Monday, March 5, 2012

Ramblings and shamblings

I have, once again, been a terrible  blogger, or rather a multi focused one. The ceramics blog I started has been getting its biweekly attention, and the reviews have been nothing but stellar thus far. However, with the ceramics in full swing I all too often forget about the happenings of my life that the few readers of this web space might be interested in.

The long and short of it is that for the past two or three weeks I have been a bit of a home body. Trying to focus intensly on health for several weeks, and then last week came along and hit the reset button. Last week was Graduation and exams to close out the Japanese school year. This meant longer hours at school, less time in the pottery studio, big work dinner parties, drinking with my principal (that guy is crazy!), and generally not having time to fit work outs into my day to day life. This has resulted in me feeling rather akin to a hippo on this slightly gloomy monday mid morning.

I'm not sure I have ever really talked about it much on this blog, but I have been battling with health and fitness since my days at Hamilton Jr. High. Things came to a head my junior year of college when I weighed in at a massive 295 pounds. With a bit of motivation, more attention to portion and food choice, and daily hard work outs I dropped down to about 250 by the end of my senior year. Then for about a year I played the up and down game between 240 and 260 while applying to the JET Program, but once I hit Japan the appearant lack of as many frankenfoods (seriously I buy almost ZERO preprepared things here. All fresh ingredients when I can) helped kick the fittness game into a new high. I currently float at about 220 or 215. This is great, and I have held there for my year and six months in Japan, but I am at the stage in my fittness goals where little week long vacations into indulgence set me back a months worth of working and being "on the plan". As a very goal oriented person those little back slides cause me considderable frustration, and last week was sure one of them. So it's back to the gym this week (I hope).

Yesterday was a rainy day as well, and I took some time to prep some new recycled beer can seed starters, and filled them with nastershum seeds, my spinach has beyond sprouted and seems healthy thus far, and even better is the continual flourishing of my 5 mini kale plants. I never get enough for a full meal, but I can harvest of good handfull and mix it in with spinach or other greens from the farmer's market any time. Let me tell you, the farmer's market and I are fasts friends now. All local, all in season, and all CHEAP! Look at all that fruit and veg for only about $25.

Get them veggies in ya!

More to come

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Real, Good Guy

It's my pappa's birthday! I have been sitting and writing and rewriting ways to say that in a more eligant fassion, but they all fall short. After many MANY years of writing cards to my father, cards meant to induce pleasant memories or conjure up all the admiration I have for him, I have given up on words. . . well . . . that's a lie. I wouldn't be writting this for you if that statement were true.


It seems all too fitting that your birthday falls on a day dedicated to expressing love. I think you're an overflowing well of love. You and Mom are the best example of that I can imagine. You give and give, and in all of this giving you've taught me so much. I strive to craft myself in your image, and model myself on your creativity, rationality, and heart. I can't tell you how excited I am that you are comming to see my world here in Japan in April.

In two very simple, and slightly juvinile, words: YOU ROCK!

I hope you have absolutely the happiest of happy birthdays. We'll celebrate in earnest when you fly into Nara in April.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Another BLOG?!

That's right fans! I've just launched a new blog, and this one is all ceramics all the time. This interweb sight is simply named A. Sartorius Ceramics , and you should go check it out! I have been hiding most of my photographed work since i came to Japan but no more.

In other, non-self promotive, news - it was COLD, COLD, FEAK'n COLD today. Susaki even got a a constant flurry of tiny flakes. The combination of cold and strong winds really makes bike rides substantially less than pleasant.

 I came home today and baked. I baked lemon short cakes for a friends birthday party tomorrow (to be topped with whipped cream and strawberries, transforming them into strawberry short cakes), but even more scrumptious is the make shift lox I concocted tonight. Make a quick and simple rye bread dough, top it with cracked black pepper, and bake it at 180C for about 20 min. Then spread black pepper cream cheese, layer on some sushi grade salmon, and top with tomatoes, red onion, and parsley in a lemon pepper dressing. DEVOUR in bliss. It has been a long time since I was so satisfied by my own cooking (not to toot my own horn or anything). In fact it has been a bit of a culinary dry spell. Guess I have been feeling a bit uninspired. NO more! God that was such a surprise good thing. GO MAKE TASTY THINGS!

More to come. 


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Quiet times

Susaki Wednesday, and the sun took her sweet time peeking out from behind the greying cloud cover. I had little to do today at work. The third year students are all finished for the year (4 of my ussual classes gone until April), and the second years are off on their school trip to Korea or Nagoya (another 3 of my weekly classes). This leaves me with 4 classes in 5 days, and a month and a half of less than busy teaching. Ceramics anyone? Despite the pain of cold hands and unheated studios I think it is well past time that I attempt to get my artist side back in action. I have been invited to two open air two day craft markets by a friend who frequently sets up a booth at them. One is in the beginning of March and one the beginning of May. I had orriginaly intended on not selling any of my work until I had some type of show or exhibition with it, but I am finding it more than a little difficult to get Japanese galleries on my side of the "Hey! let's help the new artist attempt to break into the feild, " equasion.   I am in the process of making a blog esspeicially for my ceramics. Just a space where I can post photos of my work, get feedback, and do a little shameless self promotion.

Two weekends ago I went to Osaka with 5 of the most wonderful folks to see my favorite band, Beirut. The show bordered on religious experience. I would see them again, again, and again x 1000! The openning act was a fantastic Japanese band called Shogu Tokamaru, and then Beirut blew the roof off. Two, four song encores, every song I was hoping they would play, and really close to the stage made it the best concert I've ever been to.

On the day to day front, I am REALLY enjoying practicing my banjo. I try to play about an hour a day if I can. That hour goes by very quickly. I made a modified version (have yet to find dill seeds in my super markets) of these pickled carrot sticks last night, and just finished scarfing down a delicious home grown kale, mushroom, and onion pizza (on rye crust!). Also (speaking of kale), check out my winter greens!

It's growning like a champ in my tiny green house. I am considdering buying another one in the hopes of starting more seeds this winter, but the reality of that has yet to be seen. I am not even 100% sure I need to keep the kale in that green house. I really miss having a garden. . . like you know, one you can stand in and don't have to buy the earth in plastic bags from the home and gardening store and carry it up like 8 flights of steps. Some day Andrew, some day.

Well, I would say this post has gone about as far as it will go for a time filler on my snailish day. Be happy, be well, and stay warm. More to come. . .

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I forgot to hit "publish" last Thursday.

(As the tittle suggests this post is several days old, and has been sitting unintentionaly in the drafts folder. A more up to date one on the happenings of this most recent weekend will follow shortly)

It's chilly and wet here. Most days I feel like I live in a place where winter doesn't exist, or rather it exisits in the chill that sinks into you before you recognize the need for another layer (because no buildings have insulation). It settles in the tips extremities, and lingers far longer than it should. A place, where if the sun shines in mid January you only need a sweater, but the nights and little hours of the morning leave your breath suspended momentarily before you as though it wished to share some secret from somewhere within your chest.

I still think winter without snow is a damn wrong feeling winter.

Last week saw several things happen: my best and brightest 3rd year students fell victim to the trials of Japan's national standardized tests (more on this in a bit), I went to Nakamura to visit Mr. Colin for is big birthday (30 years the old man), and also had myself a wee birthday party. Yep I'm 25 and feeling about the same as I felt at 24. Though I will admit that post holiday tavels I am feeling more purposful and a little clearer in thought process.

A quick note on the test taking thing : Depending on your chosen course of study as a high school student in Japan, you may have to take up to 6 (I have been told) different 80 minute standardized tests. Think SAT and ACT combined into one giant test, and (here's the kicker) you only get one shot at it. There are no retakes. You either make the cut, or you don't. For me, this seems cruel. I have watched many of my favorite students crumble slowly under the pressure this week. One student in particular so much so that she broke down in class. Water works, quiet sobs, and a bumbling giant hairy foreigner telling her that she is very smart and shouldn't worry, but the language barrier is always there. My new years travels showed me how much my Japanese has improved since I came, but it is still . . . childish and broken at best. Perhaps the most appropreate word is functional. In instances like this though, where I wish to god I could comand all the grace and comforting powers of any language, I am left again scrambling to conveigh that I am at the least understanding and interested in listening.

I should mention that this student was more embarassed by her own break down, than eager to talk about why she was crying. So counseling, and offering the old teacher's shoulder are not always welcome. What can you do though?

Thats all for now

a quick picture of the birthday party crew.

Friday, January 6, 2012


Sorry for the several weeks of silence. I've been busy showing my sister all the reasons I love Japan. For those who many not know - I have a sister (from other parents), her name is Alice. Our paths crossed in college, we worked together at Kingsley Pines (the happiest place on Earth), and have kept in touch speaking at least once a week for two years of mutual international work experience (me in Japan and her in Zambia for a year and now in South Africa). Sometimes she writes about her adventures and work at this blog.

At any rate she came to Japan on Dec. 22 after something like 38 hours of traveling. I kept a bare bones diary of what we did day to day because for 12 days we were running full throttle to make the most of our time together. So much happened while Alice was here I am actually unsure what the best way to approach writing about and sharing it all. I think I will start with just the bare bones of the trip for today and follow that up with a more reflective post after I have some time to really workout everything that was taken in. So without further hesitation here's the nuts and bolts of what happened: 

Dec 22: Alice arrived in Susaki on a bus at 7:08 in the morning after a ten hour bus ride, two 8 or 9 hour flights, and an 18 hour layover in Doha, Qatar. She championed through a little drowsiness and spent the day meeting my students and coworkers. That night was also the bon enkai for my school so she cleaned all up and came out for the big end of the year party. 

Dec 23: Alice slept till 1:30 (just over 13 hours). We cooked together, and adventured down to the large local market to look for what we wanted to eat later in the week. We ate at one of my favorite noodle shops, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and remembering those we both miss from Wooster. 

Dec 24: Went to Aki city to meet up with the usual crowd of Kochi's best and brightest for a huge Christmas party. There was feasting, drinking, festivities, a gift exchange, and even a bicycling santa appeared. 

Dec 25: Aki is right on a stunning stone beach. Christmas morning was spent throwing stones into the ocean, sun bathing, and cooking yet again. Came home to Susaki to make eggnog, skype with family and friends, and watch It's a Wonderful Life (it just isn't Christmas without George Bailey). 

Dec 26: Alice and another friend of mine went for a day hike along a beautiful mountainous stretch of the 88 temple trek that runs near Susaki, and returned to Susaki for another bon enkai (this time with the Susaki Broken English Club). Way too much good food, they dressed Alice up in kimono, and took us to karaoke after. 

Dec 27: Spent the day in Kochi City. Took Alice to Kochi castle, and then met up with the lovely Mia who helped us adventure around for the rest of the day. She spirited us up to Godaisan (a mountain overlook of the city that has a beautiful example of what the 88 temple temples typically look like). The three of us then went to Hirome for beers, more great food, and even better conversations. 

Dec 28th: This was a long day of travel. Susaki to Osaka and Osaka to Koyasan. Took all day, but Koyasan, even in the dark, was beautiful. We checked into our temple (yep we stayed in a temple), and prepared to wake up the next day super early for morning prayers with the monks. 

Dec 29th: Up at 5:45 for morning ceremonies and meditation. Delicious vegan (monk's standard diet) breakfast, and out early into the snow and cold. Walked through the huge and beautiful Buddhist graveyard. Spent most of the day going from temple to temple and reading about why Koyasan is so important to Buddhism and the 88 temple trek I am doing. In mid afternoon we returned to Osaka where we spent the rest of the day vigorously hopping from bar to bar sampling the many different classic snacks and treats the Japanese frequently dine on while enjoying a beer or three. Temples one night to neon uber city the next. 

Dec 30th: Spent the night in a capsule hotel and woke up to find out most of the museums we had planned on going to were closed for the new year. Spent the day in an Onsen (Japanese hot springs spa) instead, and worked our way to Nara (Japan's first capital). 

Dec 31st: Nara is infested with tiny deer! They are thought to be the messengers of the gods . . . spent the day going to temples and museums. Saw the largest wooden structure in the world, and one of the biggest Buddha statues I have ever seen. Issued in the new year in a huge crowd of people waiting to pray at the temple of this huge Buddha, and sipped on a bottle of bubbly while walking through the street fair that mysteriously popped up all over the temple grounds. 

Jan 1st: Coffee and doughnuts to start the new year, and a day spent hitting  the last few temples we missed in Nara. Enjoying a big final feast together and reflecting on the trip we had. 

Jan 2nd: Alice leaves Japan. . . . 

WELLLL there you have it. After Alice left I spent a few days in Osaka with some Japanese friends of mine. You can see all the photos of Alice's grand adventure on my lovely Flickr page, but for now I think this post has gone on long enough. It is safe to say I have had an incredible past few weeks, and I can't thank Alice enough for coming all the way here to spend sometime with her Brother Bear. I hope all my family and friends back home had equally wonderful holidays, and may your Year of the Dragon (yep that's right) be everything you want it to be! 

More to come. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Season of endings

December in Japan is the month of official ends. New Years is arguably the biggest holiday here, and with it comes two responcibilities: officially close the year propperly, and open the year in the best possible way. Being that I can't speak of what my new year will be like I`m going to focus on the closing ceremonies here.

Every club, work place, group of friends, or group of willing participants has what's called a Bon Enkai (Year end party). These are a chance to reflect on the year, eat a huge course of food, drink with your coworkers (my other high school teachers love this part), and generally bond with those you spend the most time with outside of family. The food is always better at a Bon Enkai, and when your supervisor comes to you and hands you a beer it is one of the only times in Japan where I have been able to geleam any honest constructive critisism on my teaching. This year Susaki High School will have a very speical guest at it's bon enkai. My dear friend (sister via unofficial adoption) Alice is bound for Japan from Cape Town as we SPEAK, and I am all a quiver with anticipation. Alice and I will be traveling extensivly (expinsively . . . ew, traveling within Japan is REALLY pricey) through out the kansai area of Japan. More to come on that after it's done. She'll also spend about 6 days puttering about Kochi getting to know my day to day, and spending Christmas with all the cool kids you hear about so frequently who are not off traveling for their holidays. This reunion and vacation are much needed because I am one tired guy. Between school, PA, free English lessons, taiko, and attempting to maintain a social life and presence I really came dangerously close to burning out. After a week of returning to daily workouts and health minded diet (get them greens in) I am feeling almost back to myself.

In other news. I am back on the baking wagon as chocolate chip cookies are now officially in season. My Christmas tree is up (major life goal of having a live tree achieved thanks to a local hardwear store sellign small potted evergreens) and the den is looking quite festive, if I do say so.

Two weekends ago I went into the city to see Mia's band, Wind Beat, play a big show on the night of the lunar eclipse. Fantastic! They are a really tight group, and the crowd was bursting with bunches of friends. It was a fun night of great tunes and good banter.

With my new found unbusy days (these will not last I assure you, so I am cherishing them) my mind has been wandering about to thoughts of future plans and reasessed goals. . . but they are neither fully formed nor coherent at this moment, so you'll have to wait to hear about those thoughts. In other news I BOUGHT A BANJO! I have always loved the sound of clawhammer banjo, and after the ever musical influence of some loved ones here (and realizing taiko doesn't really push me musically) I said what the heck. Internets meet Mary Margret.