Engrish is old news

Someone made fun of a dance studio in Japan advertising lock, in addition to hip hop and ballet, in a conversation about the L/R mistakes that was seen in a Chinese restaurant menu  (ie Flog legs). She thought they meant rock.

Um, sorry  lady, locking actually exists as a dance. The studio knew what they were doing.

This annoys me because the OP who posted the picture of the Chinese restaurant mistake in the first place, and captioned it “Japanese Chinatown” barely knows any Japanese, and wants to live in Japan for as long as he can. So I find that pointing out mistakes like this in a country where English is not an official language is pretty silly. This sort of mistake occurs in many places outside of Japan as well, so it’s nothing special to specify it just to Japan.

Are you so isolated that seeing this sort of mistake is still a surprise to you? Obviously, the restaurant doesn’t care enough about English speaking customers to have it double-checked. You’re just not that special, Mr. English speaker.

What’s more, English-speaking Japanese friends of the OP decide to join in on the fun, and make ignorant comments, like that locking comment. It doesn’t make you any better of a person to know English. It might get you a job, but there’s no value if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

相馬野馬追い Soma Nomaoi

The Soma Nomaoi horse festival is held every year in the town of Souma. There is a huge procession of 450 horses and shrine people and the only people who can ride the horses are from samurai families. They start training kids to ride these horses at a young age. One of my students who’s 18 has been doing it every year for 15 years! The riders go out in full samurai garb, with flags on their back. They would come up to the podium and announce their family names to the person in charge, and audience members. Definitely felt royal!

There were also shrine horses, fatter and stockier than the riding horses, and were wrapped with shrine decorations. To be honest, they looked like sacrifices about to get burned for the gods! There were a couple of shrine mikoshi that were run up a zigzaggy hill. They would have a great start, and then slow down a bit towards the top. We cheered them on to complete their run!

The main event includes horse racing and a sort of capture the flag. Some of the horses get a little excited, and would throw their riders and run around the track until they tire out. During a race, a riderless horse finished 2nd!

In “Capture the Flag”, cannons shoot into the air a container that explodes and releases flags that fall to the ground. The riders and their horses would race in the direction of the flag in order to grab them. Sometimes they even end up on the ground fighting over the flag. On this particular day, it was really windy, so flags would fly out of the ring and into the audience. It was hilarious to see a bunch of horses and their riders piling at one end of the ring, and then realizing, “aww…”

Getting locked out in Japan!

After a long 3 hour car ride that should have been 2 from the Nomaoi Horse festival in Minami Soma (相馬野馬追い) , I arrived at my front door, and realized I had not seen my keys in the last 24 hours, and had no idea where they were. The possibilities were that I may have left them in my bike lock at the bus terminal where I had parked my mama-chari, which I have done several times when I park my bike at school. If they were there, that would really make my day, but I considered how reckless it was for me to leave my keys in such a a public place. I would have been smarter than to leave my keys, so the other possibility was that I’d put them in my pockets, and they had slipped out on the bus, or one of the 3 houses I was at this weekend.

I figured I’d call the bus company after checking with my friends, but in the meantime, I needed to get into my house where my spare keys were. My building is managed by a property company, Apaman Shop, but I didn’t have their support number. I called up an awesome friend who works for the city’s international association, and he had it on him! Knowing that he with the foreigners in the city, I definitely called the right person. After telling them my story and answering their strange questions (“Does you turn your key once to open the lock? Does your door have a peephole? Do have identification to prove that you live there?”), I waited for a return call. When they called back, they said the locksmiths would come by in 2 and half hours…


I called up a friend to kill some time, and we walked about 45 minutes to her house since none of the cafes were open past 9. When I got back to my house, the locksmiths came right on time, and got to work right away.

Picking the lock didn’t work. Something about tumblers and old locks. The keyhole would turn, but the tumblers wouldn’t. The guys seemed to have experienced this before, as they went straight to the next step: punching out the peephole. This meant replacing it with a new peephole, and 3240 yen on me. About $30 to replace a peephole seemed like a lot to me, but I wanted to get in, and I’ve had locksmiths charge me $50, so this seemed like a deal.

After checking with the property manager, they removed the peephole, and stuck a 90 degree crank thing through the peephole, with the intention to turn the lock. What ended up happening was the crank got caught on the frickin chain, and they couldn’t get it loose. It was a really sad sight to see. After about 5 minutes, they gave up, and eyed the bars on my bathroom window. My friend had joked that if the locksmiths didn’t come, I could always remove the bars on my bathroom window to get in.

My friends need to stop joking about last resorts! I ended up in Fukushima, and now I have to get in through my bathroom window!

At this point, they had already been making a bit of noise trying loosen the crank from the chain, and now taking apart the bars on the window. I could hear my neighbors start to get anxious and I could hear their worried voices from their home. The mom finally popped her head out to see what was going on, and she was finally reassured that I was getting help getting into my own house. After seeing our troubles, she came out with cans of coffee for us all. Phew! My neighbor isn’t one of the most friendliest, so I’m glad she was understanding of the silly foreigner girl who doesn’t wear make-up and who loses her keys, so it’s not unusual that she can’t take care of herself! I gave her a couple of Trader Joe’s low fat super-sweet pumpkin cereal bars in return.

Once the guys got the bars loose, I told them I would get in, and one of them offered his back as a booster. Oh man.

The rest is history, but what an ordeal!!

The worst thing is, they had driven all the way from Sendai in the next prefecture, probably the HQ, which is why it took 2.5 hours. At late hours, the branch offices aren’t open, so the property managers have to call the main office. Sometimes they’ve had to go as far as Aomori prefecture, at which they’d explain that they wouldn’t be able to get there until the next day even if they leave right away, and the property managers would insist anyway, with merely an “Onegai shimasu.”

Anyway, my keys actually did fall out when I was napping at one of my friend’s places. I am one lucky cat, but I don’t know how many lives I have left.



I’m not packing to go home yet!

But I am apparently packing my weekdaynights with things to do that I had to start thinking whether or not I’m overcommitting myself.

Mondays and Wednesdays are free, Tuesdays and Fridays are kyudo, and I’ve just started to take up bouldering on Thursdays.

Every now and then I have to tell myself that being idle is okay. I tend to get out of town on weekends, and my house has been a mess, so I decided to stay closer in the last month.

Within that time, I’ve climbed 800m up the highest peak in Tohoku at 2346m  (without knowing it…), and cycled 40 miles around Lake Inawashiro, the 4th largest lake in Japan, out of 29 recorded on Wikipedia. In all honesty, I did not plan to do these things to make or break records. I just knew that I could enjoy these activities with others, so off I went. I’m still working on doing things by myself.

Why didn’t I do this back home? I can’t really tell you. I had all kinds of excuses: Tired from work, have family functions, saving money. I loved my dragonboat team, but they were getting old. Literally, new recruits were usually in their mid-30s and over, and I was in my mid-20s at the time. I wanted to meet girls.

But then again, I was also going to things like movies, food festivals, performances, conferences,visiting friends, and I was playing video games. City things.

Aizu-Wakamatsu doesn’t have a movie theater, although it does have a proper theater with a stage and projector for showing  special screenings. The last theater that existed had two screens, but it burned down. I bet it was insurance fraud, but what a waste! The closest theaters are an hour away towards the north, east, and west. It’s just more country towards the south, but they have the best ski and snowboard resorts.

I’m already watching a lot of TV and renting movies, so playing video games would only take more time away from learning a new sport or skill. Plus, I tried playing The Last of Us on my TV after borrowing y friends’ PS4, and it was shit.

I used to think talking and sharing knowledge and ideas were the best way to have an exchange with someone. I’m starting to find that I also like to simply experience a physical activity and challenging and encouraging each other.

Outdoorsy people also seem to be the nicest and straightforward people I’ve met. Must be the confidence from being with nature.

Summer vacation

It’s summertime! And everyday is going to be incredibly slow because there are 0 classes! But students are still around, so it’s basically summer school for them. Most students are here, so it almost feels like they all failed something. In actuality, the 3rd years have college exams coming up, so they’re basically using this time to cram.

Anyway, what am I going to do!

1. Review the columns about Japanese culture from the JET language course. JET offers Japanese learning materials for ALTs so that we can use it in the office and whatnot, but it was more of a pain in the ass just to get the assignments done by the due date every month. I would do them at the last minute, so I never got a chance to read the columns, but now that I’ve got plenty of time, the info is really helpful in understanding Japanese everyday culture, social structures, and history. And I’m learning a ton of new kanji to boot.

2. Plan out debate exercises for the 2nd years. The JTEs got me to teach debate to the 2nd years, and we managed to fit in a couple debates. The first was easy, one that didn’t require research and could easily use evidence from their own experience. The 2nd was harder, as I gave them evidence from newspapers and the Internet (in English) that they could use to research for evidence in their arguments. While the topics of the second debate were pretty simple (students should take more selfies, students should wear uniforms), they certainly needed more time to read and process the English research material. At first, I thought perhaps it’s better for them to research in Japanese, and then re-interpret their findings in English, but the JTE believed that it wasn’t the material that was difficult, it was that the topic was too hard (I worked with this JTE on the selfie topic). I reconsidered that perhaps it’s probably better for kids to process information in English, rather than translating from Japanese. In any case, students needed more time with the rebuttals than they did with the opening statements (that’s what research time is for, kids!).

So during this period, I’ll be writing robust and thorough opening statements that I hope can be good examples for students, and ones that would challenge them to think critically in order to understand how to perform rebuttals effectively. It’s all very Phoenix Wright, really.

3. READ. At the moment, I stopped halfway through “You’re Not So Smart”, got tired of the psychology stuff, and decided to start reading Uncle Tom’s cabin because I get confused when someone is called an Uncle Tom. Is that a sell-out, or a snitch? After that, I need to finish the Hunger Games trilogy, and get started on Harry Potter. And at some point, “Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

4. Research fixie/track bike parts. I want to get some lighter, colored wheels, for one, and maybe a better seat. But I don’t know how to pick and choose any of that stuff at all! HALP!

5. Blog! Time to reflect, write down memories so I can prune some brain cells and make room for new ones.



Tokoroten is a glass jelly dessert made from seaweed. It’s incredibly low-fat, high in fiber, and a cool dessert during the summer heat. The first time I had it was in Kyoto at a little dessert shop after eating like gluttonous fools with my friends at a Taisho-themed izakaya in the middle of winter (didn’t I just say this was a summer dessert?).

I couldn’t help ordering a cold dessert, since I hadn’t had Vietnamese chè in so long, with its chewy strands of agar jelly mixed with all the lovely sweet things, like coconut milk and mung bean. Plus, it was topped with kuromitsu, black honey, and kinako (roasted soybean) flour, and I looove that stuff. It was an amazing dessert.

During my Izu Peninsula trip, a restaurant that was recommended to us by our minshuku lady had a tokoroten bar, which meant it was all you can eat! It had all kinds of tokoroten in different colors, based on the ingredient it was infused with that I can’t seem to recall at the moment. And all the sweet toppings you can think of, like condensed milk, kinako, kuromitsu, mochi… It was so awesome that we had it before and after dinner.

Now that it’s getting warmer, I’m starting to crave this dessert and have been noticing it in the convenience stores and restaurants. I tried to order it while with a Japanese friend, and was saying how I was looking forward to its sweeeet sweetness, and she took a moment and said, Dude, it’s sour, are you sure you want it? Wait, sour? I’m so confused! Was this the tokoroten that I had in Kyoto? I decided to pass, and wondered about it, almost had a fight with my friend about it. Eventually I dropped it.

The other day, I went to the convenience store and decided to just give it a try, this sour tokoroten. At the very least, I could enjoy the jelly. Inside the packet was たれ (sauce, in general, but for this, it was a vinegar based sauce), a packet of mustard, and a packet with seaweed and sesame sauce. Man, it was really sour and terrible.

I did some research and asked some teachers in the office, after exclaiming to them why I had a disgusted face as I was trying to finish the tokoroten. It turns out that most of Japan eats tokoroten in the vinegar style, which was how it was eaten back in the Edo period. Back in the day, eating it like this was considered healthy because vinegar killed bacteria, so it helped prevent food poisoning, as well as building an iron stomach. Today, it’s lauded for it being high in fiber and low in calories (98% water). Apparently the downside to this is that it’s highly processed.

As for the sweet stuff? I finally found a page that cleared up my confusion: it’s just a Kansai thing (Osaka, Kyoto area).

The beginning of kyudo

Part of my introduction to my students is “Why am I in Japan? I want to study Japanese, I want to eat, I want to try kyudo”. My thinking was that I really wanted to find some way of release, and since the shooting range back home was often very satisfying, I figured shooting arrows would be a similar kind of release.

Little did I know…

My school has a really nice kyudo dojo for the kyudo club. I wanted to be invited to be a part of it that I hung out until the end of one of their meetings, in the rain. No such luck. The kids are serious about this that letting in a newbie would disrupt their training. So I gave up kyudo for a while.

Luckily, one of the local veteran ALTs had started kyudo in the last year, and kept a look-out for when they were recruiting new members. They had a recruitment class back in March, but I couldn’t manage to commit to their schedule… I told my friend I’d drop by the dojo one night, and he offered to come with me. We chanced to have met up with the guy in charge, M-san, who gladly took down my information and said he would look for an available teacher for me. Now that things have settled down a bit in terms of trips, parties, and my own personal “routine”, I could finally commit to Tuesdays and most Fridays.

Last night was my first lesson. I learned some expressions for things, for example, you don’t shoot an arrow, you let it go. Kyudo is not to be used as a weapon, so you don’t say things like shoot. You say, “pulling on the bow” (弓を引く) and “letting go of the arrow”(矢を離れ)。

So much for shooting!

The bowstring is the つる and the glove is the ゆがけ, or かけ for short. The inner lining for the glove is the したがけ。The target is called a まと。And a bunch of other terms I’ve already forgotten. Luckily, that’s expected, so they suggest that I take it slowly.

There were people of all levels there, and I was really nervous about intruding, seeing how I completely missed the designated period for classes for newbies, and am currently getting special one-on-one training. At one point, a pro came in, and the teachers introduced me to her as someone to imitate if I’m at a loss as to what to do. Not ask her, but to imitate her (don’t bother her damn it!). She quickly denied the compliments. Then when she was getting ready to release, the teachers said, “Take a look,” as she pulled her bow, but she promptly gave up, and said, “Please don’t look, I can’t concentrate, please show her something else” or something to that degree. That’s the most straightforward thing I’ve ever heard anyone say since I’ve been here!

The first hands-on thing I learned was how to put the ゆがけ and tying it. I only did it once, so I don’t think I can remember how to put it on again… it was pretty complicated! Then, 手の内, the way to hold the bow in my hand. They gave me a ゴム弓, a rubber “bow”, which is a small stick grip with rubber hosing to practice the hold, as well as strengthening when pulling the bow.

Here’s to sticking with a new hobby!

The revolution will not be televised

Today, the Constitution of Japan was changed to renounce its pact of peace, and reinterpreted to allow Japan to raise an army to fight abroad as a form of collective self-defense by the Abe administration. It was done without a referendum, due process, undemocratically, and this angered Japan so much that thousands of people came out to protest in front of the Prime Minister’s building the night before.

A day or so before that, an anti-military protester was sitting on the beams of a bridge in Shinjuku, away from passersby with a loudspeaker. After he finished his speech, he set himself on fire, similar to the Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire during the Vietnam war. People on the Twittersphere took pictures, watched on, commented how scary it was, and “is this really happening?”

I’m not sure how to approach the issue with my community, but I’m curious to know if they’ll push it aside as a regional thing, like, “Oh, that’s Tokyo”.

These events were barely mentioned or even mentioned at all on national television, and was buried under celebrity news and World Cup updates (I forgive the World Cup though). This is not surprising, as last year, Abe had passed the Secrecy Law that gives politicians the power to declare what is or isn’t a state secret, and to punish the source and bearer of such leaks. Perhaps these protests are such state secrets that if the rest of Japan were to hear it, there’d be protests everywhere?

A couple weeks ago, a female politician addressed the assembly to raise the issue of support for women who are both care-givers and career women. She was met with jeers from the dominant party, who told her to get married already and questioned her credibility for having no children. A scapegoat finally came forward to apologize and take responsibility, but the LDP apologized not for being sexist, but for disrupting the assembly and for his lack of consideration of people who cannot get married. As if there’s something wrong with unmarried people. These men tell people to get married and have kids, and give no support for families that do.

Shortly after that, Ishihara Shintaro broke away from his party to start a new national party that promotes Japan’s militarization, and tries to reach out to the youth by calling it the “party for new generations”(次世代の党).

Someone always loses in war, and it’s always the common people.

I see a lot of promise and positivity in many of the students at school, but they are not prepared to talk about serious topics. They don’t like to confront problems and would rather beat around the bush, or wait for the problem to go away. The best thing to do, I’ve found, is to have them talk about themselves. They love to talk about themselves and their environment. Sometimes a little too much that it becomes repetitive. I can’t tell you how many times in an Aizu introduction that Tsuruga Castle is mentioned. They’re trying to build their confidence, but many of them feel like they haven’t done anything yet to earn that confidence. Their humility should be commended.

I wish they were asked to think and share their thoughts on these issues every now and then, and trained to back it up and be okay with the other person’s opinion. They’re pretty good with that when it comes to little things like personality traits or individual preferences. I am constantly asking why, and they have no follow-up to give me usually. Mostly “it’s too hard to explain,” or a giggle that indicates to me, “I haven’t really thought about it, stop asking me these things!” I get the feeling they’re afraid of being judged.

Many of the older people, usually men, are constantly saying how the kids are stupid, or weak-willed, and have no confidence. I’d like to think they’re wrong about that. The kids are scared to be judged, they’re afraid of failure, they’re afraid to lose face, they’re afraid of being made an example, good or bad. And besides, they’re being piled with so much general knowledge in their heads, mostly by rote memorization rather than actual learning, and the rest of their future depends on those marks.

They just want to do something they enjoy. And a lot of them are afraid of losing that. Don’t we all?

Writing with a concussion altitude sickness

On Saturday, I ventured into Oze National Park with some JET peeps to climb Hiuchigatake (燧ケ岳), the tallest peak in northeast Japan.

I did not know this going in…

Before heading out, I grabbed a map that indicated that the peak would be 2356 meters high. Eh, 2356… sounds good, right? I’d forgotten to calculate it into feet, as well as forgetting that the last mountain I climbed, Mt. Toyo (屋山) was only 500 meters. In feet, my last mountain was 1500 feet, and this mountain was about 7730 feet… !!! But we were only climbing about 800 meters from the parking lot so… 2400 feet. That’s a little better.

Heading into the mountain, I didn’t really care how high it was. There were so many rock scrambles at the beginning, it was quite never-ending. In between rock scrambles were boardwalks traversing through meadows, pockmarked with ponds, and expanded into the fog. “We’re not in Japan, anymore, Toto” was what it felt like. I broke out into my best Scottish accent. Or was it Irish? It must have been a bastardization of both.

We met people coming down as we were coming up, with poles, backpacking gear, gaiters, an pick-axe (?!) the whole works. Japanese people are majorly prepared when they hike, or do any sort of sports activity. They will buy the best gear, even if it means they’ll only use it once. And that’s what keeps second-hand shops in business. Anywho… The group was feeling pretty badass with our minimal gear (Well, I had to buy a hiking pole for me knee…) in comparison.

HOWEVER! We passed by some people and asked if we were getting close, and they warned us of… SNOW. At the end of June. So that’s what the pick-axe was for. Luckily, the snow had softened by this time into a packed slush, so there’d be no slipping on ice  into the ravine, thank goodness. We still took precaution and made sure to step into the footprints made by previous hikers.

When we reached the top, we were surrounded by fog, and were pelted by misty rain while taking a break to eat some lunch. On the way down, the rain had made the snow feel a little less stable to walk on. At one point, I slid down intentionally to get to a walkway, went past it, had to slow myself down and climb back up. Someone in the group had a fear of heights, and this totally freaked her out. In her head, she thought I would continue to pick up speed and simply slide right off. I suppose in hindsight, that could have happened, but I knew what I was doing the whole time, although with some room for improvisation.

Huh. That’s how I go through life, it seems.

As for the concussion, it’s silly. I was trying to get something out of my friend’s car, and accidentally bumped my head against the doorframe harder than I thought. It’s been a couple days now, and I’m still getting a headache, dizziness and fatigue. I’m going to the doctor’s tomorrow, but all I want to do right now is sleep.

Tonight is my first kyudo lesson! I’m expecting only to learn how to stand properly!

Update: Went to the hospital today to get CT scan just in case, and since the Internet doctors tell you not to take ibuprofen with a concussion… results were clear, and now I know what it feels like to have altitude sickness.