Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Roppongi on New Years

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A taste of America

To me, Osaka is probably the most similar city to a large American city. The streets remind me of a large American city's streets, food is less healthy and more greasy, and the styles are similar. We spent our last day in Osaka shopping and eating in a shopping archade in downtown Osaka.

Tomorrow we waking up early for a long train ride to Tokyo. Our plan is to see the fireworks at Tokyo tower and go to the shrines.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Above the crowds

I spent most of yesterday away from my friends because I had to travel back to Kyoto to retrieve my camera. I made it an architectural field day and ended the day with at trip up the Umeda Sky Building. There is an observation deck 173m above the ground. This picture was taken from the observation deck.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Have faith in Human(Japan)ity

Thank god, someone turned in my camera to Kyoto Station. I'm back on track.

This is a picture taken at Osaka Castle.

Kyoto Day 2

Today we went to the Kinkakujin (Golden Temple).

I have my health

...but I lost my camera and the 200+ pictures. I'm going to check with the train station again tomorrow.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008


The night bus has me and my phone drained. We are now on route to Kyoto.

This morning, we arrived in Nagoya. I dragged everyone around looking for the "OASIS 21" bus terminal. Be sure to check out the photos when I post them.

Christmas in Tokyo

メリークリスマス everyone!

Day 3 of our trip (Christmas Day) was spent in Tokyo. This photo shows the walls to the Imperial Palace mote with Christmas lights on the right and some of the buildings near Tokyo station.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

We spent Christmas Eve in Ropongi.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Central Japan Trip

My friends and I are traveling around central Japan during our winter break. We are doing all of our traveling on local trains because we have passes for unlimited travel on local trains for five days. This makes for some long travel times, but the.passes are very reasonably priced. I will be posting pictures and short blurbs from my trip when I can.

Take care.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter Plans

For those of you who do not know, Tyler is back in America for Christmas. She will be traveling between Clovis, NM, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio to spend time with her family. She arrived on the 18th and she will be returning to Japan on the 15th of next month.

I am traveling around Japan for the holidays with some of our friends. We are visiting Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. I will be posting pictures and short entries during our trip from my phone.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

PS. I have posted pictures from our latest snowfall. Enjoy!

An English Christmas in Japan

This holiday season is, by far, one of the most unique ones I have ever experienced. There is the obvious reason; being away from my family and wife, but that is only part of my reasoning. So far, I have dressed up as Santa Claus three times (two for work) , attended a gift exchange, attended a foreigner's Christmas party where most gaijin were Chinese, and I had a traditional English (British) Christmas Dinner.

A fellow JET, Janine, who lives a few towns over, invited me to a Christmas dinner that she hosted for her supervisor, English teachers, and Japanese friends. Janine is from England, so she prepared a traditional English Christmas dinner. This dinner was much different than any Christmas dinner I have ever heard of. To start off, we were given “crackers” which are presents that are wrapped around cylindrical tubes and the excess paper is tied with ribbons on both sides of the tube. Each person holds their cracker by crossing their arms and grabbing onto their neighbors’. They then pull the cracker, rip the paper then candy, a joke written on paper, and a Christmas hat fall out. Each guest places their crownesque Christmas hat on and they take turns reading their jokes. Appetizers then were served followed by a pea and cheese soup with a bread board and a glass of red wine. Next came a fish dish with white wine. We had Salmon with cheese on a salad. Next came the main course. We had “Coq au vin” (chicken cooked in wine). After the main course, the cheese board was served. Our cheese board had many french cheeses, grapes, celery, and bread. It was amazing! Finally after all of these dishes comes the dessert. Janine made her family’s “English Trifle” dessert. It had a sponge cake, various fruits, whip cream, and walnuts. Delicious!

The dinner was the first time this year that I began to feel like it’s the holiday season even though it was so different from the Christmas dinners that I’m used to.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Photos

I have uploaded over 200 new photos to our Flickr page. Enjoy!

Play Day

Iwate Bus Tous

A group in Morioka organized a sightseeing bus trip around Iwate that Tyler and I went on. The trip was primarily spent in Tono, dubbed “The Town of Fairy-tales”. Tono is about an hour and a half south of Morioka (3 hours south of Ichinohe). The first place that we stopped at was Rokondo cave. This is home to “Japan’s largest waterfall in a cave”. We laughed too, many places around us are “famous” for something whether it’s sake (a type alcohol), an onsen, a fruit or vegetable, a flower, or any combination of each. The cave was pretty enjoyable, but it was a bit treacherous at times. This cave would probably not be a tourist attraction in the states because it had many rocks you have to duck under and slippery rocks to walk on. With paid admission to the cave, you are given a rain coat, helmet, and a pair of goulashes to use. Our tour guide described the cave as being similar to the one in “The Goonies” movie. That is actually a pretty accurate comparison minus Chunk running behind the gang with a clumsy cyclops. There was even a bit of a treasure in the cave. About 2/3 of the way through, there is a golden (maybe not real gold) statue/shrine (look for it in the pictures). At the end ofthe cave was the famed waterfall. Naturally, I loved the cave. Tyler did not.

Next stop: Lunch! We ate a very Japanese lunch at a restaurant next to Denshoen Park (more about Denshoen shortly). The lunch looked a little scary at first (it had teeth, look at the pictures) but it was really good. Tyler even enjoyed it. We walked around after lunch. We first walked to Jokenji Temple and the “famous” stream called the “Kappa Buchi” that the “Kappa” monster lives in. The Kappa is a supposed monster that, similar to big foot, is perceived in various forms. Some describe it as a reptile/lizard creature that is as tall as a child, some describe it as being more like a ninja turtle, and so on. A few of the consistent details are: they have webbed toes and fingers, they have a hole in their head that they fill with water so that they can leave the water, they love cucumbers, and they are very polite. Because the Kappas follow japanese etiquette, you can easily defeat a Kappa by bowing to it. When you bow, the Kappa will also bow, but the water in his head will spill out and he will die or be crippled. Fortunately, we did not see any Kappas. You can read more about kappas on Wikipedia. We then walked back to Denshoen Park. Denshoen Park has a beautiful garden and an old group of buildings that have thatched roofs. There was also a traditional painter, handpainting some orniments for the tourists to buy.

The next place we stopped was Fukusenji Temple. This temple is famed for having Japans largest wooden statue. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photographs of the statue, so I don’t have any pictures of it. This traditional temples in the pictures are from the Fukusenji Temple complex.

We finished our bus tour at Edel Wine Winery. We received a walking tour of the company’s facilities. We received a brief history of the company and we heard about all of the awards that it has received from all over the world. We saw a stagnant factory with fermenting vats and barrels filled with wines that are not scheduled to be opened for years. Most importantly, we were given samples of all the wines. This was the perfect end to a day of sightseeing and traveling.

The photos from our bus trip are posted on Flickr.


It’s true. Japan does have capsule hotels. My friends and I stayed in one a few times in Morioka. You can see some pictures of it here. The capsule itself is the length of a person laying down and is tall enough for you to comfortably sit up. In this particular capsule, there was a TV, a small shelf, and an instrument panel that had a radio, volume control, light, alarm clock, and an emergency button. There was a mattress that lined the “floor” and a curtain for privacy. The capsules are stacked 2 tall and line a corridor with about 30 or so capsules in each corridor. This particular hotel does not allow females because there is a public bath house similar to a spa, and there is very limited privacy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Merry Christmas

You may need to press the play button a few times to get the video to play.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Today, I am showing my 3rd year (9th grade US) Junior High School students, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. You may remember that I am a huge fan of Dr. Seuss. I wrote my senior paper on him in high school (and I received an A, I might add).

Our library has a few translated children books that are popular in the states. Among them, I have seen “Adventures of Frog and Toad” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, but I haven’t found any Dr. Seuss. At first, I thought that it was just the region of Japan that we’re in - believe it or not, we don’t have robots hovering around and dispensing any electronic ever made. But, I thought for sure that Dr. Seuss would be popular in other areas of Japan. I am beginning think that he isn’t. There are only a handful of Dr. Seuss books available on and I have asked my teachers if they have heard of him and they always reply with, “Who”?!?.

I guess that it only makes sense that reading books filled with fabricated words and written in a particular rhythmic meter is probably not best for people learning English as a second language. However, this is Japan. There are many things in Japanese lifestyles that don’t make any sense (ie. Why do my colleges run everywhere?, Why is it OK for grown men to have cute “Lilo and Stitch” stuffed characters dangling off of their bags and cell phones?, Why is “Godzilla” pronounced Gojira - Goduzirra seems like a closer alternative). The way I see it, English is a damned tough language to learn, let’s have some fun learning it like I did/still am.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Japanese Schools and Teaching English

1st grade jr. high students.

Teaching is getting easier for me. I am getting used to each of my JTE’s (Japanese English Teacher at the jr. high schools, 3 JTEs total) teaching styles and the classes are becoming less awkward and more productive for my students. I have mentioned my elementary school that I have dubbed “my baby”; the classes at this are getting better and this school is becoming my favorite. I am only at this school 2 days every 3 weeks. I have planned 3 lessons: “Halloween in America”, “Body Parts”, and “Big vs. Small and Other Adjectives”. I am lucky in that I can typically make a single lesson plan per visit and adapt it for each of my 6 classes held at this school.

Japanese schools are pretty different from American schools. One of the major differences is school discipline. It pretty much does not exist in Japan. There are no detention, suspension, or write up systems in place. If a student wants to talk and disrupt the entire class, too bad for the other students, but they can talk away without the teachers stopping them. The students can sleep in the classes without any consequences. Students do not have to participate in their classes either. That being said, the student’s at all of my schools (over 200 total) are very well behaved students. I do, however, have a fourth grade class that is very excited and loud that I have a difficult time with. It’s not that they are bad students, I think that they’re teacher does nothing to control the class and when the famous foreigner (me) makes an appearance, it is similar to the puppy and the wet floor when the owner comes home from work.

Another difference is that the student’s are always at school, especially at my jr. high schools. There were a few times over the summer break (no classes) that I stopped into my schools and some of the students were sitting around their classrooms. When school is in, my students arrive around 7:45-8:00 AM and go straight to their classrooms. Their first class doesn’t start until 8:45, but somedays they organize highly formal assemblies before school. They have a regular load of 6 classes throughout the day and they finish classes around 3:20. After school, the 1st and 2nd year jr. high students (7th and 8th grade to Americans) are forced to participate in a school club. The clubs at my jr. high schools are basketball, volleyball, baseball, tennis, and table tennis. The 3rd year students (9th graders) are required to stay and study for their high school entrance exams. It is pretty common for the students to stay past 5:00 PM. The jr. high students are rarely under supervision. Similar to in America, they have different classes at different time periods. Dissimilar to America, the student’s stay in one room and the student’s visit them in their classrooms.

School lunch in Japan is totally different than in America. A few students from each class put on “sterile” clothing covers, masks, and a type of hair net and retrieve classes’ lunch from a serving area where one school employee rations out the proper amount of food. The students then take the food back to their classrooms and serve their classmates. Before the students can dig in, they must say the phrase “i-te-dak-imas” in unison, which is basically saying grace with out any religious connotation. The students are given 15 minutes to eat their lunches and they eat in their classrooms. They finish their lunches with the phrase “go-chiso-sama-deshita”, again, giving thanks for the food. After lunch, they must take all of the serving dishes back to the food distribution area. The students are not allowed to bring their own lunches.

The students are also required to clean the schools. There are no janitors at the schools , so the students are in charge of the cleaning. They organize into groups of varying age and grade levels (again with no teacher supervision) and the go through a checklist and clean their designated area of the school. I am thankful that there were janitors at my schools when I was a student because I know that they would have been absolutely filthy, but my japanese students do a really great job.

My jr. high student’s are always taking tests. It is pretty common for them to have a test once a month. The 3rd year (again, 9th grade in US) are constantly taking preparatory entrance exams for sr. high school. A problem that comes from this type of curriculum, however, is that most of the teachers teach to the tests. My student’s of teachers that are taught specifically for their tests will test well, but mostly, are unable to comprehend simple English phrases that are essentially, just variations of the test questions. It also seems that my students of teachers that use the textbook and the test materials to compliment their lessons rather than restrict them, will test lower but they can typically understand the larger picture when spoken to in English. Unfortunately, comprehending a language is subjective, and the student’s progress is currently being evaluated by tests (and probably always will :( ).