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.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Grind On

10:03 and it feels like 1:00 in the morning. The past three weeks can be defined by half warm cups of coffee, stiff necks, semi fevers, taiko performances to small crowds, and generally running about like a chicken whose head has been cut off. I have been helping with a Jr. High School speech contest every day after school. Many hours of repeating phrases such as "foreign languages" and words like "tricked" (pronounced tu RU i ka D by the offending student for days and days). The contest is over now, and, thankfully, three students took home golds and four silvers. I've also been volunteering with a group of about 12 senior citizens once a week for about two hours teaching them conversational English. They are a big blast, and have surprisingly high levels of English. So lots of extra work, and also preparations for a very large JET Program meeting next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday make for the boy almost getting sick (wellness has wonderfully returned!).

Since I last posted I went to Hiroshima to play frisbee:

I also attended a wonderful birthday party, followed by a Susaki High School soft ball game, and finally a hug Thanksgiving feast with many loved ones that I don't see anywhere near enough of. \

And may you all have wonderful days! More to come.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Most people complain about Monday. It is the devious kick start to the week, and the death of all fun that was had on weekends. Monday doesn't care if you got home late from all your wild hullabaloo adventures. It just cares that you be ready for the hurt it plans to bring down on you before Tuesday and the settling routine come in to ease your weekly pattern. I, however, rather enjoy my Mondays. You see, we have an agreement, Monday and I. I agree to be very productive in the morning: teach my one class, plan my other lessons, organize my week, and be generally (though not indefinately) productive, and Monday agrees to let me relax for the bulk of the afternoon and not step all over my lingering endorphine rush from a weekend of fun.

"So what do you do while relaxing at work Andrew?"

Well dear reader, due to over active self motivation I rarely have quiet moments at school, but Monday is almost always a guarantee, and on that promised quiet day I typically catch up on my internet readings. So, in the interest of trying something new, here are three of my very favorite blogs. I check them almost daily for up dates, and enjoy the heck out of them.

1. The Field Lab is the ever evolving story of the Chicago born former New York City fasion photographer, John Wells. In December 2007 Wells took a complete life shift and went from big city to middle of the desert. On his home page he stays:

Rather than spend the rest of my life busting my ass so I can afford all the modern, pre-packaged conveniences that our "advanced" society provides - I am putting that energy into providing for all my own needs. To quote some new friends of mine who have also chosen this lifestyle,

" Every day, we get up, have coffee with the early morning, do chores, then get on with whatever project we have going… there’s often a choice. We go to bed tired, but very happy and peaceful."

Sparcely worded and beuatifuly photographed, I found this blog in a magazine sent to me by the parents, and was hooked after I went back and read the first few posts from oh so long ago. Despite my dislike of deserts and hot climates this blog has all the right elements of the back to the land/ sustainable living/ counter culture dream without the summer of love tinted glasses. I find it really impressive.

2. The Tiny House Blog is a jem I stumbled upon after watching a youtube tour of one of Jay Shaffer's Tumbweed Tiny homes.  The tiny house movement (if you choose to call it that) is all about cutting down on materialism. Many of the stories that come with the various tiny houses out there are linked to sustainability, the desire to pay less but still own a hom, being more active, and also there is a fairly consistant (though by no means required) do it your self train of thought going. This blog offers stories, pictures, resources, and listings for small dwellings all over the world. It is a facinating culture, and I find the designs and interiors of many of these homes to be absolutely beautiful.

One of the first interiors of a tiny home I ever saw from the fantastic book Rolling Homes

3. Lastly there is my go to cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen. If you know me at all you know I love cooking. It's how I destress, and is a skill I think everyone should know, preferably well. I found this lovely resourse through another blog written by my former baby sitter. At Smitten Kitchen you get consistently delicious recipies, cleanly and easily presented, and really, I MEAN REALLY, mouth watering photos (a.k.a. food porn). It's well writen creative food talk without pretension.

And that is all there is time for. Check them out! Read! Enjoy.

The wedding post follows suit shortly.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Knot Tied

My taiko instructor's youngest daughter, Aika, got married two weekends ago. I have spent a lot of time with these lovable taiko folks, and have watched the family plan this wedding for months.

The planning was worth it, because the wedding felt more like a Las Vegas show then a wedding. The most interesting thing was the mock chapel ceremony. I asked a friend who understood the Japanese being spoken what type of ceremony it was. The asnwer - a white wedding / unity candle celebration, held in the quaint chapel atop the swankiest hotel in Kochi City. A violin and cello duet played less dancey versions of such wedding classics as "Beauty and the Beast". There was even a "Minister", though I was told he didn't mention God, Jesus, the bible, or any of the other trappings of what might be said at a wedding. We never bowed our heads in prayer, and yet the bride walking down the red carpeted isle and the image of a classic small chappel wedding was preserved and cultivated. Just after the white wedding ceremony the bride and groom were whisked away for their first of three costume changes, this one from white dress and tux to traditional Japanese kimono. After the reception started and the families had their grand enterences, the bride and groom disapeared again to change into the relaxed dress part of the night (think prom night but with more spacklies). There were home movies set to high tension anime theme songs, and flaming swords used to light candles on every guest's table. It was quite the night:

Theatrics aside, it was beautiful. Weddings are such a process in the States as well, but the ones I have always felt most comfortable at were the ones that were not grandiose, and focused more on the joy of two people admiting their love for one another. Cheers, well wishes, drinks, good food, tears of happines, and the hope that the passion of their promiss will last through the trials life attempts to throw at them. The hope that they`ll always wear the smiles spawned from the laughter shared the night of their union. I can`t imagine anyone felt any other way at Aika's ceremony. Filtered through my cave man Japanese I only caught simple ideas within the various speaches read: "Mom, Dad, thank you for loving me. I love you."  or "I'll do my best for her." (that one is a rough translation), but the point is waylayed by the semantics of translation and linguistics. There is a definate universal language to be shared in joyous smiles. . . and a few too many celebratory sips.

More to come.

Hustling Culture

A is for active, B is for busy, C is for Culture [festival], and that's where I'm at, or rather was last week. In the Japanese education system there are two standard events the students spend years looking forward to and simultaniously dreading: Taikusai (sports festival) and Bunkasai (culture festival). Both of these celebrations take up months of the student's and teacher's lives. They meet every day after school and exams, club activities, or home lives all get pushed by the way side for the glory and perfection that must be these events. Now, you may be imagining, much as I was, that culture festival would be based on paying tribute to the richness of Japanese culture (or at least pay tribute to it!). It isn't. Not even close in fact. What it is, is a break from the monotony of lecture and test preparation the students shuffle through, and much, much more.

Last Tuesday afternoon my classes were cancelled to help prep the school for this monster that had been lurking in the flickering flourecence of Susaki's High School's storage rooms and long locked coradoors. The school is rarely as bustling as when all the students are clearing class rooms, decorating towers of stacked desks, and transforming the plane everyday walls of virtually ever part of the school with color, and hand made signs, and balloons! It felt like we were preparing for a huge party. I was conscripted by various favorite students to come help them with the more vertical problems that popped up. . . hanging curtains, wrapping colored plastic over florecent light covers (to set the mood?), and killing hornet infested upper corners of previously mentioned long locked or neglected classrooms (horrifying yes?). After all of this making ready the whole school went home quite late, a bit tired, and ready for the day one of the culture festival.

*Enter RAIN [center stage].

The next day came, and with it the constant drip drizzle of a not so cool, humidity inducing, rain that only just let up yesterday. The first day of the festival can be summed up by my students responces to my question of "How are you today?"

Answer 1: I`m so, so.

Answer 2: I'm tired, and hungry.

Answer 3 (most poppular of the day) : I am bad. No funs. Not fun!

This is quite the reply to hear, and as it turns out Wednesday was't meant to be fun. The first day of Bunkasai is a practice day. You see, Bunkasai roughly translates to culture festival, but it is really more like a giant team building excersize for each home room class and club. They plan, decorate, create, and manage a means to make money in a festival setting held at the high school. Wednesday was like the trial run without anyone there to practice on. A dry run to iron out all the wrinkles, and, let me tell you, it is a good thing they did this (despite overly bored responces from students) because the actual event went off flawlessly. Delicious festival foods were eaten, fun carnival games were played, classrooms turned haunted mazes were staggered through, and three of my mountain dwelling taiko friends managed to come meet some of my students too. The photos say more than my words will, but it was really a very well thought out and suprising event that, for me, highlighted the importance of solidarity and group effort. This event worked so well becaue the students work together and don't want to let their fellow effort oozing friends down. I am talking 100% participation. The smiles say it all if you ask me.

As always,
More to come

(up next: the wedding)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fright Night (should have been posted over a week ago)

Holy ghosts, ghouls, and goblins Batman! Halloween has come and gone in a flash yet again, and it rained cats and dogs here in Kochi for the costumed festivities (meaning my camera did not make it out). I did manage to capture the making of quite possibly the scariest last minute costume ever!

Halloween in Japan (for me) can be broken down to three happenings repeated teaching of Halloween lessons, Susaki high school after school trick or treat (because they can`t wear costumes or have candy at school), and the Hirome Halloween party. Hirome is a large covered market where people come to drink and partake of delicious eats of all kinds. It typically is open all day and a bit into the night. However, on Halloween they close early and reopen from 11 to 3 for a costumed night of dancing, drinks, and witch craft and wizardry. It was a fun, all be it a bit fuzzy around the edges (staying up till 4 in the a.m. is a rare occurence these days).

In other breaking news, I am beyond excited to announce that one of my adopted family members (closest friends from home), Alice Bauman, will be coming to Japan for Christams this year! This is of course the best present EVER.

Not a lot of meat to this post, but in the next seven days I have a full plate of new cultural experiences in the form of my school`s culture festival (bunkasai) and my first ever Japanese wedding. Hopefully, there will be pictures and stories to tell.

more to come!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sometimes I'm a Teacher

One wouldn’t know it from my bog, but I still teach here in Japan. I typically only write about the friends, food, and travel, but last Friday one of my classes went so well I simply must share it.

Four days ago I taught my international education class a lesson on music. These five kids are the best of the best when it comes to English students. They do their homework, are constantly trying to start up conversations with me in the hallways, and they work to retain the English I teach in my classes with them (so many kids see me once a week for class and just forget everything we do). So, on Friday class started with genre and playing samples of different styles of music from all over: folk, jazz, blues (they got really into Muddy Waters), heavy metal, prog-rock, hip-hop, country, and punk to name a few. After a clear sampling and sharing of the various other musical stylings beyond the ever present, and horribly ear rotting, J-Pop, we began a new activity I had thought up. Back in the summer camp seasons teaching art I used to do a painting and dry pastel activity where I played a song and the students had to fill their page with color and lines based on how the song made them feel. They had till the end of the song to fill up as much of the page as they could. I wanted an activity that would encourage communication and quick thinking without focusing on grammar or sentence structure. So I made a list of six questions for them to answer while listening to various songs.

1. What would this music taste like?

2. How does this music make you feel?

3. Where would you like to listen to this music?

4. What picture does this music make you think of?

5. What color is this music?

6. What instrument in this song would you like to be?

We listened to three songs, and the students and Japanese Teacher of English got so into it. We listened to: Beirut , Weezer , and Old Crow Medicine Show. Each song produced well though out images and fascinating responses from my students. As we listened to more music it was great to see the mood of the students shift from tired Friday morning blues to alert and focused on English expression. After a lot of talking about their various color and taste (these were their favorite questions to answer) till the bell rang my JTE thanked me for a lesson like she’d never had.
Perhaps it’s a bit of patting myself on the back to post about a teacher complimenting me, but having a lesson go exactly as you desired it to is quite rare.

The first band linked above, Beirut, is probably my most listened to band of the past year, and I am so freakishly excited to have scored tickets for this January in Osaka! The gangs all going, and we're going to have probably the best time ever! So I leave you with my favorite song of theirs. Enjoy!

More to come.

Monday, October 24, 2011


25 Person Potluck Party in the Bear Den (two months ago)
The lingering gray of the summer's typhoon season decided to work its way out of mother nature's system on Friday. The morning started with that kind of mist that wasn't quite enough to make you put up your umbrella, but would undoubtedly swell as the day wore on into a constant and dreary drip. It's been a busier than busy, but I have reached a little lull allowing me to reflect on all the stories that I have accumulated and their relative importance.

What truly makes the cut for being worth reporting?

The truth is that much of my life isn't so different than any one else's life. Many, many weekends are spent having meals, drinks, or coffees with friends. Sharing on this blog has become a bit of a strange thing for me. I think I fell behind on posting partially because I was really busy, but more so because I have truly settled in after well over a year of being in Susaki. I think when I returned from home, after noticing so many differences and feeling really quite alien in my own country, I wanted to bask in the amazing familiarity of Japan. I take such comfort in the fact that I can contact friends to either side of my town and within an hour I can be certain I will be having a fantastic conversation that could (and always does) evolve into a grand night of fun. It is really easy to become so immersed in that immediate gratification that I tend to forget that I have ties just as strong (all be they flung far and wide) all over America.
Best beach find of my life. 

It's a bit like juggling two lives, but for some (those back in America) our life together is in a kind of suspended animation. We maintain all the vital signs and begin the auto defrost cycles on our cryogenic stasis pods to keep from developing freezer burn, but everything is slowed due to distance and the lack of shared experience. So, I guess it's my job to share more vigorously to prevent stasis lock.

In my past months I have:
  • Oriented a group of 36 new JETs from all over the world to life in Kochi. That was a huge production and took a lot of planning with my fellow PA's. It went better than I could have hoped. 
  • I floated down the Shimanto River numerous times with those friends I hold most dear whilst sipping on beers. 
  • I hiked about 20 miles in seven hours for my first solo Henro excursion, which was beautiful, peaceful, and so dramatically different and vastly more gratifying than I expected solo hiking to be. 
  • I sustained my first sorts related injury, due to the above mentioned solo hike, in the form of horribly shin splints on my right leg. (I am better now.)
  • I returned to Tokyo, just two weeks ago on Wednesday, for another PA training session. 

Mike's surprise, Italian Mafia themed, dinner party. 
Amid all of this there were many dinner parties, cooking adventures (if you have never gone to this inter-web interest YOU MUST! She never leads me wrong in the recipe department), and other new and fantastic times with Colin, Marie, Mia, Jamie H, Jamie E, and the whole cast of favorite characters you may or may not know by name from the past year of posts.

Granted this isn't much, but it should at least paint a blurry picture of the past months for me. I will be making a bigger and better effort at keeping up with this whole writing thing. I like the idea of having a blog to look back on whenever I decided to return States side, and, after all, you've gotta keep those stasis pods at the right levels . . .

otherwise your friendships might go cold.
(too cheesy? That joke was made with my father in mind.)

As always

Colin and Miss Mia (two of my very favorite people). 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Bear in the Big City. April 6, 2011.

(DEAR SWEET LORD THIS IS LONG, LONG OVER DUE! I must, MUST DO BETTER) So first a not on the passing of time:
" It is already well into May. . . wait, WHAT! My time here is flying by at warp eleven. My weekends are typically supercharged with friends, food, sights, hiking swimming (well not yet but oh so soon!), cooking, and planning for the week that will inevitably follow the joyous ruckus that was miraculously crammed into two days. In summation, over a month has passed in what felt like the blink of an eye. I have many, many stories worthy of telling, but this post isalready written from oh so long ago and will be an adequate sacrifice to the mildly ignored interweb gods that be. I will try to catch up in the next two weeks with my chronicling of my time here. One of my new goals is to write more, so perhaps that will be the fire that gets me off my ass, and back to typing and thinking on writing. (One can only hope ne?"

The ceilings are low, and in an all too typical way I have to duck my head as I walk about (else risk a lump). Every table, booth, or bench is full to the brim with young Japanese people eating, drinking, and laughing. Two huge grill stations send out plumes of sweet smelling wood smoke, as the grill masters use dramatically long tongs to snatch various glistening fresh cuts of sea life from baskets lined with ice just in front of the fire pits. Glasses clink and you hear the words oishi and umai (both forms of delicious, or wonderful) coming from mouths full of flakey white fish. I work my way to the back corner table, behind the kegs, with its tiny un-backed chairs. We, the only two foreigners in here, were lucky to have Corey’s friend Ryo with us to get us the reservation. He orders a sampling of sea creatures and when asked what he ordered he doesn’t really reply – he just smiles knowingly. The small plates of food begin to roll in: grilled whole squid in ginger and shoyu (perfectly cooked). Corey, “That is so damn good! We gotta get another of those.” And we do. Everything: the squid, scallops, flat fish, three different types of small river fish, octopus, even the pregnant fish filled with their own babies then grilled in onions and garlic – it’s all just delicious. When asked what something is, Ryo responds in the way I now would expect most younger Osakan’s to reply. “Fuck the what is it man! Just eat it! It’s delicious.” Over the course of the meal we did squeeze in one plate of grill asparagus, and to round out the missing starches of the night we each had a few beers to wash down our banter and sea born feast. It was the best meal I’ve had in Japan; the presence of excellent company (which it seems I am never lacking these days) added to the night, but oh the food. I could not find the place again if I had to. I can tell you it is in Umeda (the centerish of Osaka, business skyscrapers and neon lights). It was a part of my weekend of being directed through a maze. Guided by friends and strangers I’d like to count as friends now through a noisy clustered mass of cars and streets, city like subways, and the biggest public transportation station I have ever had the pleasure of getting lost in. I am still recovering from my weekend in earnest, but man was it worth it.
So on to the rest of the story I suppose, or rather the filling in of the gaps. I went on a little mini spring vacation to the second biggest city in Japan, Osaka. Now, traditionally Osaka was the merchant city, and it’s always had this little rivalry with Tokyo. Osakan people think people who speak Tokyo influenced Japanese sound stiff and overly mannered, while to a Tokyo native Osakans come off as gruff and crude. Osaka is also the self-proclaimed food capital of Japan. I took a high way bus up on Friday, and spent my first two hours wandering Umeda Station (which in my defense is connected two subways, the JR Railways, JR commuter lines, the Airport Shuttles, and the Bus Station not to mention the snaking network of shops that course through that busy mini city) attempting to find the bathroom. I will also excuse my utter lack of direction with the fact that I awoke Thursday with a slight fever, a cough that set lightning a crackling through my lungs, and virtually no voice. I found my way to the Osaka Aquarium (BUT ANDREW YOU”VE BEEN THERE BEFORE! I love aquariums, and being that I had my fancy lovely new camera it seemed the perfect way to waist time in a relaxed space). After two hours and 153 pictures of jelly fish I headed to Shinsaibashi (famous restaurant district to meet up with my roommate from Tokyo Orientation, Carter (you may also remember him from such exciting posts as Naked Man).
Carter and I met up, and immediately went for grub. He is in Osaka almost every weekend, and being a fellow foody knows some damn fine eateries. Classically trained Mexican was on the menu for tonight. The place had charm and enough character to go around for years. Friendly staff, really really good food (the highlights for me were the slow cooked pork tongue tacos), and the margarita on the rocks made it quite the lovely dining experience. The lime and tequila helped my throat feel that false kind of better that you hope will last all night because you know when it goes away it’ll probably hurt worse. Then we met up with Carter’s friends and hand a long night of meeting new people. We slept in a capsule hotel (If you don’t know what this is, it is a rented bed and that is it. You rent a bed that is enclosed in a pod that you crawl into to sleep. Just enough space to sit up. No extra. Very cheap accommodations for frequent city commuters.)

The next day we went to an onsen (Japanese bath house) to wash away the smell of cigarettes and tortillas from the night before. Carter went off to meet a friend, and I met up with Corey (insert story about best food in Japan yet here). After I returned to a bar from the night before where there had been a fairly healthy crowd of English speakers. Carter and I wound up spending time with these Japanese chefs who spoke English very well, and seemed to think our food fascinations were endearing to say the least. They were fun beyond reckoning and kept us out till 8 in the A.M. talking and listening to live Brazilian music. After a night of no sleep, Carter departed for Wakayama and I was graciously entertained and fed well by my new Japanese friends who stayed with me until my bus left for Kochi at 1:30 that afternoon. The bus ride home was. . . well. . . filled with soar throats, uncontrollable coughing, and lots of napping. Traveling while sick, it seems makes, you sicker. Spent the rest of the week getting the green gunk outtalk my lungs, and terrorizing my office. My JTE’s all went a scattering at the mere sound of my raspy cough, and to this day they have not been seen near me (joking). I'm all well and fine now. More, more, more updates long over due to come. But now . . . . bed! but first Jelly fish and a turtle! for more go to my flickr page:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One to Catch you up.

Well over two months ago I returned home on the anniversary of my first year in Japan. Fourteen hours on a plane, 5 full length feature films, two episodes of airplane TV, 1.5 warmed over cardboard tasting meals, and the seemingly mandatory unpleasantly rude and crowded two hour stagger through US immigration put me finally in the familiar embrace of my two very best friends.

(Now, you’ll notice, if you are an especially aware reader, that I went home way back in the beginning of August. Since we’re now to the late middle of October, I obviously have been a miserably undedicated narrator these past months. I hope to write another post with great haste to bring back the great and grand times of my past months, but let’s get back on track with the story at hand.)
My parents are simply put the best, and somehow my excitement to see them and the rest of my family destroyed the ever talked about trials of jetlag. I adjusted quickly to the time, and spent two weeks in Parkersburg (hence forth referred to as “The Burg”). I ate like a king for days on end. All the trappings of flavors long desired and seldom seen in Japan: salamis, cured meats, blue cheeses, cheap watermelon (this was fantastic), Mexican foods, Grandma’s angle food cake, and GOOD BEER (oh how I have missed good beers).

While the food was fantastic, the company was the real treat of being home. The time spent with my grandparents was especially wonderful. I finally got a chance to photograph my grandfather’s old cars and barns (I have been waiting for the right camera for this job for years it seems, and my Nikon really came through).

It was so great to spend those two weeks soaking in my family, but for all the greatness of my visit there was the undeniable strangeness of returning “home” to America. This can perhaps be best outlined by a shopping excursion to Sam’s Club. I never realized how different the shopping layouts and personal mannerisms of the crowds that surround you can affect you. Everything and everyone in Sam’s seemed huge and ridiculous to me. From the giagantor sized cuts of beef, pork, and chicken to the cheapness of the produce. From the towering ceilings to the super sized waist lines I saw, EVERYTHING WAS HUGE! It took my breath away, and blew my mind. My world was rocked. There were 100 times these realizations as I drove, walked, and looked upon my home town through the eyes of the me that has been living in Japan. This is something we’re told at every orientation meeting, and that I experienced personally when I returned from living in Nagasaki for a semester. Reverse culture shock is such a challenge for some, and for me I think it was made stronger by how much I adore my life here in Japan. NOT THAT I DIDN`T, OR DON`T, love my life back home, but my life here in Japan is so vastly different in so many ways that were I to return to living in The Burg it would seem like a great loss of many things I find comforting now. I won’t list those things, and know that many of them are the fantastic friends I’ve turned into my family away from family here, but it is safe to say that whenever I return to the States in a permanent way I predict it will take time to readjust to all the Americanisms.
I must be clear that I am not saying Japan is better than America, or that one place has it right – rather, I am saying that I clearly love my memories of home, and the bonds of friendship I have with my family are the foundation of all that I am, but flying back to Kochi felt a whole lot like coming home. This is the longest I have lived in one place since High school (without substantial breaks like there are in college). Nothing more, perhaps, then thoughts on a cloudy fall day. Home was indisputably wonderful, but I really can’t wait to share my new home with my parents and see their reactions to the world that has become so familiar to me over this past year.
More to come

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let’s Catching Up: Summer’s Come

Taste is such a potent sensation. Today my world tasted of bitter plums and overripe oranges, sweet tea and mango, and whiskey sours, homemade spinach mushroom pizzas, and farmer’s market tomatoes. All of these tastes are influenced by the brilliance of a cloud mottled sky set over a clear blue backdrop, a dramatic change from the darkness of yesterdays class 2 typhoon. Of course, it could just be the fact that I’m coming home for a visit in 8 days, a visit to clear my head and charge up those long depleted family circuits, that has me all bright and sunny. At any rate, much has happened since I attempted to blog in earnest. So, let’s see if I can make up a bit for lost time.

I sit in my Kitchen, deep cleaned for the looming trip home, with two fans oscillating. My shirt is off, and (unusually) it is pleasantly cool for summer in Kochi. the 48 plus hours of rain from the past several days, 1000 mm or 3.4 feet of water, must have wrung all the humidity out of the air. It feels like late winter felt here. Granted, late winter was T-shirt weather for me., but still, the cool is a welcome change of pace.
I’m finished with classes for the summer, and spending my days at school preparing for the incoming crowd of 31 fresh JETs from all over the English speaking world. I will fly to Tokyo in two days to welcome 14 of these fine young ones (some of which will doubtless be much older that I am) to the wonders of Japan. It is so strange to think that my full year in Japan anniversary hangs just a few days away. It feels like weeks, a testament to the truth behind that old saying, “ time flies, when you’re having fun”. In all seriousness though, My life here is like a dream 99% of the time. I spent last weekend floating down the last undamned river in Japan in a giant green inflatable pool (intended for children between that ages of 6 and 13) with a man who I consider my brother. For 1.5 hours we talked of the brilliance of our decision to come to Japan, and how we couldn’t imagine what life would have been had we chosen another path. Sure, we talked of many other things, we sipped beers, but the takeaway message is that we both feel (like many of my other dear friends here) that we are exactly where we need to be right now.

Nakamura, one of my many home away from homes in Kochi Prefecture, is full of faces I love, and we had a grand time of cooking, eating, and lounging in the Kochi, pre typhoon, sun. Then, post long weekend of great fun, came a Monday and Tuesday where the cloud cover did not break, the rain did not stop, and the wind bent trees in two. Typhoon MA was the equivalent of a class 2 hurricane. Other than the trains being shut down and school being called off for two days, it just seemed like a big storm. HOWEVER, it destroyed my garden. I watched in surprise and horror as my cucumbers went from strong and resilient behind their cement barrier to a giant double potted kite sailing on the rainy winds into the fortified tomatoes I had placed on the ground for protection. The cucumbers, rest well my fallen friends, only produced one fruit, and managed to almost take out my tomato and basil plants with them, but today was repot day and things are looking good.

I am excited to go home and see my long lost family in person, and I am excited for a break in the madness of what has become my overly (in a pleasant way) busy life. As I said before, I can’t imagine being anywhere else in life right now.
As always, more to come.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Gomen nasai

I am officially the worst Blogger ever. It has been over a month now, and I don't currently have time to write in detail of all the adventures I've been having, so a list and a photo link will have to sufice for now.

Reasons for my business:
1. I am now one of four Kochi Prefectural Advisors (advisors, counselors, and event planners for the JETs in Kochi Prefecture)
2. It is now exam season at Susaki High School so I have been giving interview tests, and am waist deep into writing the writen exams.
3. As a P.A. I must help plan the Kochi Orientation for new JETs arriving in August.
4. I am also a member of the Tokyo Orientation Staff for this years frist wave of new JETs, so I get to go greet them and the air port and help them adjust to the imediatness of their new (hopefully kickass) lives in Japan.
5. Goodbye parties for dear friends returning to their respective homes have been happening.
6. I am plotting a trip back to the states for myself in 25 days.
7. Frisbee tournaments
8. Canada`s birthday
9. I still try to cook and run as much as possible.
10. Rainy season came and went in Japan (thank the great wind and sun gods it has gone).

Here is the Flickr link:
(maybe the photos will do a better job of catching you up than my time seems to allow me to). I will do better in the months to come, I hope. I am endlessly happy and healthy (luckily), and hope your are all graced with the same joys.

Monday, May 16, 2011


There are so many stories I have to catch this blog up with. So many significant episodes in my daily existence – meaningful doodles scribed in brilliant colors, far brighter than anything some rainbow could imagine. Were I to try to write them all I fear I’d fill every page the internet had left. Moments like walking atop ice and snow crusted trails with fearful friends, a snake curling out from towering golden grasses to cross a raining beach side path, a teammates five year old daughter calling me Kuma-chan and hugging me hello, or any of the many times our family here has raised our glasses and in ritualized unison - beginning the night with a, “Kampai!” and a smile. This weekend was no different.
We celebrated the birthday of the much loved Cat. With a long planned BBQ in a wisteria topped park. A chance to catch up with Colin (who has been an unfortunate missing piece to my Kochi family puzzle of late), and the usual cast of Kochi City loved ones.

I started the charcoal grill, and spent the early part of the gathering tending it. Once everyone arrived and the typical amalgamation of laughter, eating, and the multitude of conversations whipped about my ears I noticed the sound of the fire cracking, onions sizzling, and meat searing. I take note of this because it is as much a part of the experience for me as my friend’s voices. The sounds of cooking. I am beginning to realize that motions and sounds of a kitchen (makeshift or fully stocked) are one of my greatest comforts in life. Perhaps it is that I have just spent a lot of time invested in learning about foods and how to make them taste good, but I like to imagine that it goes beyond my personal investment in the culinary world. To me the popping fat on fire, or the searing sound of a well caramelized piece of beef takes me back to sitting on the counter as my father prepared dinner before my mother came home from work, or perhaps to just before Thanksgiving dinner as my Grandfather exchanged stories and my grandmother pulled the turkey (golden and crisp) from the oven after a day under her watchful gaze, or perhaps . . . to any other significant meal. For me cooking amidst friends is a full sensory activity. The mind is playing in a field of friendly voices, the heat of the cook fire, the coolness of the metal tongs, the rhythmic dicing of steel edge on wooden chopping board, smells carried on steam from simmering pots, and laughter. Here in Kochi, there is always laughter.
So we ate and laughed. The sun was bright. The wind blew. I lead a life filled with so much happiness it is hard at times for me to believe that I could be so lucky. To be able to see all those memories (to be taken back home in a sense) by simply cooking is a feeling I hope to never loose. There used to be a sign above my bed that had three quotes on it. It said, “Eat good food. Clean up your mess. Be kind.” I like to think that those are three of the guiding factors in my life.
In other news: My spring garden has jumped into life, with cucumbers, edible flowers, basil, and broccoli all doing splendidly.

I baked a delicious red velvet cake that was a huge hit, and lastly I suppose I have been thinking of my grandfather a lot recently because I can’t get this line from It’s A Wonderful Life out of my head:
“Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings, Love Clarence.”
More to come!

Monday, May 9, 2011

note from a chickadee

It is a strange thing to be a world away.
To rely on the scribbles scratched somewhere
between the heart and the mind.
To lace meaning and love in every dotted i.
To fold in comfort and caring, delicate as egg whites
in once a year cakes mixes.
It’s a strange thing to have someone’s smile
crackle cross my being like some kind of
ecstasy that’s got a hold on me every time
I see her in the flowers of spring.
Red amaryllis glasses about her eyes
forever fixed on my happiness and wellness.

Violet wisteria draped about her heart
always given to others before herself. I see it
hang in overflowing clusters.
Lilac clusters like grapes that never wither, and
as always there must be more.
more songs
more warmth
more love
more life
that I could pass onto her from this world away.

More ways to tell her that I see her in the sunshine,
and find her kindness and caring overwhelming.
It flows through me like a river, and passes on to all those
I come to have the pleasure of knowing.
So even a world away, she changes my life every day,
and I hope she sees this and smiles today.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Return to Business as Usual

Never thought I would be so excited to see Japan fall from the headlines and demonic scrutinizes of the international media. The triple-header tragedy of the quake, tsunami, and power plant melt down (these rumors were more exaggerated than anything I could ever have dreamed of) really put Japan in a bad emotional hole. To have so many things happen in such a short time put many people on edge, but what made that edge infinitely scarier was the flood of highly overly sensationalized news which read (from the point of view of this person living in Japan looking out) like the reporters were writing for ratings rather than to report honestly. HOWEVER, tragedy and sorry have flared elsewhere and the world has turned it’s eyes to other, fresher smelling, disasters in need of publication. The relief effort continues in the north. It greaves me to say that today they officially found the first American English teacher to perish in the tsunami. She was here with her family from Virginia (specifically Richmond I believe). My heart goes out to all those who have suffered losses.

Yesterday was a national holiday, and my friends Michelle and Kavita took the long weekend to really buckle down and get some ground covered on our 88-temple hike. Due to bad weather (and the fact that Michelle is a 5th year jet leaving in 4 months, I can’t tell you how that saddens me!) we decided to drive various portions of the trek this time. Driving the longest parts gave us a very different experience of the temples. For one, it allowed me to take more time to photograph all the various nooks and crannies of the various sacred spaces we found. It was a wonderful trip filled with beautiful temple grounds, quite wild life preserves, and crowds of bus tour Buddhists praying for the victims of the recent disaster. We went to a total of 11 temples this weekend, and finished Tokushima Prefecture and are now well into Kochi. Kochi is the longest stretch of hiking with the fewest temples. I am really looking forward to it! Most of the hikes in Kochi are along the coast (and oh what a beautiful coast it is!)

The mood of Sakemura sensei (the man mentioned in my last post) has improved steadily as the power plant in Fukoshima begins to look more and more under reasonable control. Thursday of last week he surprised me by asking me to take a half-day and spend the afternoon with him in a professional potter’s studio who lives just a 50 minute walk or so from my apartment in a very scenic bay used to cultivate oysters. This potter has been in Kochi for 30 years, and was a professor of ceramics at the Tokyo institute for fine arts and crafts (it has a full Japanese name, that I am sorry to say I don’t remember, and the interweb lists three potentials.) His house, his work, his studio, and everything about that afternoon was just magical! After the tour we sat in his studio and sipped green tea while talking (all be it brokenly) about the difference between creating traditional forms and just doing open sculptural work. He told me he felt so connected to Japan’s tradition in ceramics that he had a very difficult time deviating from traditional functional forms. It was a wonderful talk. His wife speaks very good English, and is just a charmer. They then took us into their home for coffee, and many questions about America and how I was liking Japan. They also enjoyed telling me stories about their two gay cats. The day ended with her giving me recipes (I told her of my interest in cooking) for traditional Japanese pickled radish greens) and he even gifted me a bowl of his (which is ridiculously exquisite. I hope to make it back to their home to watch him work one day. Two weeks of no students to go. . . . in my battle for sanity I am still winning.

My love to all of you, and my thanks to any who worried over me (please do not mistake my scolding of the international media as anger with you all for caring for my safety). Be assured that I am safe, and very well. Things continue to move ever forward, and tomorrow the sun will still rise. Be kind!
More to come.