An Abundance of Apples… And Then Some

The final chapter in the sixth years’ quest to grow the perfect apples and the fifth years’ rice farming experience. No matter how many times I participate, it’s always invigorating to see my kids learning something for the first time: the fumbled guesses, the hair raising stumbles, and the beautiful ‘A-HA!’ light bulb moments. It just never ever gets old.

Children are incredulously and incredibly, well, incredible. I know this explains nothing, but there are no better words for all the funny, candid moments I get with them. The things they say, the ways in which they problem solve. Every precious victory is cause for day long celebration, every failure a drama worthy of a season on HBO. Kids are so full of life, everything is so new to them. And it’s been a real privilege and an honor to be taken along for the ride.

I almost want to pitch a documentary series to NatGeo about kids and how they grow up around the world.

 

Mystery, Mayhem… and a taste of Murder ;)

The time has come to say goodbye to several JETs in the community… those who will not be contracting for the 2015-2016 academic year will be returning home to family, friends, and futures no longer to be shared in Aomori. Shameless alliteration aside, they will be missed. Nothing says goodbye to an old crew and welcome to a new council quite like a murder mystery party where the former president and vice president are murdered for our entertainment.

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A whodunnit worthy of a Milan catwalk.

Dressed to kill, we filled Aomori City’s Penthouse  the soiree launched with a host of talents and their entertaining repertoires: Tahitian dance, Liszt, singing, guitars, and spoken word poetry. We were all in the dark, anticipating the murder to occur sometime throughout the night but not quite sure how or when – the who was quite obvious, of course 😀 – and then the announcement for nibbles caught most everyone off guard. In what will be remembered as the swiftest dropping dead in the history of murder mystery parties, Pat and Ryan were murdered by their treasurer with the pen in the Penthouse and brought back as incoherent zombies by a graduate of Ghostbusters Academy via the arcane musical tie worn by the talent show’s guitarist (we’re classy and creative up here in Aomori). Left to mingle and investigate the details, which included the incoherent Pat and Ryan’s accounts of how they thought they were murdered, guests enjoyed the finest of appetizers and company for the next two hours. All in all it was a great night, whether one wanted to participate in the solving of the murder mystery or not. A bit like D&D on a massive, chaotic scale 😉

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Detective Lisa Quinn is murdered…

Otherwise this week saw us at a glorious 11 degrees Celsius! Got invited to a picnic where we made damper (Australian bread cooked over an open fire) and reveled in the beauty of warmth and sunlight, grass and trees… I miss the oppressive heat of the California sun. It’s only April but it’s been hitting 90 degrees Fahrenheit back home… winter go away, please. Bring back the warm weather!

White Day 2015

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As the legend goes, the reason for Japan’s strange tradition of having women give chocolates to men on the most ‘romantic’ date in the Western Calendar is due to a translating error. To be fair, Japanese and English are the exact opposite of each other. “I go to the store” is in English countries what “I to the store go” is to Japanese speakers. And don’t even get me started on passive grammar forms of keigo. Basically you can see how someone accidentally and quite literally translated the English for an otherwise catchy business slogan: “St. Valentine’s, a day for men to give women chocolate” into “St. Valentine’s, a day for women to give men chocolate”.

That’s right. Blame the translators that the men of an already heavily patriarchal society have been reaping the benefits of a holiday that forces women to shower them with even more attention and lavish gifts yet again. Feminists, unite! Cry havoc and release the dogs of war! Or not…

…strangely enough this version of Valentine’s is quite popular among most women in the adult night class that I team teach on Mondays.

“I like this Valentine’s Day,” one of the married women said to us. “Women are supposed to be shy. But on one day of the year they’re allowed to be forward and present the object of their affections with an interesting proposition: to date or not to date?”

Another woman chimes in, “And it’s not like the woman doesn’t get anything back. A month later, there’s White Day. On this day, the men that the woman has gifted with chocolate are expected to gift something back to her. And if he hasn’t already, he will also give his response as to whether he’s game to date her.”

But of course there’s always the chance that the men will forget, which is worse than an outright rejection. Or as the guys in the college dorms when I studied abroad did:

They taped up creepy pictures of Sadako from The Ring as our White Day present. Haha, very funny and clever />.>”

Thanks to my coworkers for surprising me with a White Day gift! I didn’t think that they would when I gave them the omiyage from Hokkaido but they did! I can’t express how happy it made me but it’s one of the best things that happened today!!!

Winter Kindness

Every Tuesday night at the local grocery store in Gonohe, Mister Donut comes to set up shop for us poor inaka folks. Like clockwork, every Tuesday before kendo, I’m lined up for groceries and a doughnut (or three). By now my internal clock has a Misdo switch; also it’s the only time I seem to talk to adults outside of work hours. Chatting up the lovely people at Yokomachi is my favorite Monday through Friday activity, most of them are the parents of my lovely pupils… because, you know, inaka Japan. Everyone is related to everyone… or knows everyone. But I digress. In any case, I also chat up the lovely lady from Misdo, too. By slow degrees, we’ve come to expect each other at Yokomachi every Tuesday at a given time. Pleasantries exchanged, money handled, donut (or three) delivered.

Except, this Tuesday we deviated from the usual how-do-you-dos. She asked me, for the first time, about my hometown and if I was going back for the winter.

I am not.

She expressed her regret, especially since I was from such a warm place (SoCal, for the win!), and happened to glance over at the sole remainder of that day’s special sale: a single Misdo Christmas doughnut. She glances around, slips it into the bag, and in true Japanese fashion makes a single comment:

“You may not like it, but by all means please have this.”

The tears just about started to pool around my eyes. A Christmas doughnut. A Misdo Christmas doughnut. With sprinkles and a cute paper character. On the house.

I have never 感動ed as much as I did that day. I can’t even remember how many formal thank yous I said, just that I was really touched by her winter kindness.

Misdo lady, you are my hero *salute*.

And for the winter part of this Winter Kindness post… SNOW! In all it’s glory! That sad looking snow blob you see is a snow bear. And he’s not sad! He’s just… derpy 😛 Made him with my students and we had a three person snowball fight with no clear winner.

~*Hatsuyuki*~

初雪:はつゆき:hatsuyuki: the first snowfall of winter

目覚まして、

何処も雪だね。

美しい。

I opened my eyes,

And everywhere, there is snow:

Beautiful and white.

 -Page One Adventures

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Aomori City for a Skills and Development conference last week and the first snowfall of winter with friends over that same weekend \O/ It’s beginning to feel like a real winter wonderland… though perhaps I shouldn’t be celebrating too early, seeing as I still have to cold proof the house. Suddenly the small Yamazen electric heater and electric blanket aren’t enough. I’ve been practically living out of one room to conserve energy as well as to keep the heat consistently concentrated to at least one area of the house. Note to self: buy a tank of kerosene ASAP.

Enjoy the haiku/translation fail 😉 Somethings will never translate perfectly but I captured it as close as possible. For the syllabic sticklers and joy suckers of the world: I do pronounce everywhere as ‘ev-rywhere’ instead of ‘e-ver-y-where. Might be a SoCal thing.

MACHIMONOGATARI, PART I

Long time, no write and hopefully it will be the last long hiatus! I wish I could brush it off as a matter of not having enough material from which to make a post, but the truth of the matter is that the opposite occurred and I have too much material and not enough days to whip up the requisite posts to do justice to all of these wonderful adventures. August and September are the busiest time of the year in Aomori Prefecture in terms of matsuri and speech competition training.

In a nutshell…

6am: Wake up, stretch, exercise, clean house… lately though my am schedule has been to furrow even more deeply beneath the covers and hibernate until the last possible moment. It’s so cold I already brought out the second blanket. Can’t wait to see how long it takes before I need to plug in the electric blanket >.>

7am: Cook and eat the best meal of the day: Breakfast! I’m a breakfast person; it excites me more than dinner or lunch although recently with kyuushoku with the kids

7:30am: Last minute preps/head out the door

8:15am: Monday through Friday, I teach at a different school in the area and in most cases teach just about every level imaginable depending on what they need me for that day. For the most part I love the elementary schools, crawling with children eager to play and sing in a foreign language. Middle school is trickier. By this age they’re quite over English and though it outranks math and science in terms of interest from the students, it’s still pitifully low on the scale. It’s a language so absolutely foreign, with so few opportunities to hear or to practice, that it gets chucked in the metaphorical bin in favor of more important subjects. English is studied intensively as a means of being admitted to a good high school or university but otherwise not regarded as a useful life skill. Unlike the United States where entry into high school is guaranteed on public funds for all minors, the Japanese school system favors test scores for admittance. Those who aren’t admitted into the public schools because their scores were too low must then apply to private schools, which are looked down upon for accepting anyone who pays. During the intervals when I am not teaching, I use the break to set up lesson plans and test out games. On the rare days when I am so well prepared there is not much to do, I study for the N2 as diligently as I can… which is to say not very.

Noon: Kyuushoku (school lunch) with the selected class of the week/day (more pictures to come). Not sure if this is just Aomori Prefecture but Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday is traditional Japanese meal: bowl of rice, bowl of soup, two side dishes (one veg based, the other fish/some sort of mystery meat). Wednesdays are considered the fun kyuushoku days: you either get bread or noodles (or both, as I experienced recently) instead of a bowl of rice. For me, Wednesdays are a Godsend because my body can’t digest rice… I don’t really eat much on the rice days. However, Wednesdays are however, either a hit or a miss. For example, the Doraemon pita pan kyuushoku featured: pita bread, noodles, and veggie salad… the kids ate the veggie salad and put the noodles into their pita bread… and they laughed when I did the opposite. Culture shock, man.

16:15pm: End of work. I like to stay behind for a couple extra minutes before leaving as it’s the polite thing to do in the Japanese workplace. Because I have my own car now, I’m not rushing to the bus station but can leisurely meter out my goodbyes and the general hum of cleanup time. I try to work out with my colleague Mina at least twice a week at the local gym, break down them kyuushoku carbs!

17:30pm: End of work out, grab dinner, prep for the next day, watch TV, read…

I’m practically dead by 21:00pm. Gone are the days when I could party all night long, sleep two hours, and get up in time for 7am class. I find myself missing my Waseda days more than I originally gave them credit for, especially since most of us are back in Japan spread out for work or school. I see my friends’ Facebook posts and think, man, wish I could be there now… but then I take a look at the beautiful inaka life that is Gonohe and I wouldn’t want to peace out on it for too long. Although I miss my family and friends, living on my own at my own pace suits me well 95% of the time 😀