That moment when…

…the math teacher begins to furiously grade the final math test papers as if it were a life or death situation while muttering calculations and exclamations vigorously under his breath. Each corrected paper slammed into the pile rather than just being casually dropped in.

Or that moment when, the JTE can’t imagine how one student gets all the grammar right on a foreign language test but doesn’t know what day Tanabata lands on. His bemused comment: “She gets all the English grammar right… But she doesn’t know that Tanabata lands on July 7. And she’s Japanese.”

The art teacher on the other hand just strolls in relaxed and happy with the creative output for the test.

Moral of the story: teach art. No right or wrong answers 😀

I had one job today: give the kids encouraging messages in their Daily Life journals. And I did it. Thumb twiddling and banging head in laptop screen commences as I try to justify killing a character who could technically still make it through another chapter…



The Prefectures Bucket List


I’m on a mission to visit every one of Japan’s 47 prefectures and its main islands. I have three years to complete my goal. I’m here already so I may as well make the most of my stay as a contributing-to-society adult with no permanent ties or responsibilities (apart from work, of course). It’s finally occurred to me that keeping track of where I’ve been and what I’ve done is of strategic, statistical, and demographic importance (silly me).


Hokkaido (Sapporo/Otaru, February 2015)

Miyagi (Sendai, December 2014)

Akita (Oga Peninsula, October 2014)

Aomori (August 2014-present)**

Tokyo (Tokyo City, September 2011 – July 2012 & July 2014)*

Kanagawa (Hakone, May 2012)

Kyoto (Kyoto City, March-April 2012)

Nara (Nara City, March-April 2012)

Hiroshima (Hiroshima City/Miyajima, March-April 2012)

Okinawa (February 2012)

Yamagata (Yamagata City, February 2012)

Okayama (New Year’s 2012)

Chiba (Disneyland, December 2011)

Tochigi (Nikkou, November 2011)

Nagano (Matsumoto Castle, September 2011)



Aomori’s Greatest Hits and the Great Tokyo Escape (Kouchan visits Tohoku + Reunion with Waseda friends in Tokyo)

The Tohoku Triangle: Aomori-Akita-Iwate (Golden Week with the girls)

Osaka (sometime, maybe soon, maybe in another year)

Legend: (*) – lived and studied there; (**) – lived and worked there

A Portrait of a JET in Its Natural Habitat

According to my precocious 1st graders, I look like…




The days are going much too fast. It’s as if, there’s nothing but waking and eating breakfast then planning for lessons, teaching the lesson and suddenly it’s lunchtime followed by cleaning and more lessons and kendo. Sometimes there’s kendo in the morning, too, and those are the busiest days.

Thankfully it’s going to be a slow weekend this time. I’ll probably finally get Skype time with my parents. The first in nearly two weeks. In fact I’m going to schedule that now… Not now… In a couple hours when it’s not 4am in California. Anyway. I digress…

Yuki Akari: Snow Light Festival in Otaru, Hokkaido

Many travel to Hokkaido in February for the sole purpose of visiting Sapporo during Yuki Matsuri season. The grandiose ice sculptures of famous film scenes and historic buildings are phenomenal. It’s not an exaggeration to say that they are quite literally known world-wide.

Otaru. It’s a seaside city about half an hour’s train ride north of Sapporo and known for its thriving music box and Venetian-style glass works industry. It’s well-known if not widely known, but once a year, running at the same time as Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri, Otaru comes alive with a beautiful celebration of the four seasons, of light, and of snow.

Walking through snow mazes barely wide enough to admit two, the white paths are lit only by the muted glow of candles burning inside holders made of flowers and maple leaves frozen in ice. They hang from trees like stars or glow in the hollows of carved alcoves within the snow maze’s walls. Everywhere the brightness of light shines as a reminder that the same cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth will soon be mirrored yet again in the four seasons.

The music box crafting and the Venetian glass exhibits were all pleasant ways to spend a day about the city while waiting for nightfall. But… spend a single night in Otaru and you’ll have wished you had taken your entire Yuki Matsuri experience and traded it in for more time in the Snow Light Festival. By a stroke of pure accident, Siri was unable to direct me to the main Snow Light show by the Otaru Unga (Otaru Canal). Instead I found myself meandering along snowlit mazes, descending giant snow slides (twice), and really feeling the spirit of the festival with the locals. The whole experience felt as surreal as accidentally stumbling upon a the land of spirits, imps, and demons. It’s a very fantastical atmosphere, one that I would take a whole week to experience if given the chance again.

Yuki Matsuri Day 1

Began the adventure bright and early from Hachinohe Station bound for Sapporo with a backpack full of 5 days worth of clothes and an iPad brimming with reading material.

Most people take the night train to Sapporo to save some serious cash on transport – this is the smart option, the one you should take if you have a chance – but I opted for the slightly more expensive take-the-Shink route for the experience and because some odds and ends cropped up for that Friday night.

It’s not a very straightforward trip as it requires two to three transfers but there are very helpful station attendants along the way if you are in need of assistance. You can opt for reserved or non-reserved seats. For the cost of an extra 200 yen (a small sacrifice, in my opinion, but up to each person to decide) you get a specific seat reservation. Otherwise you may end up in a carriage standing in the back throughout the duration of your trip.

I get motion sickness so having my own seat where I can curl up on the seat desk is non-negotiable. But it’s doable if you don’t mind sitting on the floor or standing for longer periods of time. Approximately a six hour forty minute ride from start to finish.










Arrived, grabbed refreshments with two friends who had been in the area since six in the morning, dropped of unnecessary items at hostel where I checked in. Before hitting the streets to check out the festival. It’s quite amazing to see these giant, life size statues of buildings and famous characters (everything from Darth Vadar to Alive in Snowland to Kagusa Taisho).

Finished off the evening with a massive enkai at the Kirin Beer Hall. All you can eat meat and famous beer! More pictures and stories to come later. For now… Sleeeeeep!

Yuki Matsuri Predeparture

1. Laundry
2. Wash dishes
3. Pay bills
4. Take out money for a couple days of adventuring
5. Shut off water
6. Submit D&D character bio to GM
7. Pack clothes
8. Charge all electronic devices
9. Passport!
10. Coffee

Too much to do and not enough time but half the fun is in the undertaking! Just one more day and three more classes. Then I’m off for another adventure in Sapporo. What is this life?! Never in a million years did I see myself doing something like this on a regular basis. If it’s a dream, no one wake me. If I’m in the matrix, leave me behind and don’t come back for me.

Still, it’s been a rather stressful two weeks. A minor car accident on an icy road just last week, a snow writing challenge that needs to be finished before D&D eats up my every other weekend, D&D bio that had to be written and submitted ages ago, phonics lesson plans and prepping, and potentially snowboarding trip over Valentine’s Day weekend.

And somewhere between all that I forgot about ballet and kendo. Whoops… T.T The fault, however, lies not in my stars but in myself for being an underling.

Emergency Preparedness Day


Today was Emergency Preparedness Day at one of my elementary schools. As far as cultural exchanges go some things are exactly the same no matter where you go in the world… And other things will throw you for a loop.

Lock the kids and pregnant teachers in the gym? Check. Have the two tallest, strongest looking male teachers guard the gym with “weapons”? Check. Kill the lights and cover the windows? Check and check. Send administrative staff to pitchfork the intruder…? Check…

Let’s just say I was not very prepared about the Japanese version of Emergency Preparedness Day.

If you have seen the picture up above and are a) not terribly surprised to imagine your coworkers pitch forking a local police officer as part of training and b) not taking copious amounts of photos as they proceed to quite literally drag said police officer to the genkan with full force… then you are most likely Japanese or have been to a Renaissance fair as a pitchfork wielding peasant.

In any case, let us say that as far as ordinary days goes this one included pitch forking along with the banal lesson planning and coffee runs to keep awake.

Since they forgot to warn me about the fire drill two months ago (which wouldn’t have needed explaining anyhow because blaring lights and sirens are international lingo for GTFO), my coworkers were more than excited to constantly remind me about the “Intruder Drill” (insert knowing smiley face and wink). Are you familiar with those, they ask, do you know intruder drills?

The great nation of ‘Merica in all her infinite wisdom has allowed some outrageous guns and weapons to be sold across Walmart/sports supply stores nationwide and the right of ‘Merican citizens to own said weapons of self destruction are enshrined as natural rights in the Second Amendment. I grew up in Chino (home to the men’s state prison) and have also attended school during my formative years in LA county. Do I know emergency and intruder drills? Pshaw. We can do them in our sleep, I thought to myself. I got this, I said.

And then they bring out the pitchforks. And that’s when I realized I wasn’t in SoCal anymore.

Let me tell you, they really put up a fight. The police officers did not go easy on anyone and there were a couple times I thought the “intruder” was going to win. Literally, it could not have been more appropriate to start chanting “Fight, fight, fight” at work. Watching my shy, reserved coworkers break out into survival samurai mode was also quite the experience. But at least I now know that quite luckily I’ve got some pretty fit coworkers who can handle intense situations.

So. Moral of the story: never be without your pitchfork and expect anything to happen on Emergency Preparedness Day.