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!