Wednesday, July 31, 2013


As I write this, I am sitting on an airplane bound for the US. I still find it difficult to believe that three years have gone by already. I still remember how happy I was to discover that I had been accepted to the JET Program three years ago. It
was one of my dreams since I was a kid, to one day live in Japan. I knew that I wanted to live there for a few years, to see what life was like in the Land of the Rising Sun, and to have new experiences while developing my foreign language ability.

I hadn't expected such an incredible experience. I had no idea that kids would have such an impact on me, or that my outlook on life, love, and dreams would be affected. I knew I would make friends, but I didn't expect that I would develop such strong new friendships.

I am incredibly grateful.

Looking back at my experiences, I wish I could chronicle the entirety of it. But there were far too many things that happened, too many fun parties, too many laughs, too many meals, too many sights, too many pictures, too many peace signs, too many games, too many drinks, too many lessons, too many experiences to sum up with what limited time I had.

I admit that I wasn't as good about updating this blog as I wanted to. Ideally, I should have updated it every week, perhaps every Sunday night or something, to summarize the weekly adventures. But too often, I would arrive home too late or with too little energy to sit and write about what happened over the weekend. But I did what I could! And I'm happy that I was able to share some of my experiences with you via these simple words and my amateur photographs.

I realize that the last blog post I made was in the beginning of the month. I had written about a third of another post last week, but I was busy packing, canceling accounts, paying bills, shipping things home, and selling my car to make appropriate updates. Actually, though, if it counts, I created a separate blog (buymygtfour) on which I made a small handful of posts. Feel free to check out how that went.

As I've done in the past, I intend to finish and publish the post that I had started last week, at a later date, to explain what had happened up to that point. Though due to the nature of Blogger, I don't know if it'll show up as being dated for when I first started it or for when I publish it. I'm guessing published, but we'll see.

That past three weeks really were a blur. One weekend was spent at Oshima for the Leaver's Party. Fun times, good eats, and good music. Unfortunately, the turnout wasn't as big as last year, and it was almost a sausage party (haha). A lot of people who came this year won't be there next year, as many of us have concluded our contracts. But it's okay; life goes on, and we need parties at other venues.

After the Leaver's Party, the annual MAJET Art Show was brought back the following weekend! It had been absent for two years due to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster two years ago. But I'm happy to say that I helped contribute to its return, both as an event-planning board member, and as a contributor to the show.

I hosted a Martial Arts workshop featuring Kenpo Karate, Filipino Escrima, and Board Breaking. There were a group of 32 American high school students/graduates who were visiting Japan at the time doing tours and staying with host families. 

The students came to the art show just in time for me to start my workshop.  And 10 students were interested enough to join the workshop! Some of them were already martial artists, and others just wanted to experience something new.

What an incredible workshop. I started things off with a brief rundown of the various martial arts styles that I had studied then had the students do stretches. One martial arts girl was really impressing people with her stretching ability and martial arts techniques. I had the students do basic strikes and kicks, with the knowledge that they would be using those techniques to break Japanese cedar boards later. Next, I taught them some basic Escrima strikes, drills, and disarms. Then came the breaking.

For some of the students, it was their first time. I explained to them about breathing, aiming behind the target, and executing proper technique. For others, they were well versed in martial arts and wanted to try out some fancy moves. The first guy started the show with a bang, using a kick, to which the crowd responded with a burst of applause. The martial arts girl earlier did a palm heel strike, and one guy did a fancy spinning hook kick. The girl holding the board for him must have been pretty scared, as she couldn't hold the board properly the first three times he attempted the kick. But when he finally did it, the crowd went wild.

I was pleased with the art show, despite a relatively low turnout on Saturday. Hopefully next year, they make it event bigger!

The weekend after that was spent cleaning, chillin', and gaming with my buddies on PSN, playing that insane Borderlands 2 game. Really wanna check the first one out, though I hear its story and gameplay were still pretty rough.

Last Monday, I tried playing a bit of Uncharted. It's fun but the jet ski part is headache inducing. I actually had to sleep early that night and had to cancel plans to see the new Ghibli movie. Dammit, Nathan Drake.

My last weekend in Japan was quite incredible. The whole week had been spent packing and preparing the transfer of my car to a new owner. I had set up an auction for my car to allow potential buyers to place bids to purchase it. The good and bad thing about used cars in Japan is that they sell for much cheaper than in the US. I paid a Japanese high price for my car, but relatively good deal if it was the US. Unfortunately, when I sold it, no one was willing to pay even half of what I paid for. But such is life. 

Anyway, four friends of mine showed genuine interest in purchasing it, though they had their own price limitations. In the end, the guy who won the auction had to back out due to unforeseen occupational circumstances (don't worry, he wasn't fired), so the car went to the second-highest bidder.

The winner of the car is a Filipino guy from Canada who lives on Mount Haruna. You know, the same mountain (called Akina) that is featured in Initial D, the car anime/manga/game that I love so much. Could it be fate?! Anyway, so I drove 4 hours from Miyagi to Gunma Prefecture, and met up with another buddy of mine, a mutual friend of the buyer. And we had a great time driving up and down "Mt, Akina." Pictures and video coming!

The remainder of the week was spent packing and cleaning. Hope the new guy likes the place and does a great job at work! I should go and visit sometime. 

By the way, I have since arrived back in the US. What an incredible experience. The Japan adventures will take a pause for now; but they certainly aren't over.

And neither is my blogging! More stories to come!

Word of the day: ただいま! Tadaima! I'm home!

Friday, July 5, 2013


I started this draft on June 30, but I'm writing it write now on July 5th, which is July 4th in the US! So, Happy Independence Day!

June was a packed month, as you have read in earlier posts. Like, check out this barbecue we had the other day. Friggin' fantastic.

Doesn't that look so delicious?

July will be even more packed.

In the first week, I've been preparing for the move back home. Things I need to do:

- Pack stuff
- Ship stuff
- Sell stuff
- Pack/ship my sword (this might be a bigger obstacle than just winter clothes)
- Sell my car
- Prepare for the martial arts workshop that I'll hold for the Miyagi Art & Talent Show
- Write "goodbye speeches" for my schools and going-away parties
- Go to Leaver's Party at Oshima Island this weekend
- Buy a bunch of chocolate for Mom
- Juggle those responsibilities with work and social life
- Enjoy the last of my days in Japan

I have a bunch of video games. Brother suggested that I ship them back, but I'm afraid something might happen to them on the way. So he suggested that I get a CD binder and put all the discs in there while I ship the game boxes. That way, if I lose the boxes, I at least still have the games. Suddenly, I wish I had all of that data in "The Cloud." Thankful for PSN. I'll do as he suggested, and carry the CD binder with me as carry-on. Or, I could pack it in my suitcase. Either way, they're comin' with me!

The martial arts workshop next weekend is something that I'm pretty excited about. We're still working out the schedule, but I intend to have some Kenpo Karate, board breaking, and Filipino Escrima in there. Unfortunately, the small budget won't allow for real escrima sticks made out of rattan, but I will try to make some out of bamboo poles. The hard part will be deciding exactly what things to go over. If I only have 45 minutes, that's 15 minutes for each section. Perhaps martial arts basics, self defense, escrima drills, disarms, then board breaking. Maybe a brief introduction of history or personal background.

2 meter bamboo pole for $0.68!
At some point, I'm actually considering writing a full-fledged book (or blog) that comprises all of my martial knowledge. Then add to it as I gain more experience. You might have seen a short film that I helped an aspiring filmmaker with back in the day. Since it was for a class project, the director experimented with various filming and editing styles. I wish we could re-create the film, as she and I have both grown a lot since then, and I think a new project would better reflect our experiences.

Last year, I helped out on the English translation for a soy sauce spray bottle product. And here it is!

Just spray it on your food. Yum!
Anyway, first thing's first. Gotta write up something for my car!

Word of the Day: 研修会 「けんしゅうかい」 "kenshuukai" or "training workshop."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

June Adventures

June has been surprisingly eventful so far. My friends and I held an epic pig roast in a big park in a nearby city. It wasn't quite like Filipino lechon, but it was still delicious. Here, don’t these look yummy?

Epic Pork Roast

Dripping Off the Plate

Outdoor Grillin'

The following weekend, I drove down to Nikko, in Tochigi prefecture, to see some famous temples. On the way back, I stopped by Nasu and took some pictures with a gigantic…hamster. Actually, it’s a capybara, the largest rodent in the world.

I'm a Guy on a Rock

"The place of Kendo's rebirth"

Kendo's Rebirthplace


Like Bruce Lee's Game of Death

Mon 2


Sorry, lady

Mon 3


More Gold

Sitting Archer

Angled Gold

That was a really long flight of steps

Going down


Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil

I am the Guardian

Largest hamster ever. Also, forgot my hair wax.

No idea what this is, but it was chillin' with the capybaras.

Nasu's mascot, a big nasu (eggplant)

Saw this cutie, too.

 On Monday, I was invited out to dinner by my former supervisor, Supes! He wanted to take me out to dinner again one last time before I left Japan to go back home. We went to the same place he took me when I first arrived three years ago, an izakaya called “Otaru.” Otaru is a city in Hokkaido, and a very lovely spot during the Snow Festival. Anyway, he was holding this long cardboard box. I thought it was something he picked up from work, or a big poster or something, until I realized that it must be something for me. What a pleasant surprise.

Modeled after Date Masamune's sword
Now, how am I supposed to bring this home?

Word of the Day: 伝統的 「でんとうてき」 “dentouteki,” or “traditional.”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Quick Update

I had been toiling for a couple days about this sudden "opportunity" that appeared in front of me. The advice of one teacher was really hitting it for me. "Think about your future." Over and over, I was thinking about how this decision would affect my plans. I've realized that working and studying at the same is extremely difficult, especially for such difficult subject matter as science, medicine, and MCAT. I knew I had to make a decision for my future.

Last week, I had been working on the Successor's Manual, a guide that I'm writing for my successor. I put it on hold last weekend due to the situation, but I have since started it back up again.

Yesterday (Tuesday), I was informed that the Prefectural Advisers had discussed my situation, and as it turns out, because my successor was already contacted, and because he has already submitted the official Reply Form, it's no longer even possible for me to stay, even if I had changed my mind. Interestingly enough though, I was told that it might be possible to send me down to Ogawara, where they won't get an ALT until next April.

But I wouldn't want that. Shikama has become The Place where I spent 3 years of my life in Japan. I've traveled all around the country, and have even spent more than a month or two in the Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe) area, collectively. But Shikama is where I worked, where I lived. Where I've expanded my Japanese lexicon. Where I've built new relationships and a connection with the local community.

And soon, we will have to part ways. But it'll always be my second (third? fourth? fifth?) home.

Word of the Day: 一斉に 「いっせいに」 "issei ni" or "simultaneously."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Just, Maybe...

While I've been preparing for my repatriation this summer, a strange and peculiar opportunity has possibly, maybe opened up for me, かもしれない (maybe). Ever since I submitted my form to decline the offer to renew my contract with my employer, the Board of Education, the feeling of wishing I had accepted their offer has been growing stronger and stronger each day. My friends in and around Japan have been expressing how much they'll miss me and how they wish I would stay. And usually, I would speak from the heart, and say that I wish I could stay, but it would make the medical school interviews difficult to schedule.

After having taken the MCAT a month and a half ago, my plans were slowly changing. At the end of the test, there is a prompt on the screen, asking the test taker to choose one of the following options:

A. I wish to have my MCAT exam SCORED.
B. I wish to VOID my MCAT exam.

You have five minutes to make your selection. Talk about stressful, right? So there I was, legitimately contemplating voiding the exam. My gut instinct was that I didn't do so well; the test felt rushed. So much stuff to read and so little time to read through and choose your answers. But if I didn't choose to score it, then the whole trip of returning home for those two weeks and the prep work that led up to that day would have felt like it was all for naught. And the other side of me was still curious; perhaps I did better than I thought. So I chose to score it.

In the past month, I was contemplating my plans for medical school. Regardless of my score, I knew that my chances of matriculating into med school would improve dramatically if I attend a pre-medical post-baccalaureate program at a university or school of medicine. So, my focus has shifted from applying to medical school to applying to a post-bacc program. Finally last week, I received my test results, and やっぱり (as I thought), they weren't as strong as I had hoped for. That isn't stopping me from applying to post-bacc programs, as most programs would include an MCAT review course and have me retake the test anyway. But my morale did take quite a hit.

At the end of the week, I went down to Sendai to discuss Art Show plans that MAJET is hosting. As one of the presidents of the association for JET ALTs in Miyagi Prefecture, it's one of my responsibilities to help set up events. The person spearheading the Art Show is actually one of the Prefectural Advisers for Miyagi JET participants. During an informal discussion with her, I had mentioned that "Oh, I wish I could stay in Japan." She had then informed me that another JET who lives in the southern half of Miyagi had originally accepted the offer to renew his contract, but has since declined the offer due to plans to enter a graduate program. His town is now searching for a new replacement ALT, and that new person would arrive next April, during Orientation C. That would leave the town without an ALT for 8 months.

Half jokingly, I told her that they should just send my successor over to his town so that they will have a new ALT right away and so that I could stay in my town. She said, "Hmm, maybe it's possible." She told me that it's something she would need to talk to her supervisor about, so I should send an official e-mail to the advisers so that they could discuss it. I brought up the situation to the three JTEs I worked with and they were all for the idea of me staying. The school's English system is undergoing a big change right now from Elementary and Junior High, and since I am the bridge between the two systems, my participation would be a tremendous help to them. That, and they like me as their ALT.

The problem in all this is that in February I had submitted the paperwork to my BOE stating that I would be declining their offer to renew my contract. So since then, they and my supervisor have been preparing for the hiring of a new ALT to replace me. Just last week, my supervisor had a meeting with the prefectural advisers and he had received the Reply Form from my successor stating that my successor has accepted the offer to work in my town. I had also helped my supervisor write an email to him along the lines of "We received your Reply Form. I am your supervisor. We look forward to meeting you." It's not the official contract yet, but the first communication has already begun. I hate causing trouble for other people, especially if it's my employer (it's not good to upset the people giving you money). But perhaps these inconveniences would be better in the long run?

Of course the other, bigger problem has to do with my future plans. As it stands, I will do applications online, but I'm not sure which programs require an in-person interview. Some do, but I believe some allow phone/Skype interviews, and others don't have any interviews. What's also interesting is that the different programs have different submission and due dates. I am looking specifically into programs in Pennsylvania (hopefully Philadelphia), as my home and college are both there, and I know there are some great schools.

At the end of the day, I talked about my situation with another teacher who isn't a JTE but has acted as an assistant JTE and substitute in the past. Her English is perhaps the best out of everyone else in the school due to her previous job as a flight attendant. She seemed happy and surprised that my situation has come to this, but she reminded me that while I would indeed be helpful for Shikama and its new English curriculum next term, it's not something I should worry about so much. What's more important is my future, and I need to think about that as I make my decision.

Thanks, Sensei.

Word of the Day: 多分 「たぶん」 "tabun," or "probably." My students often translate "maybe" to "tabun," but I have to correct them on the difference.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Golden MCAT Jetlag

The end of April and the beginning of May provided some interesting times. I went back home to the US to take the MCAT. But to avoid being jet-lagged during the exam, I left Japan 5 days prior to taking it. Thankfully, I wasn't terribly jet-lagged while taking the test; rather, I was flustered from the short time limit and long passages and long questions. The most difficult thing for me on the test is the sheer amount of reading. Perhaps if I had a faster reading speed.

Speaking of reading speed, I notice that I've been able to read Japanese faster than when I was in college. Not a lot faster, but noticeable. Reading manga has helped; I should keep it up. I've been reading a karate manga called Karate Shoukoushi Kohinata Minoru, as well as Initial D, the famous car manga that made drifting popular. And since I've purchased the manga in Japan, they are only in Japanese. As seinen manga meant for older readers, there is rarely any furigana above the kanji (which gives the pronunciation), so it's good kanji reading practice.

I just started playing two new PS3 games: Bioshock Infinite and Borderlands 2. I hadn't played Bioshock 1 or 2 yet, so I wasn't sure what I was in for. Luckily, Infinite could be played without having played the first two, so I wasn't lost in the story. And boy, what a story. It touches on a lot of social and economic issues. No spoilers, but it's a very deep game, both practically and philosophically.

Borderlands 2 on the other hand is just a lot of sheer fun. It's a first-person shooter role-playing game. Basically, lots of guns, with the ability to use new techniques in battle. Very cool concept. The most fun aspect of the games I play is character growth and new abilities. Just like the anime/manga series that I love the most, like Dragonball, Naruto, Bleach, Hajime no Ippo, etc. Growth; that's what life is all about.

We hope this little cutie grows up well

Word of the Day: 成長 「せいちょう」 "seichou," or "growth," implying "growth into adulthood. The first kanji means "to become," as in the verb 成る "naru." The second kanji means "long" as in 長い "nagai," but it can also mean "head (of) ____" as in 社長 "shachou," the head of a company.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Spring has sprung! But then it got confused yesterday and it snowed, what the hell!? Here, check out some beautiful cherry blossoms, known as 桜 「さくら」 "sakura" in Japan.

Cherry Blossoms in Furukawa

As I write this, I'm standing at a "Free Wi-Fi Desk" at the Narita Airport. Gotta go home to take the MCAT. Again. Lol. I've taken it a few times already, but I studied this time more than last time, so I (should) have an improved score than before. But it's also been a while since I've last taken science courses, so it's possible that I've forgotten a few things that were inherently internalized way back in the day. It was fun reviewing general chemistry, as I was reminded of my high school chemistry classes.

My original plan was to apply to medical schools this summer, but to be honest, I'm not completely confident in my application. Schools get around 3000+ applications, and the class size is only about 150. That means that only 5% of the applicants actually end up matriculating to that school! But I believe the actual acceptance rate is about 20%, so that means three fourths of those invited to attend end up declining and going to another school. Anyway, in order to improve my chances, I think I should attend a full fledged pre-med post-bacc program. That is, pre-medicine, post-baccalaureate; a program that is held at a school of medicine to prepare students for matriculation into medical school. I have big dreams, but they require many small steps.

So besides studying and researching medical school, what have I done this past week or two? Oh, yeah, I bought the PS3 Initial D game. That's fun. Unfortunately, the Initial D series underwent a "cleansing" and got rid of many cars, including my beloved GT-Four. But that's okay, they still have RX-7's, WRX's, GT-R's, and Evo's. They even threw in an RX-8 as free DLC.

Also game-related, I'm finally an official PlayStation Plus subscriber! Yay free games! Really, though, I needed that service to copy my saves into the "cloud" so that I can sell my PS3 here in Japan and not worry about my files when I use a PS3 in the US. I love technology. Who knows what kinds of services and such we'll have in another 10 years?

I've noticed that I'm semi-addicted to Gran Turismo 5. And I think I've figured out why. It's not as simple as "I love cars." It's "I love cars and the game does a good job of giving me a reason to turn it on every day." And that reason is...a daily reward. Basically many games today (especially on iPhone/iPad) reward players for playing (or at least turning it own) every day. On iOS, the rewards usually cycle every 5 days, so when you play over the course of 30 days, you get each reward 6 times. In GT5's case, the reward is an incremental bonus to earned in-game currency and experience points, up to 200%. On day 6 and later, the number simply remains at 200%. But if a day is skipped, the number drops back down to a normal 100%.

I think modern RPGs should take advantage of this system. I played World of Warcraft half a decade ago and their system was to reward people when they logged at at certain locations ("Inns") by giving bonus experience points. And back then, they starting "Daily Quests" which allow a player to complete the same quest, once per day, and earn the same rewards (usually a hefty amount of gold). This killed the game for me, as I ended up grinding the same handful of quests for 3 weeks straight, playing the game only one to two hours a day and trying to figure out how to most efficiently earn the most gold in the least amount of time. And because it was the same quests, I grew bored of it quickly. My fault, yes, but it's their fault for trying to take advantage of players' greed. Hah.

Anyway, gotta pack up! I saw some pretty sakura on the way here. Here is a shot from my town! It was snowy and rainy yesterday. How peculiar.

Snow, Rain, and Sakura

Word of the Day: 咲く 「さく」 "saku" or "to bloom."