Monday, January 30, 2006

Trivia for week of Jan 30th

Here is this week's question:

Which comedian lent her voice to Dory, the forgetful blue tang fish, in the 2003 hit film Finding Nemo?

Last Week's Answer (highlight line below):
Josh Groban

Sunday, January 22, 2006

the return of TRIVIA

OK - so I'm starting to post trivia again. It's going to be a weekly question and I'll most likely post the answer when I post the next question, but if you can't wait - leave a comment or shoot me an email and I'll tell you.

This week's question is dedicated to my friend Satoko who gave me a bunch of cool pics recently and is a fellow Ally McBeal fan - which is called "Ally My Love" here in Japan.

Question for week of Jan 22nd:

Which singer made his television debut on a season finale episode of Ally McBeal?

Good luck - be back next week for the answer and the next question.


in Fukuoka with two Sumo rikishi

with two Sumo rikishi
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Today is the last day of the New Year sumo tournament - and my favorite wrestler, Asashoryu, lost yesterday meaning that he can't win the whole tournament today. It'll be the first tournament he's lost since September of 2004 - he won the last 7 tournaments in a row - an amazing achievement that set a new Sumo record.

Fellow ALTs Mark D and Rusty and Rusty's girlfriend, Satoko, and I went to Fukuoka last November to watch live Sumo and it was great.

I finally got some pics that Satoko took with her camera and here's one of her, Mark and I outside the stadium with two rank-and-file rikishi (wrestler - which literally translates to "strong man"). You don't quite get a sense of scale on just how big these guys are until you see a few up close - for comparrison in this pic I'm 6'1" (182 cm) and I weigh about 115 kgs - these guys are BIG!

Click on this pic and I've posted a few other fun ones to my Flickr site.

See ya,

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Xmas 2005 - Santa @ TKC

Xmas 2005 - Santa @ TKC 3
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

TKC stands for "Taisha Kids Club" and that's where I spent an afternoon entertaining an audience of 2, 3 and 4 year olds and their Moms as Santa San.

The costume I had to wear in my 5 appearances as Santa at various day cares and kindergartens was pieced together from 3 seperate esembles and I bought the hat myself. As you can see it barely fit, but it made quite an impression on most of the kids who have never seen a non-Japanese person as Santa.

And yes, that's a woman dressed up as Mickey Mouse on my left and the other woman was my reindeer. I "ho-ho"ed and shook hands and passed out presents and this day we even danced the "hokey pokey" while singing the Japanese lyrics. Ahh... Christmas memories. :)

-Jason Claus

What's in a name?

Interview at IzumoTaisha
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

So in my 2nd year here I've made a concentrated effort to learn more of my students' names.

For instance, the three girls in this picture are named (l to r) Mako, Risako, & Sayako.

You might think there's nothing that remarkable about me learning their names, but let's look at Mako's name as an example -
I have 9th grade girls named Mako, Maki, Mika, Miho, & Maiko. It's tough.
But adding to the difficulty is the fact that one rarely uses someone's first name at school. All Japanese say their name last name first and teachers call on students by their last name followed by an honorific such as "kun" (for boys) or "chan" for girls or "san" for either. So Sayako here isn't ever called Sayako - she's Moriyama san in class and to most of her peers - only her close friends call her Sayako, and then even they would possibly abbreviate the name into something cute like Saya-chan or something along those lines.

But wanting to introduce Western styles, I've tried hard to call all my kids by their first names. It only makes sense since they all call me Jason, although I still have teachers and students that call me "Mr. Jason" which is one of the few things that irritates me in Japan. I doubt some of them even know my last name is Harris.

So, being bored the other day and taking an idea from my friend Emily, I decided to look thru my Jr High "face book" and see which last name is most in use at my main school. My town is small and close-knit, so I know many of the families in town are related and I'm sure many of the students with the same last name are probably siblings, although not always.

What's a face book, you ask. It's the item that's allowed me to make some progress this year learning my kids' names. Every year, in April, the school takes passport-size head shots or mug shots of all the kids in every class and then compiles a book listing their class, student number and their name and picture. So I made a xerox of each class's page and with the help of some of my students i wrote out all the kanji names in romaji. So now I have a face to go with the name and it's helped immeasureably.

So I went through the face book the other day (I had to go to work to save using a vacation day even though there are no students at school until Tuesday - Monday is a holiday here - "Coming of Age Day" - a special day for young people turning 20 this year) and just made a list of which last names appear in more than one class.

Just like "Smith" or "Jones" or any other common name in the West, there are names which are very common in Japan and like I said, my small town probably has a higher instance of some names due to long standing family ties to my region of Shimane.

My very unscientific research found 19 names that are shared by more than 5 students. Taisha JH has roughly 480 students.

Here are the names followed by the number of students that share that name:

ITO - 10
SATO - 9
KATO - 9
AGO - 7
SOTA - 5
AOKI - 5

With 4 appearances are these names:
Ueno, Hino, Takahashi, Nagami, Watanabe, Ishida, Iijima, & Fujihara.

Many of these even with practice are difficult for me to pronounce and whenever I hand back papers in class and have to call the students' names it's an endless source of amusement, but I'm getting better.

I have 4 students named Moriyama in one class, but luckily 2 are boys and 2 are girls, making it easier to keep them separate in my mind.

So when I see my kids outside of school. like at the grocery store or at the shrine on New Year's Day I count it as a small triumph if I know their name, and if I don't then I try to make a mental note to learn it. Of course, anyone who's taught in Japan can tell you how disconcerting it can be to see your students outside of school in regular, everyday, street clothes. 95% of the time I see my kids in the exact same outfit - either their winter/summer uniform or their gym clothes - even when they have to some to school on the weekends or on a holiday or during a vacation period they wear their school uniform. Which means that another thing that helps you keep track of your students' names in a Western school - their individual fashion style, whether that be a hoodie and jeans or slick and preppie or jock casual - is removed from my situation - it actually throws me when I see my kids in jeans and a t-shirt - i simply don't recognize them.

So I call Moriyama Sayako "Sayako" and perhaps I'm one of the only people that does - but I think it's good for them to get used to because in any western setting they'll be known by their first name. In Sayako's class there are also girls named Sayaka and Ayako and Aika and Ayaka. And just as I've finally got a grasp on my 9th grader's names - they'll be graduating in March and I'll have a whole bunch of new 7th graders to start on.

That's Mr. Harris to you :)

PS - Mako, Risako & Sayako all are fantastic students - 3 of my favorites who I will miss then they move on to high school in 2 short months.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Trivia update and stats

I didn't buy a new page-a-day calendar this year with daily Pop Culture trivia, so I've decided not to try and do a new trivia question every day like last year.

I do however still have the last two months worth of questions that I didn't post last year in November and December, so instead of a daily question, I'm going to offer a weekly question instead.

Not sure how quickly I'll reveal the answer - if waiting a whole week is too long, shoot me an email or leave some comments and I can post the answer the next day or something.

And in today's news was this statistic:

93 million visit shrines, temples during New Year holidays
TOKYO - An estimated 93.37 million people visited shrines and temples during the first three days of the New Year, a record figure and up 4.07 million from a year before, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

That's 93 million out of a total population of about 120 million - that's an incredibly huge percentage.
I wonder what percentage of Americans go to church on Christmas? Of course, not all Americans are Christians, but still I'm sure the percantage is way less.

Anyway - check back at least once a week for new trivia and more pictures are on the way.

one of the 93 million

Thursday, January 05, 2006


school sign in snow 2
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Did I mention it's cold??!!?? It snowed again today - perhaps even more than when I took this photo.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to update this site more regularly - so check back throughout January for more content and pictures, and as always you can click on any picture and be taken to my online album which has more pictures than I post here.


New Year's 2006 at IzumoTaisha

New Year's 2006 at IzumoTaisha
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

That's Japanese for "Happy New Year!"

I had some friends come and stay at my place over the New Year's holiday - Donna, Eri and Liz, who all live out on the Oki Islands off the coast of Shimane.
In this picture we're joined by British ALT Ang and her friend Fran, who was just visiting for the holidays. Eri & Liz are Canadians and Donna is from New Zealand, so I was the only American.

We had a good time hanging out and Eri even cooked dinner for us both nights. Yum!

We went to my local shrine, IzumoTaisha on New Year's Eve at about 11:30pm and joined the literally thousands of others waiting for the New Year to arrive. There was a small countdown - go, yon, san, ni, ichi - "HAPPY NEW YEAR! and then not much of anything else - unless you were willing to wait in the HUGE line waiting to get into the inner shrine to pray and make a wish for the new year. The line was hundreds of people long and it was cold - so us gaijin decided not to wait.

Many of the Japanese around us were a little suprised to see us Westerners walking around, but Ang, who teaches at the local High School, and I saw lots of our students and their families. All the Japanese people were buying good luck charms and writing wishes on tablets that you can leave at the shrine for luck. The tablets have a picture of a dog on them, since 2006 is the year of the dog.

I did buy some nifty hashi (chopsticks) at a vendor stall that were lining the long walk up to the shrine. I also had a tasty sausage on a stick.

We walked back and got back to my place around 3am - and we all crashed as it had been a long day for all of us.

I hope that everyone reading this had a warm and wonderful New Year and that 2006 brings you all that life has to offer.