, and I feel that I should have done something, but I knew I was no match after I saw a concerned citizen attack. Within the time it took for the citizen to take his attack stance, the ninja had drawn his sword.
It was one of those powerful moments that confirm that the world is badass.