Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Note: I want to point out that I updated my previous post with pictures from Kyoto! Check 'em out! And on with the show...

I was asked by a friend of mine who is also a fellow JET ALT to be "Mr. October," as she put it. This entails being the interviewee of a few fun questions and writing an article for a publication that will be read by junior high students and teachers across Miyagi Prefecture. At the end of this post, I will paste my article. I wrote it very quickly, and didn't even bother editing it, so I apologize for its first-draft-iness. Also, you've already read about the various things I discuss because I included them in a previous post. It's about the differences I've observed between Japan and the U.S. So I apologize for lack of originality, too. But I guess it's my own work, so technically, it's original; just a rehash. Anyway...

I'm contemplating putting my answers to the interview here or not. It's kind of silly, but I put a lot of time into some of my answers. Alright sure, I'll post the interview up as well after this post. Interview first, article second.

This past week since I got back from Kyoto has been interesting. First of all, my school schedule has been crazy because of national holidays and a school event. So I've had the past two Mondays off. And I had last Thursday off as well. On Wednesday night, some elementary school teachers and I went out to Sendai (or nearby) for some fun food and drinks. I must say, they can sure drink! We went to two locations; the first was a very nice restaurant with unique and delicious food. It was so good that Shoe and I decided to go back a few nights later! That, and so he could see the cute waitress again, haha. The other place we went to was a small bar; it had a "California" theme, so there was a lot of beach merchandise there hanging on the walls.

When Shoe and I went to that first location this past weekend, I discovered a new drink that I like. It's called カシス. I looked it up, and found out that it's a vermouth made from a fruit called cassis, or blackcurrant as it's called in English. Yum.

On Friday, I went out with some guys from the town hall. We went bowling! Ahh, good times. I still suck, though. On Saturday, there was a huge inter-school sports fest between my town's junior high school, and three neighboring town's junior high schools. I'm really proud of my students; we won quite a few major events! First, we won the tennis match (girls), then we won the soccer game (boys), and finally, we won the baseball game! I also got to watch kendo, judo, and ping pong, which my students did fairly well at an individual level. (One of the girls got second place in kendo! I'm not too sure how the girls did in judo, but the only girls who do judo around here are from my school anyway, and there are only three of them. Lastly, I saw one of the girls on the ping pong team get 2nd place in the finals. Great!)

Because the teachers had to attend the various events (cheering and some coaching), and almost all of the students were participating (all 1st and 2nd years, 3rd years came to watch), school was closed on Monday. So yeah! Busy week!

It has also gotten annoyingly colder lately. Ugh, I wish the weather would go back up to 75 and just STAY THERE. It hasn't been 75 for a few weeks now. And because it has gotten colder, I decided to buy something which will assist me in keeping warm while jogging outside: a track suit! Now I can join all the other teachers in Japan, hahaha. For some reason, everyone wears a track suit...

So yeah, those are the updates so far. Nothing too crazy. The next thing I have to figure out is how to get a credit card here. I keep getting denied because it was apparently common for foreigners to get a credit card, buy something big with it, then return to their home country without paying for it. Damn thieves! Because of them, I can't get a credit card! ::grumble grumble::

Word of the day: 質問 「しつもん」 "shitsumon," which means "question."

How long have you lived there? I’ve lived here for just two months!
Something that’s famous in your town: Kappa
How many schools do you work with? Four

Is this your first time in Japan? Yes, unless you include the 2-hour layover at Narita a few years ago, but I don’t. :-)
In Japan, where have you traveled? So far, I have been to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Sendai.
Have you traveled outside of Japan? Yes! I love to travel. I was born in the Philippines, and I’ve been to a few countries in Europe, including France, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Great Britain.
Where would you like to travel (inside and outside Japan)? I want to explore Japan, from Okinawa to Hokkaido. I want to see famous sites and see all of the main islands. I want to visit many countries, including South Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and many others.
Aside from Japanese, have you ever studied another language? Yes, I’ve studied Spanish for four years, in junior and senior high school.

What was your favorite subject in junior high school? In junior high, my favorite subject was probably algebra.
What was your favorite subject in high school? In high school, my favorite subject was chemistry.
What was your major in college? My major was chemistry, and my minor was Japanese.
What kind of jobs did you have before joining the JET Program? I’ve held various office positions, including administrative assistant and administrative support. I worked in the educational division of a large medical center. I have also worked at a fast-food sandwich restaurant and even a seasonal plant nursery (garden).
What do you want to be when you grow up? Eventually, I want to be a doctor.

What’s your favorite thing about yourself? (I left this blank; didn't want to seem narcissistic.)
What’s your least favorite thing about yourself? (I also left this blank; too many to pick from! Haha)
What qualities do you like in a significant other? As much beauty on the inside as on the outside.

Do you have a cell phone? Yes
If you do, what company and color is it? It is offered by SoftBank, and it is black.

Which do you prefer?
Bed / futon: Bed
Bath/ shower: Shower
Rice / bread: Rice
Pen / pencil: Pencil
City / Countryside: City
Train / Car: Car

Animal: Tiger
Color: Blue
Ice cream flavor: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Drink: Milk Tea
Place: the video game arcade (or specific location? Hawaii)
Activity: playing video games
TV show:
Anime: Mononoke-hime
Manga: Hajime no Ippo and Naruto
Movie: The Matrix and The Truman Show
Type of music: Rock
Musician(s)/group: Linkin Park, Weezer

Book: The Da Vinci Code (I haven't read a novel in a while; this and Angels & Demons are the latest two that I read, and I liked this one better)
Magazine: EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly)
Children’s story: The Dragonslayers by Bruce Coville
JHS textbook lesson: (I've only gone through two so far, haha.)
English word: (couldn't think of any; I do say "awesome" an awful lot...perhaps too much)

J-word: 風林火山 「ふうりんかざん」 “fuurinkazan." From Wikipedia: Fūrinkazan (風林火山), literally "Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain", was the battle standard used by the Sengoku period daimyo Takeda Shingen, quoting chapter 7 of Sun Tzu's The Art of War: "Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as forest, attack as fierce as fire, undefeatable defense like a mountain."

Kana/Kanji:  時 「とき」 "toki" which means "time." (I chose this for a few reasons. I enjoy writing it; it's fun. It's very similar to samurai, which is 侍. The common radical is 寺 which means temple. And in the writing of temple, you can see earth in the top section [earth is my element, though I speculate that I might have some water as well]. Time is something that I enjoy having; I always take my time in doing things; and I feel like I'm always chasing after it. Perhaps time is my favorite word or concept.)
Flower/plant: Rosa andeli, also known as “Double Delight”
Snack: Pillows (a Filipino snack)
Sport: Boxing
Season: Spring
Holiday: Christmas
Fruit: Coconut
Piece of clothing: A nice, button-down shirt
Sushi: Toro (Fatty Tuna)

Common questions: (feel free to add and answer your own)
Can you use hashi? Yes! (Hashi is chopsticks)
Do you like sushi/sashimi? Absolutely!
Can you eat natto? Um...I tried...
Can you speak Japanese? Some.
Can you read kana/kanji? I can read hiragana, katakana, and about 450 kanji...theoretically.
Are you a strong drinker? Unfortunately, no! I get sleepy very quickly, haha!
Are your meals bigger in your home country? It depends on the meal. I’ve actually had many meals in Japan that I almost couldn’t finish!
You must love meat...? That is correct. I love beef and pork!
Did you eat rice before coming to Japan? Lots of it!
What do you have for breakfast? It depends on the day. Sometimes cereal and milk, sometimes toast with eggs and sausage or bacon, or sometimes a rice dish.

Name at least two things you dislike/hate about Japan. This summer was super humid, and the cold weather arrived too soon! I wish there were screens on all of my windows. I also miss central air heating and cooling.
Name at least two things you like/love about Japan. The food here is wonderful, and the people are very nice. I also love the combination of Japan’s rich history and culture with its leadership in modern technology. I also love the Shinkansen! It is wonderful to be able to travel from one side of the country to the other in just a
few hours without having to get on an airplane.
Name at least two things you dislike/hate about your home country. There are always political arguments on TV and other media (radio, internet, etc.). The vehicles there are too big; like SUVs. I hate SUVs. Also, people can be very mean or rude sometimes; clerks are not as polite as those in Japan.
Name at least two things you like/love about your home country. I enjoy the freedom in everything, from product choices to job choices. I also like how diverse the US is, including the people and the locations: California is very different from New York; they are so far away and quite different, but both places are very

Tell us about your family/family members. My mother, father, brother, sister-in-law, and grandparents all live in Pennsylvania. My mother is a biology professor at a university and my father is a nurse. My brother is older than me, so I learned many things from him while we were growing up, and we have very similar interests, like movies and video games.

Anything else? :-) I was born in the Philippines, and both of my parents are Filipino. But people have often mistaken me for being Japanese. This occurred in the US, in the Philippines, and even in Japan; I was surprised that Japanese people thought I was Japanese! It makes me wonder, how many Filipinos are in Japan? Also, I
studied many styles of martial arts in the US, including Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and American styles. I would like to study more martial arts here and compare the differences in styles, especially comparing how Japanese martial arts are taught in Japan versus in America.

Differences Between Japan and the United States

Since arriving in Japan, I have noticed quite a few things that surprised me which are different than the United States. On my first night here, I went to dinner with other ALTs at a Japanese-style restaurant in Shinjuku. The five of us were taken to a table that had tatami seats and space beneath the table for our legs. My friend was about to step into the seating area, but he was quickly yelled at by the waiter and told to take off his shoes. We all took off our shoes and sat down at our seats. This surprised me a little, because in the U.S., we never take off our shoes at a restaurant, especially a nice one. In fact, we are not allowed to take off our shoes at some restaurants! There is a saying that is common in restaurants: “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”
I also noticed that smoking is very common in Japan, both outside and inside of buildings. I was surprised by this at the video game arcade. In the U.S., it is rare that a video game arcade allows smoking inside because there are so many kids there (and kids are not allowed to buy tobacco).
Another interesting difference is driving. In the U.S., we drive on the right side of the road, but in Japan, people drive on the left side of the road. This means that the steering wheel is also on the opposite side (left side in the U.S., right side in Japan). But that’s not all! When people park in Japan, they put their car in reverse, and they back-up into their parking spot. That way, in the parking lot, the cars face away from each other. But in the U.S., everyone always pulls into their parking spot head-first! That makes the cars in the parking lot face each other!
When you eat at a restaurant in Japan, you only have to pay for the price of the meal. But in the U.S., if you eat at a restaurant where you are served by a waiter/waitress, you are expected to also pay a tip to the waiter/waitress! This is because waiters/waitresses have a different payment system in the U.S.; most of their money comes from tips rather than salary/wage. This forces the servers in the U.S. to be more polite, because then they will make more money! But in Japan, servers are always polite no matter what, which is very nice.
When I first got to my apartment, I noticed many differences in the household. The first thing I noticed was that there was a faucet on the back of my toilet! Toilets in the U.S. don’t have a faucet. Instead, there is always a sink in the bathroom. I also noticed that the shower room is a separate room from the toilet, which is also separate from the sink. In an American-style bathroom, if there is a bathtub, there is also a toilet and a sink in the bathroom. Another difference I noticed right away was that the shower area was separate from the bath. Usually, people in the U.S. shower right in the bathtub, which is usually twice the length as Japanese bathtubs. This is because people in the U.S. like to lie down in the bathtub. They also clean themselves while taking a bath (or afterwards), rather than showering first, then entering the bath like in Japan.
Another thing I noticed was that I don’t have a dryer. In Japan, we hang our clothes to dry after washing. In the U.S., we throw our clothes into the dryer to dry them, and then we fold them after taking them out. People usually put fabric softener into the dryer to make the clothes soft. They also use the dryer to remove lint from clothing.
The trash system is similar to the U.S., but is a little more complicated. People in the U.S. usually just throw the entire PET bottle (just called a plastic bottle) into the recycling bin. Sometimes, they will remove the cap and throw it in the trash. There is no separate プラ container for wrappers and such. Most of that stuff usually gets thrown into the trash. People also don’t usually burn trash in the U.S.; it is taken to a garbage facility and is taken care of there (by being crushed, burned, or allowed to decay). The things that are recycled in the U.S. are still recycled the same way, like newspapers, glass bottles, aluminum cans, cardboard, paper, and things like that.
These are just a few interesting differences. I’m sure I’ll find more during my stay here in Japan!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kyoto and Video Games [Update]

I've discovered something on Japanese keyboards! There is a way to make it behave like an American keyboard! What I mean is that the keys change to the American counterparts, so even if a certain character/symbol is written on the Japanese key, it will type the American key. For example, the Japanese keyboard has a colon (:) where the apostrophe key is on the American keyboard. So normally, when I press this key with my right pinky finger, I type a colon. But when I do this trick, I get an apostrophe! The trick is pressing the following keystroke: Alt + Shift. This keystroke is normally used on American keyboards to change language inputs; it's what I use to switch between Japanese and English on my laptop and desktop computers in the US. Normally, there is a designated key to do that on Japanese keyboards, so pressing the key maintains the Japanese layout of characters and punctuation. But not with this keystroke trick! Bwahaha! I don't have to type Shift + 7 for apostrophes anymore!


So! This past week has been SUPER DUPER busy, which is why I haven't been able to post an update. It's unfortunate, because I wish I could recall all of the things that have happened since my last post (which itself was quickly written). I am currently typing this at the Yakuba, so I will update this post later with pictures.

First off, I'll mention this quick gaming news that blew my mind. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 was announced!!! Click that link for the article and an epic trailer! This announcement helps fighting game fans like myself to envision the next two or so years of fighting games from Namco and Capcom. There's Marvel Versus Capcom 3, Street Fighter X Tekken, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and Tekken X Street Fighter. MVC2 and TTT are two of my favorite fighting games of all time, so hearing that both of their sequels are being planned/developed makes me very happy. ^_^ Also, the TTT2 announcement was made at Tokyo Game Show (TGS), which was this past weekend. I would have LOVED to go, and it's so cheap, too (Just ¥1200 per day or ¥1000 in advance; that's about $14.14 and $11.78, respectively, at the current exchange rate)! But I wasn't able to go because of something else more important:

I was in Kyoto this past weekend with my girlfriend! :-D I wasn't able to see her for two months prior; it was so wonderful to spend time with her again. I took an overnight bus from Sendai to Kyoto; it was an 11.5 hour ride. Not very comfortable; or rather, the seats were comfy compared to American buses; it was roomy, and the seats reclined pretty far back. And there was decent leg room. But there was no bathroom on the bus! The nice thing about that is that there is no foul smell that sometimes plagues the rear of American buses. But the problem is that the driver has to pull over every 3 hours to give people a 15 minute potty/smoking/stretching break. This wouldn't be such a big deal if he didn't turn on the lights whenever he stopped. So yeah, suffice it to say, but I didn't have restful sleep that night, even though I attempted to sleep for the entire duration of the ride. Another plus is that I was able to be in Kyoto by 7 in the morning, and the price was way cheaper than the Shinkansen (approx $82 vs $236).

Kyoto is amazing. I can easily see why it would be the "most favorite city in the world" for many of my friends. I'll definitely be taking more trips there; and it may become the same thing for me. The areas I went to were mostly suburban in feeling, even though it was in the city. There were lots of famous temples there: I went to see Ryouanji Temple with the famous rock garden, and Kinkajuji Temple, the famous golden temple. Very beautiful places.

We had lots of adventures in Kyoto. On the first day, we went to Ryouanji. It's kinda funny; when my girlfriend and I got there, we ran into some other students living in the same dorm, and when we walked into the temple grounds, we were greeted by a group of Japanese college students who wanted to give foreigners tours of the temple. We obliged and had enjoyable conversations in English and Japanese. It was funny because the Japanese people were speaking English, and we Americans would respond in Japanese. After the tour, we left the grounds, and found a dessert shop where they served green tea/vanilla twist soft ice cream! It was sooooooooooo good. After that, we found a conveyor belt sushi restaurant (kaitenzushi). I'm guessing that the ice cream filled us up a bit, because we only managed to eat 11 (or so?) little plates of sushi, one soup, and two drinks. All for just ¥1700 (like $20)! After that, we checked out her campus. It's a really nice campus; very localized. No need to travel far between classes like on Pitt's campus. But the catch is that housing is a little far (only a little).

In the evening of the first night, we met up with an old friend of mine with whom I studied Japanese back at Pitt. It was nice to see him again and meet his girlfriend, who had surprisingly good English (she studied abroad in the US for a year). I was happy that I had the opportunity to check out downtown. Now, if you know me, you would know that I love going to cities and exploring stores, arcades, malls, and busy areas like that. When we got off the bus to downtown, the closest place was a 6-floor Namco arcade! Unfortunately, we didn't have any time to check it out, but I'll definitely hit it up next time. Instead, we walked around the izakaya area, with lots of bars and restaurants, looking for a place to dine. We ended up finding a place, that strangely enough, played Black Eyed Peas the whole time we were there. Maybe they thought we were BEP. We kinda looked it. Anyway, the place had tiny booths with cave-like aesthetics. But the food and drink was good, and the company was better, so I was happy. Later, we went to an area under a bridge and next to a river. The place was bustling with people: foreigners and Japanese people; lots and lots of couples. That's apparently where my friend and his girlfriend had met. It's cute 'cause along the riverbank, couples are sitting side-by-side, evenly spaced.

The next day, we grabbed some ramen for lunch. MMMMMMMMM SOOOOOOOOO GOOD! I can still remember how good it was. The place was called Ramen Kyoto Tengu. And for just ¥700, you can get a delicious bowl of ramen that looks like this:

Kinkakuji was gorgeous. Just look at the pictures! Unfortunately, it started to rain when we arrived, so I couldn't get any shots of the temple's reflection in the water, but it was beautiful nonetheless. After seeing the temple, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a tea ceremony with a sweet snack. I'm not sure what to call the building we had the ceremony at, but it was one room with tatami mats and something like a shrine at one end and a kitchen in the corner at the other end. Afterward, we did some bell ringing, candle-lighting, and other luck/fortune-cultivating activities. I bought various keychains and omiyage at the gift shop nearby. When we left, we were looking for green tea ice cream (actually matcha ice cream), but the temple's gift shops had already closed the ice cream section. :-( So we left and found some at a nearby touristy shop. :-)

It was a three-day-weekend, so I was able to stay for two nights. I left on Monday, so I had to take the Shinkansen back. The ride was interesting; in fact, the entire commute was interesting. We walked from the dorm to the nearest train station, which took us directly to Kyoto Station. There, I bought tickets from Kyoto to Sendai, which requires a transfer at Tokyo Station. But before I left, my girlfriend and I grabbed a quick lunch at a local cold-udon/cold-soba place. Not as good as the ramen the other day, but still pretty decent. What was neat was that we paid for it using a vending-machine-like thing. After lunch, we had a tearful goodbye. I reminded her (and had to remind myself) that I'll see her again in a few weeks. We also broke the unspoken rule of "no public affection in Japan." Well, if PDA is illegal here, then call me a criminal.

I then headed to the platform where I looked for the unreserved seats, in cars 1-3. Sweet, I found it; but dammit, it's full! So full that a whole bunch of people were standing for the entire duration of the trip to Tokyo. Including me. The ride itself was a little over two hours (two and a half maybe? Something like that). Actually, correction; I got to sit down for the last fifteen minutes or so, when some people left at the stop before Tokyo Station. I sat next to a lady who was kind enough to show me where I would go to make my transfer to the Tohoku-bound trains. The second leg of my trip was much nicer; I managed to get my own seat, and when the guy left at the first stop, I had an entire bench to myself! Good deal. A friend of mine was picking me up, and he asked me to continue past Sendai into the next town, which required another transfer. It wasn't a problem and only cost about $8.

One thing I noticed while I was in Kyoto and on the Shinkansen: girls in Japan sure love moccasins. I don't know what the deal is with that. But Japanese girls can seem to make even the ugliest outfits look cute.

Oh, and lastly, I finally bought a Nintendo DSi! My best friend has been telling me to get a DS for the past five years. Better late than never! Hahaha

Word of the day: 自由席 「じゆうせき」 "jiyuuseki," which means "unreserved seat."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Quick updates

So, I really have to go to bed. Like now. But I wanted to post some quick updates:

1) My girlfriend is currently on an airplane, headed in my direction! Very nice. Can't wait to see her again. ^_^

2) I just bought a Nintendo DSi today! Not for the sake of gaming; on the contrary: to study! Which, I guess for some people (::cough::nerds::cough::) is fun. I got it to study and practice kanji. And I got this insane Shonen Jump video game that crams multiple Jump manga series into one fighting game. Just imagine people from Dragonball, Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and a dozen other series all fighting each other. Seemed like a fun $20.

3) The speech contest was today! We didn't win, but I'm still very proud of my students for mustering up the courage to speak in a foreign language in front of a crowd of strangers (and competitors). That takes guts. And now, to learn from my mistakes and prepare for the next one...

4) The iPhone has really crappy battery life. With my LG Secret, I only had to charge it within one day if I was using the video camera a lot. But the iPhone...I am honestly disappointed with its battery life. And I even close the apps after I exit them. (To do this, you have to double-click the home button to make a bottom menu show up that lists icons of the 4 most recent apps used. Then hold your finger over one of the icons until they shake. Then click the red circle with the minus sign to close the app. This method is paramount to proper usage of 3rd-generation iPods and iPhones; otherwise, it'll seem like they're slow and sluggish.)

5) One of my students somehow fell on the stairs and was knocked unconscious; he was immediately taken to the local hospital. I hear he is doing fine. Though, seeing him passed out on the stairs made me feel so...powerless. For one, I don't have an updated first-aid certification, and I also don't know any Japanese medical terminology (or how to say, "Move!" or "Make room for him!"). Based on how he was lying, my guess is that he slipped or tripped. I don't think it was a result of roughhousing, but it might be due to students' tendencies to haphazardly run around the school. Anyway, he'll be back tomorrow, which I was glad to hear.

6) This past weekend was pretty fun. I went to Shiogama, to an island, with other guys from the Town Hall for some overnight festivities. And by that, I mean drinking with middle-aged (and older) folks. It was pretty enjoyable, actually. I had sea pineapple for the first time. The seafood was fresh, and pretty damn good. The sea urchin was surprisingly tasty.

Word of the day: 早く 「はやく」 "hayaku," which means "quickly."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Japanese Studies

As I sit here and settle into my new surroundings, I begin to realize that I revert back to my 'usual' behaviors as I would have in the U.S. What does this entail? Well, basically coming home from work, and becoming a hermit; spending lots of time on my computer, surfing the internet or telling all of my friends what I've been up to; you know, via social networking or even this blog. But what frightens me the most is that when I do all of this, like e-mailing people, and chatting, or surfing the web, is that all of it is in English. Very little do I actually come across Japanese online, or when I communicate with my friends. Oftentimes because what I want to say is most easily said in English; oftentimes I do not even HAVE the words in Japanese to say what I want to say. Especially in a blog post or an e-mail or a message or chit-chat.

That said, if I spend so much time using English, and so much time inside my apartment not interacting with those around me, I am afraid that my level of Japanese will regress. So, it is up to me to make sure that that doesn't happen. It is my duty to insure that I continue my progress with Japanese and not fall into yet another Gaijin Trap.

So, my methods for continuing my studies of Japanese are multifold: 1) Speak in Japanese as much as possible, with friends, co-workers, and even students [as long as it isn't affecting their learning of English]; 2) Immersion, which includes Japanese television, Japanese music, and hearing Japanese conversations in school and around town; 3) Formal studying of the language, including reading, writing, looking up unknown kanji, and learning new kanji.

The third one in particular is something that I need to work on more, as it has been quite sporadic. The amount of time I spend studying kanji daily is irregular, and I don't do a good job reviewing kanji that I recently learned. This will change, with the upcoming JET Japanese Courses that I enrolled in. According to the multiple practice tests I took, I should be enrolled in the Advanced Level (which is above Beginner and Intermediate). There are only these three levels. I'm a little anxious about it, because I only know about 400-something kanji (they recommend 500, I think; or was it 600?), and and the entire textbook is supposedly in Japanese. There are also a few grammar points that I am expected to know already but have never formally studied; but thankfully, there aren't too many. Lastly, I haven't completely mastered other bits of grammar which I have formally learned. But I guess all that comes with time, anyway.

To study kanji, I will attempt a two-pronged attack: use the infamous and highly controversial Heisig method, which entails learning the characters by parts and creating a "story" for each character, and supplement the stories with the traditional method of learning new kanji (see new kanji, learn readings and meanings, read example sentences, and practice writing it). According to Heisig, though, this should not be done; learning the stories will apparently be counterproductive to learning the kanji the traditional way. I am not sure why this would be true, but since he was the developer of this method, I am assuming that he is correct. So, my plan is to first use Heisig's method and go through the entire Book 1. Then rather than go to Book 2 (which is where he teaches how to actually pronounce/read the character), I will go through the traditional method using either the Kotoba! iPhone app or the Essential Kanji book.

Or maybe I could try the traditional method using the app, then Heisig, then the book? Anyway, just throwing around some ideas. I will leave you with this sweet video that I saw on TV today:

Word of the day: 言葉 or 詞 or 辞 「ことば」 "kotoba," which means language, words, or speech.
Second word of the day: 国語 「こくご」 "kokugo," which is what the Japanese language course is called in Japan (like "English Class" in the US). "Kokugo" literally means "country language."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hilariously Beautiful

So I've been teaching for a full week, now. Well, that's not entirely true, since a good chunk of my lessons last week (actually, all of the ones in the junior high school) consisted simply of a self-introduction presentation, which itself is composed of over a hundred pictures that describe some aspect of my background: where I'm from, where I was born, where I went to school, what my college town looks like, what my hobbies are, what I like to eat; easy stuff. The difficult classes have been in the elementary schools; one class in particular is very unenthusiastic. I've been told that they're quite a smart class; I reckon it's their smarts that is creating this lack of motivation. Hopefully I'll come up with something to get them to be more 元気 "genki" (energetic).

I came across a HILARIOUS video today; actually, a friend of mine, who is also a JET ALT, posted it on her facebook wall. The video contains audio from a book series called 英語ノート "Eigo Noto," which is the text book series that is used to teach English to elementary school students. Anyway, this video takes the audio from various lessons and remixes it a bit with the theme of male-female relationships (Read: How to pick up women). Really hilarious. Here it is:

Ah, so, before I watched that video, I actually had quite a bit of stuff in my head that I wanted to post about! But I laughed so hard that those thoughts fell out of my head. So! That means I'll treat you to another video. But this one is not funny at all. No. Instead, it is beautiful. I'll post it here, but I recommend going to the actual website to view it in HD and full screen.

Hayaku: A Time Lapse Journey Through Japan from Brad Kremer on Vimeo.

I don't recall if I mentioned this in a previous post, but here is another important difference between Japan and the US: in the US, there is a janitor (or team of them) to clean up the entire school grounds. In Japan, there are none. At best, there is a mechanic or handyman, but he is not expected to clean up the classrooms or hallways. Nope. Who then? The students! Haha!

Is it wrong of me to laugh? Well, I suppose it's not technically funny; at least, not until you see the looks on their faces when you tell them that in the US, students don't have to clean the classrooms. It's fascinating, really. Oh, and there is no cafeteria. The students all eat in their classrooms; and again, they are responsible for bringing the crates and boxes of food into the classrooms to serve to their classmates. I can see that Japan makes sure to teach the kids how to be active members in society at an early age. I think it's great for them! If only the brats in the US were made to serve and clean, too, maybe we wouldn't have so many problems with laziness. Or obesity! Anyway, I digress...

I was shown how to fill up my gas tank today. And not just going to the Full Serve and saying "Regular Mantan Onegaishimasu" (which has them fill up your tank with "regular" octane gasoline). I'm talkin', goin' to the Self Serve gas station, hitting buttons with kanji on the screen, paying by cash, and pumping the gas myself. I'm happy to have been able to learn that. Now, the reason I learned to fill up my tank today wasn't just because my tank is only 1/4th full, but also because I was doing some Dimensional Analysis today (it must have been all the Breaking Bad that I've been watching that made me want to do it, haha).

What, may you ask, is Dimensional Analysis? Well, it is the branch (or merely, aspect) of science and math that is used for unit conversion. It's one of the simplest, and yet one of the most important, basic lessons of science. Failure to properly convert units can lead to disastrous results.

Anyway, the Dimensional Analysis I did today was about trying to figure out the cost of gasoline here in Japan (which is in Yen per Liter) and converting it into the units we use in the US (Dollars per Gallon). I knew the gas here was more expensive; I just wanted to know how much.

So, using my recently acquired iPhone, unit conversion apps, and exchange rates, I quickly wrote down this formula:

(Current price in the US in $/G) divided by (volume conversion factor in liters per gallon) times (exchange rate in Y/$)

The formula leads to a conversion of US prices into Yen per Liter. Substituting the current price (at the time) of $2.57/gallon in Pennslyvania, I got 57.16 Yen/L.

Hmm, 57.16...WOW. That's CHEAP. At least, compared to the price I saw at the pump today! The price at the pump was 125 Yen/L!!! That's more than double the cost!!! In fact, using the conversion factor I calculated (22.24203522 ¥gal/$L), it comes out to $5.62/gallon! DAMN THAT'S EXPENSIVE!!! Gas is 2.2 times more expensive in Japan than the US!!! Blows my mind.

Also, seeing that I filled up about 3/4th of my tank today, and seeing that the price was only about 2000 Yen, I can guesstimate that my tank is only about 21 liters, or five and a half gallons. Crazy small! My dinky little sedan back in the US was only 13 gallons, and it was a compact (or sub-compact) car. Well, I guess with an engine size of less than 600 cc's, I don't need to worry about using too much gasoline in the first place.

Lastly, I'd like to say that I've been keeping an eye on the US-Japan exchange rate pretty closely for the past few months. And just now, I saw it finally plummet to below 84 yen/dollar. It's currently 83.89262, according to the MSN Money desktop gadget. That's soooooooo baaaaaaaaaaad! Just three years ago it was around 123. That means Americans could go to Japan and feel slightly wealthier. Currently, the opposite is true. That's great news for me because I'm making money over here! But terrible news for people just arriving (girlfriend, other friends) or people who want to visit me (family, friends). Check out this 10-year chart on XE.com for more numbers. (In 2002 it was 134!!! I wish I went to Japan back then!!!)

Word of the day: 満タン [まんたん」 "mantan," or "full tank." Literally.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Japan is interesting. I don't know if it's just small towns like this one, if larger cities are included, or if it's just this town in particular; but damn, do people love events! I've been living in Japan for about a month now, and already, I've attended two town-wide events with hundreds of attendees! The first was the Kappa Festival, which I mentioned in a blog entry last month. Today's even was the Field Day.

Yeah, Field Day. Remember Field Day? Way back in elementary school, when the school district would all come together to old a massive athletics event with relay races and whatnot? Well, this one is TOWN WIDE, with participants not limited to just students! In fact, some events are designed specifically for adults, and many events (all, maybe?) are separated by age group. At one point, I saw 6 groups of a dozen senior citizens all throwing colored rubber balls into a reed basket 15 feet in the air. Not an easy task. And seeing this made me realize something: how physical activity is such an important aspect of Japanese culture. It's not just "important;" rather, it's "normal." It's just a regular, everyday thing. There are many farmers in town; they're always outside working, laboring, on their land. In offices, there are morning exercises; people warm up in sync to elevator music. It's amazing, really.

Anyway, it was neat to see the whole town participating in competitive activities. Everyone was split up into neighborhoods. When I first arrived, the Field Day event was already half-way through (I overslept; oops). And of course, I ran into my students on the way there (I walked) and was greeted by more upon my arrival. I didn't know where to go at first, so I hung out at the judges tent, where I saw two guys from the Board of Education (my superiors). [Side note: one of the guys is known simply as "Kachou," which basically means "section chief."] I grabbed a grape Fanta (remember, it's called "juice" here) and a "caramel milk crepe" and ate it at the judges tent. After a while, I met a friend of my JET predecessor who is learning English. She talked to me about some sort of "English club" that was established in a neighboring city by my pred; I'll attend this week's meeting. :-) After that brief conversation, she had to leave, and I went off to join my neighborhood. Again, I ran into some students; but they actually live in my neighborhood! It was fun cheering with them (or for them, in some cases) and cheering with their families. The Field Day ended with a big relay race.

Everyone was leaving, so I decided to grab some food before the stands were closed; I managed to get a box of tako yaki (octopus balls) and some okonomiyaki wrapped around some chop sticks. Okonomiyaki is like...well, like a crepe, but with a bunch of things thrown into it while it's cooked; kind of like an omelette would be made. Anyway, I just hung out at home afterward, watching some Breaking Bad (good series, by the way; I recommend it). As I went outside to the vending machine to grab some oolong tea, some elementary (or nursery?) school students said hello to me. Then the kuchou (president of the neighborhood...or something) showed up and told me that our neighborhood won! Yay!

So yeah, this weekend was both eventful (literally) and uneventful (figuratively) at the same time. Saturday was especially boring. Such that I learned the phrase to exclaim my boredom and text it to two friends. Unfortunately, both people I texted were busy. :-( Oh well, I spent the time watching Breaking Bad (actually started it yesterday) and cooking some awesome udon. I made the soup myself this time, too! Just some soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and seasoned salt that I brought from the U.S. Seasoned salt makes everything taste better. Even victory.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention! I finally got my iPhone! Yay! I was thinking about making a "Cell phones in Japan Part 3," but I'm not really sure it's necessary. There isn't much more I can say about Japanese cell phones. Except that the majority of them use infrared to transmit the owner's account info (name, number, e-mail, picture) to someone else. It's so much more convenient than having to type it in! Unfortunately, iPhones don't have infrared; I'd have to buy a special dongle for that. But they do have bluetooth! And WiFi! Which means that I can download an app called "Bump" that'll let me "bump" my phone with another iPhone user (who also has the app) and exchange info that way. Yay apps.

Oh, another cool thing about Japanese phones is that they have a QR Code reader that can read these black and white square codes. These codes usually have websites, but I found an app that allows one to create a QR Code that contains phone info. Here is an example of a QR Code that happens to contain a link for this blog:

Cool, huh? So yeah, cell phones read those. I got an app to read them, as well. Lastly, I'll say that I finally worked out a little (weight lifting, calisthenics) in a loooooooooong time. It must have been all that exercise I saw today. And this epic video.

Phrase of the day: 退屈だな。 「たいくつだな。」 "Taikutsu da na." "I'm bored."

A gift for those of you who got to the end of this post:

Harold's Japan Picture Gallery