Friday, December 24, 2004

Xmas 04 - Usagi Sho

Xmas 04 - Usagi Sho
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Me as Santa with the awesome kids at my smallest elementary school - Usagi Sho.

I was Santa-san 4 times last week at four different yochiens (kindergartens). It was exhausting, and at times it too closely resembled being a mall Santa, but I had a blast doing it and the kids' reactions were priceless. Should be even more fun next year!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Tuesday, Dec. 14th - getting started

getting started
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Getting started with my jikoshokai (self-introduction) at Araki Shoogakkoo (elementary) with a combined class of about 70 third graders.

You can also click on any photo on this page and you'll be taken to my online photo album at, which has more photos than just the ones included here.


group - smiles

group - smiles
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

My supa-genki kids at Araki sho. This was a fun day. Combined class with two classes of kids and two combined periods, so I was "on" for an hour and 45 minutes.

short sleeves vs sweater

short sleeves vs sweater
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

It's the middle of December, but I still wear short sleeves to work, as opposed to the Japanese sensei on the right in a sweater. My fellow teahers can't get over this and always ask me if I'm cold.

You'll also notice in these pics that I'm sporting my Santa-san beard.


Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Teaching about my hometown, San Diego. I lie and tell the kids that that's me in the photo...
(I'm kidding)


Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Teaching about California and America during my self-introduction. Ironic that 4 months after arriving in Japan I'm still intriducing my self to students, but since I have 5 elementary schools I'm still meeting a few of the classes for the first time.

Jason money -Spidey

jason money -Spidey
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Handing out "Jason money" to the bingo winners. In this pic you can see how I replaced George Washington's face in the American dollar bill with Spider-Man's head. I also have bills with Pokemon characters, Star Wars characters, Batman, Superman, and my face.

Namae wa

Namae wa
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Leaning over to hear this young man tell me his name. "Namae wa?" (What is your name?) I tower over these kids, but they love how big and furry I am.
Bonus for my sister - you can see her age on the whiteboard behind me; part of my self-intro where I have the kids guess how old I am.

Jason face

Jason face
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

We're getting ready to play "animal bingo" here. Also, according to my niece, Brittany, this is a classic "Jason Face."


Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Teaching colors. OK - say it with me... "Gold."

shaking hands

shaking hands
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

At the end of the lesson I shake hands and say goodbye to every student.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Santa Jason - the drunk?

So last week was a terrible week. But this week is starting out great.

It started on Saturday with a nice get-together at my friend Rob's place out in Sada for a Hanukah celebration. About a dozen JETs and some Japanese people gathered to eat traditional foods, drink and play games. Fun was had by all and Rob and his girlfriend, Kayoko, were very gracious hosts. Rob has a pretty spiffy two story semi-detached house - one of the benefits of living out in the sticks. Pictures from the night can be seen here.

Going to the party on Saturday, where I ended up sleeping on Rob's tatami instead of heading home, meant missing a kendo tournament on Sunday. I was supposed to show up at 7am at the Jr High to get on a bus to Nita which is about 90 minutes away. I was still asleep at 7am on Sunday, considering I didn't go to bed until 4am, so I didn't show up. When I got home Sunday afternoon, there were 4 messages on my machine with no message - just calls then hang ups. I wondered about it until I got an email from one of my English teachers asking me if I was alright, as she'd come by my place at 2pm and noticed that my newspaper was still in my mailbox. Seems the Kendo team had called asking her to check on me since I didn't show up. I was resting later that day at about 5pm and a knock on my door got me out of bed. 4 or 5 of the Kendo parents were at my door, just checking to make sure I was OK. It was hard for me to explain where I'd been, so I just nodded that I was fine and all seemed well. They smiled and went home. I didn't know if I should be a bit miffed about being so closely watched, since I'd mentioned on Friday at Kendo practice that there was a chance I wouldn't make it to the Sunday event since it was so early on Sunday morning and I'd be at a party the night before. But I mentioned it to a JET friend and he said it was nice that they cared, since he could be missing three weeks and no one would notice. And I guess in light of what happened with the Kendo coach, Ishitobi sensei, the previous week (see last post), it's understandable for them to be concerned.

Monday was the start of the last full week of classes before we break for winter vacation next week. I have to be Santa three times this week at three different kindergartens. Monday was the first at Yokan yochien (Yokan kindergarten). Ironically, the Santa suit was not designed for someone Santa size, so they had to alter it making it bigger so it would fit me. I took part in a little skit about two mice, Guri and Gura, who are famous children's books characters here, that meet Santa. I bring them a cake and then dash off as I'm late. All the 3, 4 and 5-year-olds enjoyed my cameo appearance. I then came back into the room and sat in front of the gathered kids and answered questions in English as Santa. They'd ask, "Where do you live?" or "What is your favorite food?" in Japanese and I'd answer "The North Pole" or "Christmas Cake" in English and the Kindergarten teacher would translate. It was really fun and the kids were super cute. I got to hand out gift bags the teachers and parents had prepared and shake each kids hand and say "Merry Christmas" in my best Santa voice. After I left, the kids all wrote little notes and drew pictures for Santa, which the head teacher of the yochien gave me today - so how cool is that? I get to do it two more times this week in Hinomisaki and at Araki yochien. Monday afternoon all the Jr High attended a concert in the local music hall, featuring traditional Japanese instruments. It was pretty good music and the kids clapped along and enjoyed themselves.

Today was a more normal day, but I was super busy. I taught three Jr High classes in the morning, ate some rice for lunch, did my 15-minute radio show, then it was off to Araki shoogakkoo to entertain 70 3rd graders. After I introduced myself and talked about my family and San Diego a bit, we played color bingo and animal bingo and then the kids got to ask me questions. First question, almost always from a girl, is am I married/do I have a girlfriend? They proceeded to ask the accustomed questions about favorite foods, animal, how tall I am, how much do I weigh - one girl asked what job I had. I said "Ima (now)?" and she nodded, so I said, "Eigo sensei," and she seemed amused, like it was funny to her that I was getting paid to run around and teach 3rd graders how to say "purple" and "monkey." And I have to agree, that some days it is pretty funny that I get paid to do this. Then one boy asked a question that all three Japanese teachers in the room were either unable to translate or too embarrased to translate, so I just looked at him and said, "Wakari nai," which means "I don't understand" or "I don't know."

Making chit-chat to the best of my limited-Japanese abilites in the staff room before my show-stopping performance with the 3rd graders, one of the male teachers offered me some coffee and I politely declined, saying "Kohii nomimasen (I don't drink coffee)." He looked at me strange and then said something about how he thought Americans liked coffee. It's funny when one of the my likes/dislikes get extrapolated to the entire American population. I explained that many Americans do indeed like coffee, I just don't care for it - I prefer tea as a hot beverage, and Pepsi as a cold beverage. He followed the line of inquiry and asked if I liked "sake." Now sake is not only the Japanese rice wine that many of you have heard of, but osake is the Japanese word for alcohol as well, so I had to make sure which one he meant. I explained that I wasn't really a big drinker - that I had a little at the Kanpai (Cheers) but then I usually just switched to cold tea or cola. He looked puzzled and then said "Biiru" (Beer)? I shook my head no, and he laughed, saying in his best English, "That's interesting because you look like drunk." I hope he wasn't commenting on my appearance at that moment, as I'm sure I did look a bit disheveled, having just come off my scooter, and I am sporting my Santa beard right now, but it's clean and not stragely. So I took it that he meant I looked like I'm a big drinker, probably because I'm a big guy and most JETs have a reputation for enjoying alcohol.

From Santa to a drunk within a day - what a job. :)

Anyway - hope all is well where you are. If any of the SDA students are reading this, I encourage you to check out my friend and fellow JET Trevor's blog, which is an interesting read. But the real bonus is that he posts the same entries in both English and Japanese, and everyday he posts a new kanji for that day with it's meaning and reading and examples. Fun stuff to help you learn the language. I got a 98 on my first Japanese language test in the correspondence course I'm enrolled in. I missed one question. It was an open book test so no real big accomplishment, but it's good practice. My next test is due January 28th.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A beautiful and a sad day

Yesterday was a gorgeous day weather-wise. Sunny and bright, crisp and cool without being too cold. I love weather like we had yesterday. Unfortunately I couldn't really enjoy it. I had to do something in Japan yesterday that I've never had to do before - I had to attend a funeral and mourn the passing of a friend.

I wasn't planning on reprinting my monthly column that I write for the Shimane JET publication "The Black Taxi." But I'll reprint this one since the end few paragraphs detail the events of yesterday and I can't muster the emotional energy to write about it again.

There have been funerals for people I care about, but they've always taken place in England, as every relative I have is English. So I've never attended any of those - my Mom or Dad would go instead. And everyone close to me in America is still alive, so I've been lucky. I don't even own a black suit, which was the cause of some concern Tuesday, as Japanese men dress for funerals in black pants, black shoes, black tie, white shirt and black jacket. I was able to borrow a jacket, so that part was taken care of. The Japanese also give a gift of money in a specially designed envelope featuring intertwined black and white coarse ribbons, but my supervisor helped me out with this detail as well. I had to memorize a short saying in Japanese to say instead of the Japanese for sorry ("gomen nasai"), which they don't say at funerals. It was a somber and sad occasion that really did little for me to abate the shock of the unexpected loss, but a sure sign that life will go on was the behavior of the 9th grade class of students I walked to the ceremony with. They were quiet and sad, but not morose and we chatted a little as we walked, and that cheered me up somewhat.

So please read to the end of the following column for the details. Sorry that the paragraphs preceeding the funeral details are rather frivolous and innocuous - I'm usually a happy-go-lucky kind of guy but this week has been cause for pause and reflection.

Be well.



The Hitchhiker’s Guide...

Birth and death. It’s a never ending cycle and so it goes that this month I have news of another big-deal celebrity birth and, unfortunately, news of another passing to tell you about.

First up, actress and star of two holiday films hitting U.S. theaters this month (“Closer” & “Ocean’s 12”), Julia Roberts, gave birth to twins on Sunday, November 28th. Roberts, who is married to cinematographer Daniel Moder, delivered Hazel Patricia Moder and Phinnaeus Walter Moder at a hospital in Southern California. Roberts, 37, has been married to Moder for two years after high profile relationships with Keifer Sutherland and Benjamin Bratt and a marriage to Lyle Lovett, that did not produce children. OK - Hazel is a pretty decent name, but “Phinnaeus”? And “Walter” as a backup? To paraphrase “The Sure Thing,” whatever happened to simple and direct names like Nick? Nick’s your buddy, Nick’s your pal. This trend in funky names for celebrity offspring isn’t a recent phenomenon, but it certainly seems to have been embraced by modern movie stars looking to forever saddle their kids with clunky and taunt-inducing sobriquets.

In movie news, there are a bunch of good ones and much-anticipated ones coming out this holiday season, but we won’t be seeing any of them until the new year in Japan. So if you’re heading home and see some good flicks over the holidays, post on the BT web site or send me an e-mail and let me know what was worth checking out and what to avoid. I’ll be staying in Japan for the holidays, so no new movies for me, although I did make it out to the amazing Movix complex in Yonago the other night to see Pixar’s latest offering, “The Incredibles.” I’ll be trite and simply say it was indeed incredible. Another great animated film from Pixar (“Finding Nemo”) and the director responsible for 1999’s underrated “The Iron Giant.”

In DVD news I have more anniversary special editions to comment on. Two more terrible names to add to the list of all-time bad monikers would be Ren and Ariel. If you’re an 80s movie fan then you know that those two names belong to the lead characters in “Footloose” - a film celebrating its 20-year anniversary with a special edition DVD. “Footloose” was huge hit in my Texas town when it came out in 1984 and the soundtrack was everywhere. It’s total cheese, but enjoyable cheese. And Kevin Bacon, as witnessed on a recent “Will & Grace” where, playing himself, he dances to the title track with Will, obviously has a healthy sense of humor about the film that made him a star. Bacon provides a commentary track on this DVD, which also features an interesting documentary about the making of the film and includes contemporary interviews with many of the stars of the film. Another of my favorite films enjoying an anniversary this year is the delightful family film, “Mary Poppins.” Dick Van Dyke’s dodgy cockney accent aside, this Disney classic from 1964 is still an entertaining and funny and thoughtful film that gets the special treatment it deserves in this two-disc edition. Many Disney fans consider “Mary Poppins” to be Walt’s crowning achievement and it was the only one of his features to be nominated for a best picture Academy Award until Beauty and the Beast in 1991.
The big release on DVD this week is the expanded, 4-disc Platinum edition of the concluding chapter in the LOTR trilogy, “The Return of the King.” If you have the other two Platinum extended versions of “Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers” then this is a must buy. The amazing amount of detail and care that went into these superlative DVD editions has set the bar for future special version DVDs of epic films like the LOTR films.

Another DVD that was just released to coincide with an anniversary is the first official release of the Live Aid concert from July of 1985. It’s the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Band Aid charity single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” which topped the charts in December of 1984 and raised money for victims of the famine in Ethiopia. A new crop of British pop stars has just released a remake of the 1984 chart-topper and it debuted at the top of the U.K. singles chart last week. Although the Band Aid 20 track came nowhere near the first-week sales of its 1984 predecessor, it sold 292,000 copies, including two purchased by Prime Minister Tony Blair at an HMV store in Edinburgh on Friday. The original Bob Geldof-led single sold nearly 800,000 in its first week and went on to sell a reported 3 million copies in the United Kingdom alone. The project led to the global fundraising phenomenon Live Aid the following year.
The 2004 version features Paul McCartney. Coldplay's Chris Martin, Travis' Fran Healy, the Darkness, Keane, Robbie Williams, Dido, Snow Patrol and Natasha Bedingfield, among others. U2 singer Bono, who was a member of the 1984 Band Aid chorus, also participates in the new recording. Like the original, proceeds will provide aid for Africa, particularly Sudan's Darfur region.
The DVD of the Live Aid concert is a four-disc package that offers 10 hours of footage from the two simultaneous concerts that took place in Wembley and Philadelphia on July 13, 1985. Even though I know many of my fellow JETs were too young to remember that historic day, I vividly recall where I was that day - at work at a summer job at a toy store in a mall in Dallas. I annoyed my boss by running into the back room every few minutes to listen to the radio simulcast. I didn’t have MTV at the time, which was the only station showing the entire concert, so after I got home from work I had to settle for the ABC broadcast, which showed highlights of the first part of the concert and then showed the last three hours live. Many of my heroes performed that day and two of my favorite bands, U2 and Queen, turned in triumphant sets. Curiously absent from the concert, considering how big they were in 1985, were Prince, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen. The simultaneous Wembley/Philadelphia broadcast lasted 16 hours. The 4-disc DVD set is 10 hours, plus extras. They’ve cut out some of the backstage stuff and a few of the songs too. Extras include the documentary “Food and Trucks and Rock N Roll,” which features the original Michael Buerk news report that stirred Geldof into action and charts the genesis of Band Aid, Live Aid and how the money raised helped alleviate, if not eradicate, the suffering.

No room this month to talk books, but I’ll be back next month with reviews of the new Greg Rucka thriller and Garth Ennis’ run on the Vertigo comic “Hellblazer.”

Finally, I yet again have to end the Guide this month on a somber note. I’ve experienced many firsts since moving to Japan this year, but today, Wednesay, December 8th, I had to experience something I never imagined I would have to take part in - a Japanese funeral. On Monday morning, one of my JTEs at Taisha Jr. High was found dead at his home. Turns out he had a hemorrhage in his brain and died in his sleep on Friday night after school. Ishitobi sensei was my only male JTE and the kendo coach at Taisha Chu, my base school. We had become friends in the short 4 months I’ve been here and we enjoyed nights out drinking and singing karaoke with the kendo parents. He had a great singing voice and often entertained us with his deep-bass renditions of traditional Japanese songs. His English was really good, so I relied on him at school to help me understand what was going on from day-to-day. He was my liaison to all the teachers at my 5 elementary schools and he was the one who urged me to join the kendo team and take part in some unique aspect of Japanese culture. Ishitobi sensei was 48 and a bachelor, so much of his free time was devoted to the kids at Taisha Chuugakkoo. It might seem odd that I feel such loss for a person who I’ve only known for such a short period of time; heck, I didn’t even know his first name until today. But Ishitobi sensei had become my mentor, and I will miss his easy laugh and his enthusiasm for our classes and his stern but fair teaching presence. At the funeral today, which took place in a building located on the grounds of IzumoTaisha shrine, I understood little of the speeches or ceremony, and it occurred to me as I walked back to school that it would have been Ishitobi sensei that I would have asked to explain what I’d witnessed. More than just a mentor, Ishitobi-san was my friend, and I will miss him.

OK - so that wraps up another edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide. I’d like to extend my warmest holiday wishes to all the Shimane JETs. Please be safe if you’re traveling this holiday season and I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year. Take a moment to tell the ones you love how much they mean to you.


Sunday, December 05, 2004

Rain, rain - go away...

It's been pouring rain all weekend. Sucks!

Last night was the first time when I really wished I had a car here. I needed to go out. I had to return some movies to the video store by midnight to avoid late fees and I fancied a hamburger for dinner. But it started raining yesterday at about noon and didn't stop all day and night. Plus, some of the local JET community were getting together at my friend Mark's place to watch English premier league football (soccer). So I made the decision to venture out into the night on my scooter and make the 15 minute trek over to Izumo to return the videos and watch some soccer.

One of the pieces of really good advice I got from my predecessor, Sara, was to bring "rain pants." I wasn't sure what rain pants were, but I had these seemingly water-proof workout pants that I brought with me. Turns out that they're more "water-resistant" than water proof, but they help on days when I have to scooter to work and it's only raining a bit. I also have some Adidas sweat pants that are not that comfortable, but they are 100% polyester, so I put those on and then my rain pants on over those. I have a rain jacket with a hood and some water proof gloves that my folks just sent me from England, sol I was decked out and ready to go. Man was it raining though. I have no face shield on my scooter helmet so the rain was pelting my face as I rode along despite the fact that I can only go about 30 kmh.

I arrived at the video store first and took the videos upstairs, still dripping wet from my ride, and turned them in without renting more. I got back on my scooter and rode the last 5 minutes over to Mark's apartment and wasn't too worse for wear. Wet, but not soaked thru and oddly enough it wasn't that cold last night.

I did yell my first obscenity at a Japanese motorist last night. I was cruising down a main street in Izumo toward Mark's place and an oncoming car wanted to make a right across my lane of traffic (we drive on the left here in Japan). I have a decent headlight on my scooter, so I know she saw me coming, but she proceeded to pull into my lane of traffic. Well, I swerved and as I passed I extended my middle finger and yelled the accompanying "F- you!" Have no idea if it was understood, but it was necessary all the same. I'm on a scooter with low visibility in the pouring rain and you just have to go first - I think not!

By the time I left Mark's at about 2am, it had stopped raining so the ride home was uneventful. But the wind was strong all night, making my house and windows creak something awful at times, and it's rained on and off all day today, so kind of a sucky weekend.

I'm gonna have a good old fashioned British Fry Up soon, as I finally bought some eggs to scramble and I have toast and sausage, so that should be nice. Nothing on Japanese TV today that I can watch, except some sports like J-league soccer, so I'll probably read (I'm in the middle of two books right now, with the "Da Vinci Code" winning out recently) and work on writing my article for a Shimane JET publication that they put out here called the Black Taxi. I've been writing a monthly column on movies and pop culture called "The Hitchhiker's Guide..." and it seems to be well received, although it's really hard to tell how many people are actually reading it.

Hope your weekend is going well. Hopefully posts this week about the Speech contests in November and what I did for Thanksgiving and my return to Kendo.

Be Good-

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Learning Names and Language

What follows is a list of the names of the 23 ni nen sei (8th grade) students in one of my twice-weekly, elective English classes.

8 of the names below belong to female students; the rest are boys’ names. See if you can pick out the girls’ names...


How’d you do? There are ways to detect gender as you get more familiar with Japanese, but it’s still damn tough. And my pronunciation is way off on a few, which of course elicits laughter anytime I try and say some names. Notice that I have a Hiroshi and a Hitoshi. I have two boys named Tomoya and two boys named Yasuto.

The list of girl names starts with Mayu and goes thru Maiko. Many female names end in ~ko. So I have 8 girls in the class.

Add two more obstacles to my trying to learn my students’ names:

1) Subtle differences in pronunciation are a big deal sometimes. It’s not just like Americans named Willem vs William or Kirsten vs Kristen, or Katy vs Kate. Those are still identifiable as male or female names. But a common boy name here is Yuuki and a common girl name here is Yuki. I’ve called a few boys here Yuki, without elongating the U sound, and it gets howls of laughter from his classmates and in one instance a well-deserved glare, since I’d just made him a girl.

2) When I ask Japanese kids their name by saying “What is your name” in either Japanese or English, the response is always lightening fast and most often said in the traditional Japanese style of last name (or family name) first followed by the first name. So I would be Harris Jason, or John Lennon’s wife would say her name Ono Yoko when speaking with other Japanese people. When I ask the kids their first name, they often looked puzzled or stare back blankly, since all their teachers generally refer to them by their last names.

I’ve been making a real effort to at least learn the names of the teachers I interact with on a regular basis, but I’m a visual learner when it comes to remembering names, so I need to write them down. But I feel bad asking teachers to say their name or spell it after 4 months of being here. I know my main teachers at my Jr. High because I see them almost everyday, but I’m still meeting some of my Elementary teachers for the first or second time, and anytime they send me a lesson plan or other document their name is always written in Kanji, which makes it really hard for me to decipher.

I’d like to learn more of my students’ names, especially at my Jr. High, but it’s really tough. The chances of me remembering a child’s name at one of my 5 elementary schools is even more remote. And the ironic thing there is that many of my Elem. kids love rushing over to me and blurting out the only English phrase they really know by heart, which is “My name is ~~~~.” I just smile and say “Nice to see you again” or “Genki desu ka” which is “How are you?” in Japanese.

You want to know the hardest thing for me right now in regards to learning written Japanese? Let me offer an example:

Here^%\sentence++hasmanywords#@$it andallrunstogether^&*youunderstand

The above sentence is almost unintelligible. Well that’s kinda like learning Japanese. They put no spaces between words, so you just have to learn particles and markers for word separation. They often use no punctuation, so no periods at the ends of sentences, no commas, no question marks. They do have a form of quotation marks. They use and intermix three different writing alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. The symbols above represent Kanji. Even when I can decipher some sentences, there are still tons of Kanji I can’t read, so there are little holes in my sentences. Add to that the fact that in a Japanese newspaper the text is meant to be read from top to bottom and from right to left, and you can see some of the difficulty I’m having with the written language.

But I persevere. My speaking abilities are definitely getting better, and my confidence in the classroom after four months is far greater than when I first arrived. Of course, much of that vocab is classroom specific stuff like “Mo ikai” which means “one more time” or “suwatte” which means “sit down” or “joozu desu nee” which means “well done” or “really good.” I’m still struggling when I go out into the Japanese community, but it gets better with each passing day. My ability to understand what is being said TO me is much better, but I’m still having trouble articulating what I want to convey without resorting to English.

I just turned in my first Japanese test in a correspondence course offered thru the JET organization. It was fairly easy for me, as I have at least studied Japanese a little bit in college, but I still had to look some things up (it’s an open book test), so that was disappointing. I have to set aside more time to study in the evenings.

That being said, I’m gonna turn the computer off for a while and try to get some other things done, like the dishes and some laundry and maybe I’ll even listen to my Japanese language CD while I’m doing these tasks.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Non-Japan related news: Jeopardy Whiz ends 74 game streak

My parents came out to California in late May of 2004 to celebrate my college graduation and help me prepare to move to Japan. One of my favorite programs to watch each night has always been Jeopardy. My folks often joined me on the couch to watch the show, and just after they arrived we started watching a young man named Ken Jennings win night after night in such convincing fashion that it was stunning. Just last year Jeopardy changed their rules so contestants could keep coming back and competing as long as they could keep winning. No longer did they have to stop after 5 wins and then just come back for the Tournament of Champions. So Ken kept winning and winning and banking more and more money. It was astonishing to watch - he seemed unbeatable. Jeopardy went on summer break just before I left for Japan in late July, but Ken came back this fall and continued right on winning match after match. Well, I read on the net today that he finally lost the other night. Wish I could have seen it.

Here's the AP News story:

NEW YORK (AP) - ``Jeopardy'' whiz Ken Jennings finally met his match after a 74-game run as a pop culture icon who made brainiacs cool, beaten by a woman whose own 8-year-old daughter asked for his autograph when they first met.

As someone who always has prepared his own tax returns, Jennings was tripped up in Final Jeopardy by this answer: Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year.

The correct reply: ``What is H&R Block?'' But Jennings guessed Federal Express, ending his remarkable run as the biggest winner in TV game show history with a haul of $2,520,700.

Having an accountant-friend who's nearly impossible to reach at tax time paid off big-time for his conqueror, California real estate agent Nancy Zerg, who ousted the baby-faced killer competitor in the episode airing Tuesday.

During his streak that began June 2, Jennings usually had opponents so thoroughly beaten that the Final Jeopardy question was meaningless to the outcome. But Zerg was within striking range at that point, with $10,000 to Jennings' $14,400.

The champion had to think; out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Zerg had quickly written her reply.

``I was pretty sure before the music ended that was the ballgame,'' he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Her correct reply gave Zerg $14,001 to Jennings' $8,799.

Even before that, she had needed an unusual display of Jennings fallibility to stay in the game. He twice answered wrong on Daily Double questions, which give contestants a chance to make big wagers and increase their leads.

Maybe that's why he paused, ever so slightly, when asked in the AP interview Tuesday whether he had lost or been beaten. He then graciously gave Zerg credit.

``I would have dwelt on it if I missed something that I knew or didn't phrase it in the form of a question,'' said Jennings, a computer software engineer from Salt Lake City. ``It was a big relief to me that I lost to someone who played a better game than me.''

Zerg, a former actress who lives in Ventura, Calif., told the AP that she psyched herself up before the game by repeating to herself: ``Someone's got to beat him sometime, it might as well be me.''

Hanging out backstage with fellow contestants, she saw some Jennings opponents had essentially lost before the game. She heard one person say that it looked like he was playing for second, and another just wishing not to be humiliated.

``I heard another one say, `It's no great sin to lose to Ken Jennings,' and they went in and lost to Ken Jennings,'' she said. ``I thought, `That's no way to play the game.'''

Some stats: Jennings' average daily haul was $34,063.51. He toyed with the previous daily record of $52,000 - tying it four times - before shattering it with a $75,000 win in Game 38. He gave more than 2,700 correct responses.

He combined an extraordinary breadth of knowledge, uncanny skill at sensing the precise instant to ring his buzzer, and a sharp competitive instinct hidden behind his grin and polite manner.

It made many of the games boring. But ``Jeopardy!'' executives aren't complaining; ratings were up 22 percent over the same period last time.

Jennings said he'd been thinking about walking away after some future milestone - 100 wins, perhaps, or $3 million or $4 million in winnings. He said there were about a dozen games where one reply made the difference between winning and losing.

``The fact that they had all fallen my way was beginning to worry me,'' he said, ``because at some point the law of averages was going to kick in.''

He wasn't prepared for how much he'd miss the daily competition, though.

``It didn't really hit me that was going to be the hard part,'' he said. ``I thought the hard part would be the loss.''

The loss is actually a distant memory and not really a secret: The show was taped in early September and news leaked right away. Video clips of his loss appeared Monday on the Internet.

Neither Jennings nor Zerg expect the record will be broken.

``It's not because things fell the right way,'' she said. ``It's because he's that good.''

Jennings, a Mormon, will donate 10 percent of his winnings to his church - and a European vacation is planned, ``probably a really nice one.'' He'll hardly slip back into anonymity; he's visiting David Letterman and Regis Philbin this week, has a book deal and is open to any commercial sponsorship opportunities.

He's in a new tax bracket now, and H&R Block is making sure he'll always remember the company for other reasons: It has offered him free tax preparation for life.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Nishinoshima, OKI - Nov. 6, 2004

Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

It was a foggy day that Saturday, but you can still get a sense of the rugged landscape and awesome scenery on Nishinoshima.

Read about my adventures here in the post below.

OKI Islands - Nov. 6th & 7th

I became friends with Canadian/American JET Jodi during Tokyo orientation when we both had just arrived in Japan for the first time. She’s a really down-to-earth person and one of the nicest people I’ve met since being here. She got assigned to the OKI Islands, a small island group just off the coast of Shimane-ken, and furthermore to the smallest of the 4 islands - Chibu.

Her husband, Matt, joined her out on Chibu shortly after Jodi arrived in late July and I’d been meaning to visit them ever since we saw each other again at the prefectural orientation in late August.

JETs tend to fill up our weekends with assorted activities, so it wasn’t until the weekend of November 6th and 7th that our schedules meshed so I could plan on visiting OKI. My friend, Rusty, asked if he could tag along, and happy to have company, I planned on meeting Rusty over in Izumo and heading out early Saturday the 6th.

In order to get to the OKIs, you have to take a ferry that takes about 2 hours. The ferry only departs the Shimane coast twice a day - once at 9:30am and again at 3pm. We decided to try to catch the 9:30am ferry so we wouldn’t miss most of Saturday, but that meant getting a train to Matsue and then a bus from Matsue to the port where the ferry departs - a total travel time of about 2 hrs. Add to that the 2 hrs on the ferry and it was about 4 hours of traveling to get out to OKI, which may be one reason more JETs don’t ever visit. But they’re really missing out.

The ferry cost about $25 for a one-way ticket. It’s unusual in that there are no seats inside. Just wide, carpeted spaces with small blankets and pillows available. The idea is that you lie down and that helps combat seasickness. Many of our fellow passengers took a nap for the two-hour duration, but Rusty and I watched TV, played Game-Boy, chatted or walked about the ship. The Japan Sea was a bit choppy that day, but boats don’t really bother me that much so I was fine.

We arrived at Nishinoshima island at about 11:30 and met Jodi and Matt and Australian CIR Alana, who is the sole JET living on Nishinoshima. Alana was involved in an international day of sorts at her community center, so we hung out and got to sample the local delicacy of “squid balls.” OK - I didn’t try them, but Rusty and Matt did. Basically, they were balls of dough with a chunk of squid embedded inside with some other ingredients like mayonnaise and chopped green onions all fried up into a ball the size of your standard meatball. Chewy, but decent was Matt’s verdict. I got some yaki tori chicken strips and chowed down on those. Jodi didn't eat, as she is a vegetarian, but I try not to hold that against her. :)

Alana finished up and all 5 of us crammed into her little car and started our tour of Nishinoshima. Some great scenery and hiking spots. I hope to post some more photos that Matt took with his digital camera. Cows graze free and we often had to be careful not to hit one darting around on the narrow roads. We visited a shrine built into the side of a mountain, but I’ll admit I was a bit pooped by then and opted out of hiking up to see it. Alana taught us about the dangers of “swooping,” which apparently is an Australian phenomenon where birds swoop down and attack innocent pedestrians. We were on alert for possible swooping incidents the rest of the weekend.

Getting hungry and a bit tired, we headed for the inter-island ferry to take us over to Jodi and Matt’s home island of Chibu. $3 for each of us and $10 for Alana’s car, which it was pointed out by the gas-station attendant was only supposed to legally carry 4 total people, not 5. We thought he might call the police on us, but Alana wasn’t worried as she plays tennis with one of the only two police officers on the island.

We arrived on Chibu in no time and decided to head out to the island’s ONLY restaurant for dinner. Ironically, it’s a little family owned and operated joint that serves Italian food. The owner’s daughters do the cooking and I had steak for the first time since coming to Japan, while the others tried some of the various pasta dishes on offer. Delicious.
Chibu only has about 750 people, so it goes without saying that Jodi and Matt are the only two non-Japanese on the island. I think having her husband with her allows Jodi to keep it together in such isolation, especially since she spoke no Japanese when she first arrived 4 months ago.

We all retired to Jodi’s apartment, a roomy place in a complex overlooking a Chibu harbor. We had fun playing cards and the “name game” and a drinking game called “Kings.” Rusty and I kipped out on futons in the spare room that Matt uses for painting, a hobby of his that he’s very good at, and Jodi uses as a study. Their apartment is a more traditional tatami mat setup, unlike the hard wood floors I have at my apartment.

I awoke on Sunday morning to find Matt busy making pancakes from scratch and Jodi and Alana relaxing on the balcony enjoying the sun and very warm weather. It was about 70 degrees F that sunday, compared to the high 50s that awaited us when we returned to the mainland. Alana had to skedaddle off to attend to other business, so the 4 of us decided to explore a bit of Chibu and take advantage of the fine weather. Matt and I rode mopeds over to the beach and Jodi and Rusty followed on foot. They have an amazing beach - secluded and rather private. The water is very clear and blue, and according to Jodi is very warm in the summer. Matt enjoys fishing and they both enjoy snorkeling, so they’re well suited to life on this small island. I don’t know if I could be happy out there, but they’re having a good time, and being so close to the water has convinced Jodi that she wants to live close to the water when she leaves JET and returns to the world.

We had to make the Sunday ferry, which departs Nishinoshima at 3pm so we said our goodbyes and boarded the small inter-island ferry. After a smoother inbound ferry ride back to the mainland and a bus and train ride, Rusty and I made it back to Izumo at around 7:30pm, and hungry for dinner we hit the local MOS Burger for some tasty hamburgers and shakes.

All-in-all a great weekend. Rusty and I both plan on making it out to OKI in the new year. Jodi and Matt are traveling a lot right now. They just got back from Korea and are off to the Philippines for the Xmas holiday, so I’m sure they’ll have lots to tell us during our next visit. It was such a relaxing visit and a great and scenic place to stay, that I can’t wait to visit again.


Sunday, November 28, 2004

Jason's Angels

Speech Cntst group1
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Wait, if this is supposed to be like "Charlie's Angles" wouldn't that make me Bosley in this photo? Can I at least be the cool Bill Murray version of Bosley?

At the Englsih Recitation contest - Saturday, November 13th. From left: Me, Saki, Nonoka, & Wakiko

Unfortunately we didn't win that trophy - that was last year's trophy that Taisha JH won and we're returning it for this year's winner, which ended up being Hamayama JH. My group, pictured here, did well and came in 2nd.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Weekend of Halloween

The Weekend of October 30th (Saturday) and 31st (Sunday) was a good time. I’ve already posted photos below, so check them out.

Saturday started with a school event that took place in my town at first. I was in charge of asking other JETs to come to Taisha and participate in an “International Day” where we would interact with 4th, 5th and 6th graders from 3 of the local elementary schools.

I managed to get 6 other ALTs to join me for fun with the kids. Heather (Canadian), Olivia (American by way of Singapore), Amy (Canadian), Rob (American) and his girlfriend Kayoko (who supplied the digital pics), Chris (American) and me all joined some Chinese language teachers on a bus trip to Akagi-cho to pick apples and spend some time with the students.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but the man in charge was really organized and good with the kids, having prepared games to play on the bus and activities to keep us busy.

It turned out to be a slightly overcast day, but no rain fell, so that was good. The apple orchard ended up being about two-hours away by bus, but the kids were surprisingly content and we played some games along the way. Many of the students in my group asked me to draw something in their event program. I really need to learn to draw a few things other than my old standby (Batman) that I can draw quickly. Until you have to interact with younger children on a daily basis you don’t realize how useful it would be to know a few magic tricks or how to juggle or how to draw.

The apples were big and tasty, and very sweet. We ate our fill and then it was off to pick blueberries, which weren’t quite as tasty. Then we had lunch, all sitting around a baseball diamond. The lunch consisted of “chocolate” milk and various sweet breads. That’s it. Nothing “savory” at all. I guess they figured we’d already be half-full from all the apples. I say chocolate milk hesitantly because I have yet to have true chocolate milk here - it’s always flavored with some degree of coffee flavoring. They want to hook the kids early I guess. They also love to fill their bread with bean paste or other fillings. I’m sure I could tell what I was about to eat if I could read the kanji on the packaging, but sometimes I take a blind bite only to be met by a strange and unexpected taste sensation.

We played some games like a very fast Japanese version of patty cake and then a spirited game of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” I displayed my virtuosity at elbow-quarter-catching. This is where you stack coins on your raised and bent elbow and then in one swift motion, you lower and extend your arm and catch all the coins in your hand. Oohs and Aahhhs from the kids. :)

We got back in the bus and headed back to Taisha. Impromptu autograph sessions broke out, and the kids even asked for mine, even though most of them see me all the time at their respective elementary schools. I brought picture flash cards and we had a little trivia bee in the back of the bus, while the Chinese ALTs sang traditional songs. When asked to sing an American song, all I could think of was B-I-N-G-O, so we sang that and had fun clapping along.

When we arrived back in Taisha, we were asked to say a few words to the kids and some of the parents that had arrived to pick them up. I spoke mostly in English, but added a deferential “Arigatoo Gozaimasu” and bowed. Somebody else also said “arigatoo” at the end of their speech, but instead of the usual and correct pronunciation of “are-ri-gaw-toe” they pronounced it “ah-rehg-gih-tow”. Unbelievable. If there’s one word you should know how to say after being here for a while, it’s "arigatoo gozaimasu." Heck, hadn’t they ever heard the Styx song “Mr. Roboto”?

Anyway, another nice bonus was that the event organizers paid us for our travel expenses and our time. I wasn’t expecting anything, but the extra cash was a nice surprise.

That night, my friend, Rusty, who lives in Izumo was having a Halloween party. He wasn’t expecting that many people to show up, since many JETs had attended the bigger party in Matsue the night before, but by the time I got to his apartment, located in the appropriately named complex “The Friendship House,” at 10pm, there were about 20 people enjoying themselves, most of them in costume. I had wanted to wear my Merlin costume, but I absent-mindedly left it at school on Friday. So I went in civilian clothes and was roundly chastised for not improvising some sort of costume, especially by Rusty, who was wearing a makeshift toga made from one of his bed sheets. Fun was had by all, and the party went on to the wee hours of the morning. Downstairs, they had a HUGE carved pumpkin in the window. Not sure where they got it, since orange pumpkins are rare in Japan, let alone one of this gargantuan size. Should have snapped a photo of it.

Sunday, the 31st, was a lazy day. I got up about 10 am and called Rusty, who was surprisingly awake. We had planned on meeting over at my aparto to attend a soba noodle tasting that was just up the road from my place. He made it over just after 11 am, and we headed over to check out the eats. Rusty had already purchased coupon books for 900 yen that were good for 1000 yen worth of food. It was really crowded and busy, but we managed to make our way thru the crowds and walked around the various food stalls, checking out what was on offer. We first tried some gyoza (like a chinese pot sticker) that were made with soba wheat. Delicious! Then we wanted to have some hot noodles, so we traded in 600 yen worth of our coupons and got some tasty soba noodles in hot broth. We topped it off with some really good carmel ice cream and sat back and did some people watching, or I should say that people watched us. Various amounts of staring happen whenever we venture out in my town, since I’m the only westerner living in Taisha. We met our friend, Dustin, at the tasting and he invited us over to his place later to watch a Japanese movie called “Casshern.” Dustin is an American who’s on his fifth year as a JET. He teaches exclusively at elementary schools and his Japanese is very good. He’s just secured a job up in Hokkaido so he can stay in Japan after his contract with JET expires next July. (Five years is the maximum you can be in the programme) Rusty, Lisa (an American ALT living at the Friendship House), Mark (an Irish CIR also living at the Friendship House), Fintan (an Irish ALT from Matsue) and Dustin and myself all squeezed into his small apartment and watched this flick. It was incredibly weird and surreal, but beautifully made and put together. It was raining when we all set out for home later that night, so I got pretty wet going home on my scooter. One of the few drawbacks to my otherwise excellent mode of transport.

So that was that weekend - pretty good in sum, I must say.

Next longer posting will be about my trip out to the glorious OKI Islands that took place the first weekend in November. Also, I need to give you the results of the various speech contests I attended this month.

More soon.


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Nishi group - Elvis pose

Nishi group - Elvis pose
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

From left: Me, Rusty, Alana, and Jodi.
All doing our best Elvis pose on Nishinoshima in the OKI Islands. Saturday, Nov. 6th.

You Too and U2

Hello All,

I'm super busy this week, and this weekend is also jam-packed with activities, so it might be about a week before I post another entry, that read, according to my Mother, "like a bloody novel." Thanx Mom! :)

But I've added a few photos to whet your appetite for next week's posts.

The bottom two are from the great Halloween gathering we had in Izumo on Saturday, October 30th.

And the one above is a group shot of the OKI Islands gang (doing our best Elvis pose) from the following weekend, November 6 &7. Matt, Jodi's husband, took the photo, so he's missing from the shot.

In non-Japan news, I recently paid $1 and downloaded the new U2 single from iTunes, the awesome online Apple Music store. U2, one of the best rock bands in the past 20 years, is releasing a new CD on November 23rd, but you can hear and buy their new single. It's called "Vertigo," and it echoes the first single ("Beautiful Day") off their fantastic previous album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind." Like "Beautiful Day," "Vertigo" is chunky guitar rock featuring another great riff from the Edge and some fine vocal work from Bono. It's damn catchy, and I found myself humming it all day today after I played it for my Jr High kids during my weekly radio show at Taisha Chuugakkoo. So if you can, pick up their new album or download the new track - you won't be disappointed.

This gives me an opportunity to thank my folks once again for the excellent graduation gift - the excellent Apple iBook laptop that is my lifeline to the internet and all my friends and family via email. Never had a Mac before, but I'm totally satisfied, and iTunes is such a great digital music program, I'm so glad I chose to buy an Apple. You too can be cool - check out for all kinds of nifty computer stuff, including the best gadget since the cell phone, the iPod.

OK - enough blathering. Check back for another update next week.


Nigel as Waldo

Nigel as Waldo
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

My friend and fellow ALT, Nigel, in the best costume of the night as Waldo from the "Where's Waldo?" books.

Rusty - Hallwn 04

Rusty - Hallwn 04
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Ever the host, Rusty making fruity liquor drinks in his best last-minute costume. Halloween Party '04 at the Izumo Friendship House.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Enkais and Elections

This entry covers events that happened from late October to early November.

Had my first thunder storms here during the first week of November and we even had some small hail. And guess what, I was walking to school when it started hailing. But more on that in a minute.

Nov. 1st to Nov. 5th was a slow week here. I know the election happened on Tuesday, but I had already submitted my absentee ballot weeks ago and the coverage didn’t really happen here until Wednesday because of the time difference.

That reminds me, I should mention that Japan doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time, so now California is 17 hours behind and England is 9 hours behind Japan time. (instead of the previous difference of 16 and 8 hours respectively) Good info in case anyone wants to call me - I never get calls unless they’re wrong numbers dialed by very confused Japanese people who hear a strange Western voice on the other end.

Wednesday was a good day for the election to be covered here, because it was a national holiday (Culture Day) so I basically stayed home all day and watched the ABC news feed, which was broadcast in English in 45 minute chunks throughout the day and evening.

My initial reaction to the news that Bush had won reelection for a 2nd term is reflected in this e-mail message I sent to my brother, Paul. But since I’ve now had time to reflect, I don’t think it’s as grim as I first thought, but I am still profoundly disappointed and not exactly looking forward to the next 4 years with Bush still ensconced as our leader.

E-mail to Paul:


Sadly, I watched what little coverage I could here in Japan as Bush maintained his lead throughout the election and seemed destined for victory. While my one absentee ballot did little to change the result, I feel good that I was one of those "record number" of Americans who voted against perhaps the worst sitting president to ever be reelected.

But one thing discussed on the ABC news feed I was watching was the "rightness" of America now. And I'm not talking about correctness, but rather a move to the conservative right that doesn't seem to be a temporary shift by any means. We have to face the fact that America is a far different country now than it was even 4 years ago. 9/11 has impacted us in ways that are only now starting to emerge. While the west coast and much of the east coast voted for Kerry, the large middle and southern section of the country voted for Bush and his conservative "values." America is really a divided country now, and not since the days of the Civil War have we seen a nation so polarized and unwilling to compromise.

Bush could go a long way to repairing some of the partisan divide by making smart appointments and trying to move to the center on a few issues, but I seriously doubt he will take this course. If anything, he'll push further to the right and now that the Republicans have a majority in both houses and the presidency, I can see a day not too far from now when the Democratic party becomes the permanent minority party in the U.S., simply struggling to keep the Republicans from overwhelming national politics completely. It happened here in Japan, and it could happen in America. What will Bush do about the "Michael Moore voters" - those who really dislike him and his stance on Iraq? Probably nothing. It's really up to the Democratic party to muster the energy of these extremely dissatisfied citizens and channel that into gains for the Democrats in the next election.

The election did not go the way I had hoped, so I may just have to find a way to stay in Japan until 2008, or I may have to move back in a few years and find a way to make sure that the values and ideas I believe in are represented in Washington once again.


I’m not as sure the country is as divided as I stated above. I’ve read coverage of the aftermath of the election and one reporter mentioned that Americans are still by and large a united people - we all shop at the same Wal-Marts and Starbucks, we are by-and-large patriotic citizens who believe that America is a great country with a good political system. The country is as a whole Christian and shares many of the same values. While I am neither Christian nor overly patriotic, I do have faith in people and America is my home and always will be, so I hope that we can endure and maybe even thrive during the next four years - and at least Bush can’t run again in 2008.

Anyway, I need to post an entry about the Apple picking event, which is represented by a few pictures below. And the Halloween party and soba noodle tasting that happened that same weekend of Oct. 30th & 31st. So that’ll be my next entry. And then I need to describe the weekend trip to the OKI Islands I took on Nov. 6th and 7th, cuz I have a few pictures to post for that too.

But first, I’ll briefly describe why I was walking in the rain the other day.

Tuesday night, Nov. 2nd, I was invited to an “enkai” which is a formal Japanese party with drinking and eating and speeches. I was a special guest, as it was a “welcome” party for me and a farewell party for others leaving my local Board of Education, the people that employ me. So I put on a jacket and tie and rode thru the rain to my town offices, where I left my scooter and we went by car up the road to a nearby inn that has special rooms for these type of large parties. Everyone sits on the floor in front of a small, ground-level table about 2 feet by 2 feet. I was seated near the front, befitting my special guest status. I usually have a so-so time at these events, since I can’t really converse with anyone due to the language barrier. But my supervisor was seated next to me, and he always tries his best to make sure I’m enjoying myself, despite his limited English. The meal consists of many small portions, and they always serve fish in most of these courses, so I don’t end up eating much as I don’t eat anything that swims. And the only thing they usually have to drink is beer or sake, and I really don’t drink. Another interesting thing is that you can’t eat or drink ANYTHING at a Japanese enkai until the first few speeches have been given and they make an official toast and say “Kanpai,” the Japanese version of “Cheers.” Can you imagine being at a dinner party in America for 20 or more people where you have to stand around and chat with no appetizers or beverages at all for the first 20 or 30 minutes?

I’ve been to a number of these parties now, and I’ve discovered that they’re really expensive as well. The first one I went to was also for me, so as a guest I wasn’t expected to pay. But the day after I went to the 2nd one, for a departing teacher at my Jr. High, another teacher came to my desk and casually mentioned that I owed 7000¥, which is about $70, for last night’s party. I was flabbergasted. Apparently, $70 is standard for men and women pay about $50. I paid, but I decided that I would find out ahead of time next time how much it was gonna cost before I agreed to go. So the next time I was invited by the Kendo parents, I declined, explaining to my Japanese teacher, who is also the Kendo coach, that I couldn’t really afford to spend $70 on a party where I barely ate anything and barely drank anything. But the parents insisted I come, and said that I could attend without paying. So I agreed to go and when I arrived I found out that they had arranged to have a special dinner made for me with steak and spaghetti and they even had bottles of Pepsi brought in. So then I felt a bit sheepish about refusing to pay, but I’ll make it up to them.

The fun part of these parties is that it’s socially acceptable to get pretty drunk, and it’s one of the few times you get to see your co-workers with their guard down and sometimes their real personalities emerge and you’d be surprised how much some of them can speak English after they’ve had a little alcohol to bolster their confidence. And often, the dinner party is only the first party. Often, small groups will continue the party at a local bar or karaoke joint or even someone’s home.

The tolerance for drinking and driving here is ZERO. You can even get in trouble for riding your bicycle if you’ve been drinking, so most people at these parties take a taxi home or have their spouse come and pick them up. So after the party on Nov. 2nd, we all went to a local bar that has karaoke, and I entertained with my rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Goode” and then we had a group sing of “Imagine” by John Lennon, who is as revered over here just as much as he is in the West. I was drinking cola the whole time and had only had a few sips of beer during dinner and for the Kanpai toast. As a conversation starter, people at these parties get up and go to other guests, and offer to refill their glass of beer, so I had to drink a gulp or two from time to time just to be polite. But even though I’ve lost weight since coming here, I still am a big enough guy that a few gulps of beer and the odd shot of sake are hardly going to get me “drunk” or even tipsy.

Still, when it came time to go home, my supervisor refused to allow me to drive my scooter home, so I had to go with him by taxi, which are really expensive over here BTW. So wednesday, I had told the Kendo coach I would try and make it to school, even though it was a holiday, to help coach the girls participating in the upcoming speech contest. I slept in, but managed to get ready to leave my aparto by 11 am. It was cloudy and raining ever so slightly, but I decided I would walk the 25 minutes to school, check in on the girls, and then get my scooter, which was still parked at the town hall. Well, about 10 minutes into my walk, the heavens opened up and it started to pour. And then about 5 minutes later it started to hail. I ducked under some cover in a open garage and waited out the hail. I was wearing jeans and sneakers, and I was soaked right thru, but I was already halfway to school, so I decided to trudge on, since I was already soaked. I got to school only to find that everyone I needed to see had already gone home, so I grumbled some hellos to students that probably wondered what their English teacher was doing walking to school in the rain on a holiday. I walked down the road, got on my scooter and rode home. Of course, by that time it had stopped raining, and as some cosmic joke, a rainbow started to appear on the horizon. *sigh*

OK - enough for now. I’ll post soon about the more interesting apple picking event and my trip to OKI, and more pictures are on the way as well. Be good.


Saturday, November 13, 2004

Apple group 2

Apple group 2
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

We also picked blueberries that day and ate lunch with the kids and played games. A great day - thanx to all the other ALTs who came out and helped Taisha have a successful event.

Jason w kids 10_04

Jason w kids 10_04
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Click on any of the photos to be taken to Flickr where I'll be storing all my blog photos online, including other photos not posted to the blog.

Apple group 1

Apple group 1
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Apple picking photos from a day trip me and 6 other ALTs took on Saturday, October 30th. We had to chaperone small groups of elementary students from 3 of my local schools here in Taisha. A fun time was had by all. Thanks to Kayoko for the photos!

Friday, November 12, 2004

Rainy and Cold

It's been rainy and cold today, ending a week of really nice weather. Winter is settling in here, but we've had some nice autumn days - crisp, sunny and not too cold.

I've been super busy recently, and I have many topics and events that I want to blog about, so look for some updates this weekend or early next week.

I had a great moment of fanboy satisffaction this week, because in news completely unrelated to Japan, the new Star Wars trailer is available for viewing online Here, and Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith looks to be the movie all us Star Wars fans hope it will be - dark and exciting, revealing the story behind the transformation of Anakin Skywalker (Luke and Leia's dad) into Darth Vader.

Hope all is well where you are.


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Speechifying in the Land of the Rising Sun

I haven’t been attending Kendo practice for the past two weeks, which is a shame cuz I’d just started to develop a great Kendo blister on my right foot. I was told not to wear socks inside my house to toughen the soles of my feet for the kendo floor, cuz all the stomping and moving around in bare feet on the hard wood floors requires tough soles. And I’d just started getting a good callous going, when I had to stop practicing.

Instead I’m involved in the callous-free activity of English speech practice. 3 of my san-nen sei (9th grade) girls are practicing for an English recitation contest that takes place on Saturday, November 13th.
I’m also helping two other girls (one 8th grader and one 9th grader) prepare for a more demanding recitation contest that takes place on November 18th.

The three girls competing on the 13th are Wakiko, Nonoka and Saki. They each have to memorize a short piece in English (from 1 to 3 minutes in length) and then recite it in front on an audience and judges. They get to pick their selection out of a book with a number of choices. Wakiko picked a piece from the first “Harry Potter” book, when Harry and Ron discover the invisibility cloak. She’s doing well with her piece, but some of the words are really tough for her, like “fluid,” “silvery,” and “invisible.”

Nonoka picked a rather curious piece as it’s based on the understanding of English puns. It’s akin to the famous “Who’s on First?” routine by Abbot and Costello. But Nonoka’s piece involves Mr. Watt (“what”) and Mr. Will Knott (“not”). She’s doing well too, but the rhythm and timing needed to really sell the selection is slow coming.

Saki picked a piece that is also featured in the 9th grade English Textbook in longer form. It’s called “A Mother’s Lullaby.” Here is an excerpt:

“One day, a big bomb fell on the city of Hiroshima. Many people lost their lives, and many others were injured. They had burns all over their bodies. I was very sad when i saw those people.
On the night of that day, some people were already dead. I heard a lullaby. A young girl was singing to a little boy.
“Mommy! Mommy!” the boy cried.
“Don’t cry,” the girl said. “Mommy is here.” Then she began to sing again.

The story ends this way:
After a while the boy stopped crying and quietly died. But the little mother did not stop singing. It was a sad lullaby. The girl’s voice became weaker and weaker.
Morning came and the sun rose, but the girl never moved again.

And then Saki, who is a cute girl of 14 or 15, smiles real big and says “Thank you” and bows.

Now imagine that you’re an American and you’re asked on one of your first days in a Japanese classroom to read that story out loud from the text book, and then have the class repeat after you. It would be like asking a visiting Japanese teacher to read from a soldier’s diary who had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into it, and it’s not like the kids glared at me when I finished reading or anything, but it still made me uneasy somehow.

Asuka, one of the girls in the longer length piece competition, is reading an equally depressing selection about a young boy, named Ryuhei, who is a hemophiliac and gets AIDS from tainted blood that came from the U.S. Of course, with the proper dramatic emphasis, this story could be a real tear-jerker, but Asuka is simply struggling to pronounce all the English correctly and she says the entire 5 minute speech in the same monotone accent. And on the day of the competition I’m sure I’ll have to hear this piece at least 7 or 8 times, as each student picks their selection from the same book.

The last time I went to a speech contest this same thing happened. I had a male student, Hitoshi, in that competition who did really well, placing 4th out of about 35 students. Hitoshi had lived in the U.S. for 3 years when he was 6 to 9 years old, so I think they “handicapped” him a bit to make it fair for the other kids, cuz Hitoshi’s English is very good.
But I had a girl in that competition and her selection was called “Butterflies” and about 8 students, all girls, recited the same piece. No one else chose Hitoshi’s piece which was rather long and difficult. Most of the boys at that competition either picked a story about an ancient storyteller who has his ears cut off by a demon and is thereafter known as Naguchi the Earless, or a story about a little boy who draws pictures that come alive and one day he draws a tiger who devours all the monks in a temple. Nice stuff, huh? :)

Oh well, at least they’re speaking English and are motivated enough to memorize their pieces and come to practice everyday after school and even on the weekends.

And I’m learning way more than they are as I try to talk to them every day in Japanese and they help me with my Japanese grammar and pronunciation. I also ask them questions about their lives, so I’m gaining all sorts of interesting insights into the life of a Japanese teenager.

I’ll let you know how they all do in a couple of weeks, and then it’s back to Kendo practice for me and blisters on my feet.


Sunday, October 31, 2004

Night and Day

The following post is rather long, but I hope another enjoyable one. So I wanted to mention that below this post are two pictures of me and my kids from a Halloween parade we had at one of my elementary schools. And another shorter post about the recent earthquake in Japan.

This past week was a perfect example of the day and night nature of my current situation.

As it turned out, Tuesday was a half day. There were various teaching meetings scheduled for all the staff at my Jr. High, so the kids only had to come to school for the first 3 periods and then they got to go home at 11:45. There was no school lunch that day, as many of the teachers traveled to other schools to attend various meetings. Some teachers did stay and ordered in. All this would be fine, except for the small fact that NO ONE said anything to me about it. I was totally in the dark, until Hama-sensei, the very nice JTE that sits next to me in the staff room, asked me on Monday afternoon what I was going to do for lunch the next day. My perplexed expression must have given her a clue that I had no idea why I wouldn’t be eating school lunch as usual. So she explained that all the English teachers were going to another high school for a meeting. Apparently I wasn’t included, but that might have to do more with the fact that the meeting would have been in Japanese than the fact that they didn’t “want” me there. I don’t have a car so I can’t drive myself to these events. I guess I was supposed to sit at my desk for 4 hours with NOTHING to do and no students to teach, but I decided that wasn’t going to happen. I told Kyoto-sensei (the vice-principal) that I was going to the BoE, where I go from time to time to check in with my supervisor. He nodded and off I went. I checked in, made some copies that I had to make and then at about 12:30 I went home. I ate some lunch and had a nap and that was my Tuesday. No classes in the morning and home for lunch and a rest in the afternoon. I got paid for a full day, so I’m not complaining, but not only was it boring, it was also indicative of how out of the loop I am unless someone thinks to clue me in. The daily schedule changes here all the time and while I’m sure all the teachers discuss these changes at the morning meeting I attend every day, I can’t understand 80% of what is said, since it’s entirely in Japanese. Just today, lunch was scheduled early at 12:20, since the classes were adjusted to make room for EVERY class in the school to practice their songs that each class is going to sing at a special cultural assembly next week. I was playing softball with the special needs kids and some other teachers, so they let me know it was lunch time and we headed in. Not knowing what’s going on half the time puts you permanently off balance - it’s a weird feeling that’s taken me more time to get used to than any “culture shock” I was warned about.


All was redeemed by Wednesday.
I had a GREAT day Wednesday and was so busy I couldn’t see straight by the end of the day. My day started with classes at nearby Taisha elementary school. I was supposed to participate in a Halloween parade with the 5th graders and then have two classes with the 1st graders. It was really fun and all the kids dressed up in costumes and we went around the school to each classroom saying “Trick or Treat!” and then went to the staff room where all the kids got candy from some of the teachers. One of the 5th grade teachers had a digital camera so I hope to post some pics on this page if I can figure out how to do it.
My Halloween “presentation” was lame though, as I don’t really have any supplies - but my costume was kicking. I made it for a play I did back in High School in 1986. I was Merlin. But none of the kids know who Merlin is, so they all thought I was Dumbledore-sensei, the headmaster in the Harry Potter films.

After elementary classes ended I raced backed to my Jr. High by 12:40, ate some bread (that comes with this ingenious device that you crack open and equal amounts of jam and butter come out the slots onto your bread) and had some milk. I’m losing a bunch of weight here just cuz I eat so little at lunch as it often has fish or fish elements, so all I eat is bread or rice or fruit. Of course, I’m starving by the time I get home, but I’ve adjusted to it a little bit by now and it’s not so bad.
At 1:00, I was supposed to debut my radio show (Radio E-I-G-O), but the sensei in charge of the lunch time music had failed to inform the students who run the audio equipment that I was coming. So I struggled to explain that I was supposed to take over the microphone and then play songs on this CD I had with me. Another female student showed up who speaks better English and we worked it out, so at 1:05 I was “on the air.” All went well, except that I was told by some of the teachers later that they could hear my voice just fine, but the volume on the songs was way too low and you could barely hear them. Oh well - I had fun and will look forward to doing the show every Wednesday.
5th period I taught one class at the Jr. High. Then I had to get ready for a teacher’s meeting that I was leading. A bunch of the elementary teachers from the 5 schools I visit were all gathering in Taisha at 3:30 for a small meeting where I was supposed to teach them handy “classroom” English and some new American games. Well, it’s been quite a few years since I have played games with elementary school kids, but I hit the net and looked in some books left behind by my predecessors and came up with some cool games. One of the teachers at the meeting remembered from my visit to his school that I like Pepsi, so he brought me 3 small bottles to drink while all the other teachers drank coffee. That was a great meeting, and I enjoyed being in control for once. We had a lot of fun playing “Heads Up, 7 Up” and “Island Hopping.” And if any other ALTs are reading this I found a good web site with pages of classroom English that is also translated into Japanese. You can find the Adobe PDF file HERE.

The meeting ended at about 5:15 and I headed home for some quick dinner before my night activity. I bought some frozen penne pasta for the first time last week, but I can’t read the cooking instructions, so I was unsure whether to cook the small container in my range on microwave setting or conventional oven setting. I can read the kanji for “minutes,” so I knew how long to cook it for, but not how to cook it. I tried a combination of both and it tasted OK, so I must have done all right. I dressed up a bit and headed back to the music hall by the BoE to attend a student brass band concert at 6:30. The concert was great, and the last one to include the 9th graders, who graduate in April next year. It went to about 8:30pm and then I waited in the lobby to congratulate the Music teacher for a job well done. We shook hands, I said “Omedeto Gozaimasu” (congratulations) and I headed for the exit. Many of my Jr. High kids were in the lobby as well, waiting for friends, and I chatted briefly with a few brave enough to approach me or say something to me in English. The kids wear their school uniforms EVERYWHERE, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of my Jr. High students in “civilian” clothes yet.

I scootered home and plopped down on the couch, too tired to prepare anything else to eat. I tried to make it through the 10pm News that’s simulcast in English, but my eyes kept closing, so I trundled off to bed, really satisfied and happy that I’d had such a good day. Days like Wednesday make up for a bunch of the days when I don’t feel like I’m having much of an impact. Days like Wednesday are why I signed up for JET. I hope I get to have many more days like Wednesday in the weeks to come.


2nd class of 5th graders at Taisha Elementary

2nd class of 5th graders at Taisha Elementary
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

5th graders and me - Taisha Elementary

5th graders and me - Taisha Elementary
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Two pics of me and my 5th graders from my nearest elementary school. Most of their costumes consisted of black trash bags with drawings on them. But you can't go to the store and buy a costume, so I thought they all did a good job.

The recent Niigata earthquake

I've had a few emails and one phone call from my mother asking whether I was affected by the recent devastating earthquakes that have rocked northern Honshu, the main island of Japan.

In short, NO - I didn't even feel the quakes that day. They happened in a prefecture far from mine. It's the equivalent if the quakes had happened in the Bay Area of California and I was living in Los Angeles, distance-wise.

Click HERE to see a simple map of Japan. This map is divided into prefectures, which are kinda likes states in the United States. Niigata (the epicenter of the quakes) is #15 on this map, and Shimane (my prefecture) is #32. Hard to read distance on this map, but Tokyo, which is south-east of Niigata (and in prefecture #13 on this map), is about 6 hours away from Shimane, so you get an idea.

I can't help but think that there are many JETs like myself who now might be homeless and many are certainly facing an uncertain future because over 90 schools in Niigata are still closed as of today, one week after the quakes. Many people are living in shelters and even in their cars out of fear of aftershocks or because their homes are unsafe or destroyed, and it's getting colder up north and is supposed to rain this week, so my best hopes go out to them.

Thanks to everyone who sent messages of concern. I appreciate it. But I'm fine and looking forward to a hectic but enjoyable November. Hope all is well where you are.


Sunday, October 24, 2004

Confusion, Frustration and a dollop of Satisfaction

This past week contained confusion, frustration and satisfaction in equal measure. As I mentioned in a previous post, I got to visit one of my Elementary schools for the first time this week. Usagi primary school is unique in that it has only 6 students. So I was supposed to take a bus to get there, as Usagi is located in the mountains above Taisha, but when I attempted to find out what time the bus left Taisha, there was some confusion in my staff room and no one could figure it out apparently. The frustration of the language barrier really grates at times like this - trying to communicate with someone on the staff about something so simple becomes really tough and having to rely on others for every little thing at times is tough for me to adjust to. So it was decided that Kobayashi-san, the school engineer and jack-of-all-trades, would drive me to the school Tuesday morning. It was raining that morning as we set out at 8:10am. After climbing up some very narrow and twisty roads, we arrived at the school about 30 minutes later. I was ushered into the small staff room after changing into my indoor slippers (I bring my own with me so I don’t have to cram my feet into the visitor sandals all the schools have).

I was offered Japanese green tea, which is not a favorite of mine, but politeness dictates that I accept and sip occasionally. Coffee is always offered as well, but I really don’t like coffee, and water is not something they have at the ready like we do in the states. I sat as Kobayashi-san and a woman who might have been the school principal chatted about me and the weather. They were old friends apparently. After a few minutes, a young, male teacher came in the room and bowed and introduced himself. Turns out he’s in charge of the 2 older students. Later on I met the slightly older, female teacher who’s in charge of the 4 younger kids. There is also a kindergarten class with two 5-year-old girls, both younger sisters of another student.

Taru-san (the male teacher) explained the game plan for my stay. I was to be there for 3 periods and leave at 12:02 on the bus that goes back to Taisha. He took me to the gym and had me wait until the kids all shouted “Jason sensei” and then I entered the gym to applause and cheers. OK, cheers from just 8 people, but it was a nice start to the day nonetheless. So we started out with easy greetings and my self introduction speech, followed by questions from the kids and then some easy games, like concentration with picture cards. I also played the memory game I use to learn their names where I say we’re all taking a trip and you can take one thing that starts with the same letter as your first name. I used to say, “My name is Jason and I’m taking jellybeans,” but many of the kids have never eaten jellybeans and didn’t know what I was talking about, so now I say I’m taking a jacket. So I learned all the kids names: 4 boys, one each in 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th grades and two girls, in 1st and 2nd grade.

Then it was time for me to hang with the older kids, meaning Yusuke (pronounced You-skay), the 6th grader, and Sho, the 5th grader. They have their own classroom, and their own teacher. They got to ask me more questions and I asked them some, and then we went thru a “day in the life” of Jason. They both speak fairly good English for their ages and Taru-san was also pretty good, which was a big relief. After that we went back to the gym and played frisbee (I always have one with me) and then I sat with the kindergarten girls as we watched the 6 students perform a traditional Japanese song and dance. They two older boys played a type of recorder/flute, the two girls played drums and the two younger boys did this stylized dance with a stick. After that is was rest time, so the teachers all gathered in the staff room and had coffee, and I had juice. We chatted as best we could and I ate some Japanese snacks.

Then we went to the music room and I got to watch more traditional performances. The kids were really talented, playing different types of drums and stringed instruments while the teachers played the piano or flute. During break they had all made me origami presents, which was cool. When it was about time to go, the woman I had met first offered to drive me to the bus stop as it was raining. As we left, all the kids came out and waved goodbye and shouted “see you” in English. Very cool. I had a great time there, and can’t wait to go back. I’m not scheduled to return until the end of November, but they invited me to a weekend festival they have in early November so I’ll do my best to attend. Got back to Taisha but the bus stops up at the Shrine, so I had to walk back to my Jr. High in the rain. Luckily I had my umbrella.

Wednesday was another typhoon day, so school ended early at 1:00. I was supposed to teach two classes of 2nd graders at the nearby Taisha primary school, during 2nd and 3rd period, but a call came in asking me to be at the school by 8:45, just before the start of 1st period. I went thinking they might be rescheduling me to an earlier time because of the approaching typhoon. I went upstairs with the homeroom teacher. I did my morning greetings to a rather uppity class, and then according to my lesson plan we were supposed to sing a song (“Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes”). But the Japanese teacher said no, next we would be learning about the phrase “how many?” I asked “Ni-nensei (2nd graders)?” and she said, no this was a 4th grade class. Well, I was scheduled to teach 2 4th grade classes the next day, so I hadn’t brought my 4th grade lesson plan with me. After some confusion we continued, but the class was not a good one. During a group game where all the kids are supposed to ask me to play “janken” (Rock/Paper/Scissors) and then ask me how many of something I have and vice versa, only the girls came up to me. The boys either ran around being disruptive or ignored me. The teacher seemed unable or unwilling to discipline them, so it was not a good start to my day. I tried to make a point at the end by handing out “Jason money” (American dollar bills photocopied with my picture or Batman or Darth Vader where George Washington would be) only to the girls and saying that next time everyone had to join in, but who knows if they understood my English rant. The teacher could see that I was a little upset, but all she could say was “sumimasen” (sorry) and all I could say was “OK” even though it really wasn’t.

I then taught a class of 2nd graders, like scheduled, and it was like night and day. They were all attentive and happy to see me and the teacher was totally prepared and everything went well. I gave “Jason money” to all of them and they were thrilled. We played “fruit basket” with pictures of fruits and vegetables and had a great time. After that I went down to the staff room and said my goodbyes thinking I was done for the day. But two of the teachers chased me out into the hall and asked me where I was going. I explained I was scheduled to teach two classes so I was going back to the Jr. High. But they explained that I was supposed to teach 4 classes that day and I wouldn’t have any classes tomorrow. Turns out that one of the 4th grade teachers wouldn’t be there Thursday, so they wanted me to do all 4 classes Wednesday. I was visibly upset at this unannounced change, but what could I do. I trotted off to my 3rd class, another class of 2nd graders. That went well too, and the kids had fun. The wind was really swirling around while we were in class, so we went back to the staff room before 4th period only to find out that they were sending the kids home due to the oncoming typhoon. So the teacher we had changed everything for never got me in her class after all. I went back to the Jr. High frustrated at the confusion and my inability to express my frustrations to any of the teachers and make them understand that they had to let me know if they wanted to alter my schedule.

When I got back to the Jr. High, another low point was waiting. All week I had been looking forward to lunch on Wednesday, because I was scheduled to start my English language radio show, where I would get to play Western music I liked and talk to the kids over the PA system. But because of the typhoon, the kids at the Jr. High were going home right after lunch, so my radio debut would have to wait 'til next week. :(

So it’s 1:00 and all the kids are heading home. You might think that the teachers would get to leave soon after, but you’d be wrong. We are required to stay until Kyoto-sensei (the vice principal) says we can leave or it’s 4:00. So I had to sit at my desk with nothing to do for 3 hours waiting for it to be 4pm. As I headed for the door to leave, it was pouring rain and very windy. One teacher told me it would be dangerous to ride my scooter home, but I assured her that I’d be OK. And even though I was leaving, almost all the other teachers stayed. No clubs or sports that day, but I guess they were waiting for Kyoto-sensei to give them the OK.

I’ve started helping a group of 5 female students prepare for an English recitation contest that takes place on November 13th. So no after-school Kendo right now, altho I did attend nighttime practice on Thursday night. The girls never came and got me Tuesday night to help them, so I sat at my desk and waited in vain until 5pm before I gave up and went home. But we practiced Thursday and Friday and they’re a talkative bunch of 9th graders, so it’s been fun.

Speaking of sitting at my desk, that’s all I did on Thursday. Since I didn’t have any Elementary visits, and none of my Jr. high teachers had asked me to join their classes that day, I literally did NOTHING all day until speech practice after school. Sure, i found things to do - like make audio cassettes for the girls in the speech contest with me reciting their selections, and I even watched a bit of the Yankees game and took a short nap in the upstairs English teachers room, that no one really uses during school hours. So on Friday, noticing that my sign up sheet was empty for both Thursday and Friday, the JTE that sits next to me, Hama-sensei, asked me if I was a little bored. Uh...duh! So she asked me to help her with two of her classes that day and then Moriyama-sensei asked me to help her with the special ed class 6th period. Now that’s more like it. And then Ishitobi-sensei wanted me for his 4th period “optional” English class (an elective where the kids CHOOSE to study English), which was the same period as one of Hama-sensei’s classes. So they fought over me a bit and Ishitobi won, since the optional class only meets once a week.

So after a disappointing mid week, Friday was a fun and active day.
Funny side note - I wore my black Levi’s jeans to school on Friday for the first time. At least 5 groups of kids came up to look at the tag and ask if they were Levi’s. One kid even asked me what my waist size was. I said I wasn’t sure in Japanese measurements, but when I said the size in American measurements, his eyes grew wide with astonishment. The kids in general are still amazed at how “ookii” (big) I am and how furry my arms are.

I’m typing this on Saturday night and it looks like it will be a mellow weekend. Today was gorgeous, with the type of weather I love - cool (50s or low 60s) and sunny with a slight breeze. I did some shopping and had a burger and fries at a local Burger chain restaurant called MOS Burger. It’s a really small burger, but tasty and a bit of a treat after all the rice and school lunch I eat all week. Tomorrow I’m off to Kendo practice at 10am and then I’ll have dinner with my friend and fellow JET, Rusty, who lives over in Izumo, which is about 15 minutes away by scooter.

Hope all is well where you are.


PS - the typhoon was pretty severe, but didn’t really affect the area of Japan I’m in. I’ve seen some ripple effects - like the price of vegetables and some fruits has skyrocketed, since many crops were flooded or washed away. I’m talking $10 for a head of lettuce. Fruit is always expensive ($5 for an apple - yes, a single apple and $19 for a small melon), but right now I’m only buying pre-cut pineapple and bananas.

Tonight there was an earthquake in another region of Japan that was also pretty severe, but I didn’t even feel it. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m in for a doozy of a natural disaster since I’ve been relatively unscathed so far. Let’s hope not.