Beautiful kid

When I first did the English Cafe during lunch time, a small girl came up to try out her English with her friend. Small and excited as she was to speak to a foreigner, she kept her composure as she spoke to me in broken English and body language. She tried to get her friend, a little taller, a little absent-minded looking, a really funny character, to talk to me, too, and would scold her friend for not recognizing a simple “How are you?”

I asked her one day what she wanted to be when she grew up. “A scientist!” she said. What kind of scientist? “A scientist that studies genomes.” I taught her the phrase “cell biology.” She was in the Super Science High School club.

Throughout the school year, I would often see her with a mask. She was allergic to pollen. At one point, I didn’t see her for a week. Her homeroom teacher said she got a stomach bug. When she came back, you could see that she had significantly lost weight. But she was happy to be at school and around her friends. Only, as time went by, she would miss more days of school, so she had to catch up on her own time, and I saw her alone more often. She had to leave SSH club because she couldn’t commit to all the extra time needed for activities. But she kept up a smile, and would always be happy to see me.

I found out that she loves to read, but when I asked if she wrote, she said no, so I encouraged her to write her own stories. She settled for home economics club, but when I asked if she enjoyed it, she was tepid in her response. During the summer, I found her working on a yukata, made from scratch. The fabric and pattern was beautiful, white with blue flowers. Simple, but impressive. She’s making it for the school festival.

In the middle of a pause in our conversation, she asked me the difference between “cute” and “pretty”. I told her, “cute” is 可愛い, and “pretty” is きれい. I added that “beautiful” is another level higher, and that it’s 美しい。To help her remember via association, I asked her what she thought was 可愛い、cute.

She told me that snakes are cute.

I knew I liked this kid! I love getting unexpected answers! She told me that their eyes are cute, that they’re completely black, with no whites around them. I thought, “Huh, I grew up thinking that beady eyes aren’t cute,” which was probably why I was was surprised.

So what’s pretty? “Snow is pretty. Flowers…” What’s beautiful? “Hmmm… trees… mountains…” She takes a moment to really think about it.

And then she gestures to me and says, “Beautiful!”


Basketball Kid

One day during spring break, I was walking around the school halls, and ran into a student. She was the first student I saw on this day, so as expected, I’m going to stop and say “Hello” and ask a few questions for some quick conversation. “What are you doing at school?” In almost perfect English, she answered, “I’m part of the basketball club and we have practice today.”

My jaw literally dropped. I asked her where she practiced her English, and she responded that she’d done a study abroad, and also takes extra English conversation classes.

After complimenting her and saying goodbye, it made me reconsider kids in the countryside. At first I thought being so far from the big city and lack of accessibility to English speakers was a hindrance, but really, it just takes some initiative to want to spend some time abroad and support from parents to send them there.

I have to mention that this kid has resting bitch face, which makes her super recognizable, so I’m always trying to get her to say “Hi”.



One of my first and most enthusiastic students was a girl named Wakabayashi. She was a third year, and part of the drama club, but as with all 3rd years, she had to quit to concentrate on her studies for her college entrance exams. She was terrible at English, but great at coming up with ideas. I could tell she had lots to say, but the only thing that came out was ええと、ええと、ええと (Um… um… um…!). On some presentation activities, I would see her draft in Japanese with very deep thoughts, often complicated to explain in Japanese, let alone English. I felt that whatever English I could help her come up with was unworthy of the Japanese thoughts she had written down.

I loved her positive attitude, and she’s great at giving attention to another person. A ball of energy. One of our first projects was a poster presentation to help me prepare for winter. What should I get? Where can you get it? How much is it? Within the group, she had drawn  a cup of hot cocoa and that it was prizeless (priceless!). I asked her where I could get this priceless hot cocoa, and she gestured to herself, because she makes great hot cocoa.

Good luck on your dreams of being an actress, Wakabayashi!


What the… Aizu is one of the 5 famous Buddha cities in Japan. Not because of a giant Buddha statue, but because there are tons of Buddhist temples in the area.

Sometimes I wonder, what in the world happened to this area.

There used to be a train going straight from Aizu to Ueno in Tokyo…

The Fukushima airport used to have direct flights to Okinawa…

The resorts around Lake Inawashiro are open, but are old and decrepit and they look like they came from the 80s. At first, it’s charming… But it could really use a retrofit…

I only hope that all the preservation of this charming retro style will help this area make a comeback.

Under the weather

So I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather this past week. Ever since I got really sick during a pretty terrible emotional period a couple years ago, I’m convinced that emotional stress is a major cause of one’s immune system breaking down. Now when I do get sick, I pay more attention to what might have brought down my immune system.

It could be a number of things this time:

  1. My friend had visited and we got stuck in some heavy rain while biking, so I got pretty wet that day.
  2. I’m coaching a student with her speech for the speech contest everyday after school this week, and the next.
  3. Melancholy. I swear, it’s a fucking drug!

I had to break some routines, like going to kyudo, bouldering, dinner with a friend, as well as errands, like getting my keirin tube replaced. I’m pretty sure getting caught in the rain was a factor, but it’s not unusual for me to come out of it without getting sick.

As far as staying a couple hours after school goes, it gets tiring throughout the day when you really don’t have much to do. I dare say it’s probably more tiring when you don’t have a load of work to focus on. Am I ready to get back into the grind?

And the melancholy. I can’t help that I’m feeling it, which is why I really want to exercise, but I know I shouldn’t be pushing my body too hard. I feel like I’m treating melancholy as an adrenaline shot, in order to get away from it. Last week, I had a huge shot of it, so I went biking and bouldering immediately after a long trip without much rest.

Self-care, kitty-cat.


Dissecting music

I’m not doing a good job at showing America at all!

Before summer vacation started, I made a CD of songs for the advanced English class to listen to and dissect the lyrics that they liked in the song. Only one of them actually did it, and she chose Pumped-Up Kicks by Foster the People. She liked the song because it had a warm and inviting melody. But when she dissected the lyrics, she was so shocked that it was about guns, and someone who was planning to shoot to kill.

I was really impressed by her insight on this that it was discouraging to hear about problems in America from an impressionable teenager. I explained the lyrics a bit more to explain why this song sounds so violent, for example, “pumped-up kicks” are nice shoes, and because there is a distinction between kids with pumped-up kicks and those without, the message is that there is inequality and this is the feeling that comes from it. I guess the next step would be teaching them about injustice! Ugh, too much information, and they’re already cramming so much.

Anywho,  I asked another student what her favorite song on the CD was, and she chose “Get Lucky”. Fun song! Until you get to the chorus. I had thought about this, but whatever, I felt they were old enough to know. I started explaining the title, what do you think “get lucky means. Get Lucky… okay, so you can get lucky buying a lottery ticket… maybe getting lucky playing pachinko. In this case, getting lucky is in the context of meeting people. You go to a bar and you meet someone cute, and you hope to talk to them, you hope to get their number, you hope to get a date.

Great. Human relationship stress in the middle of all this intense studying that’ll make or break the rest of their lives.

In any case, I thought the first few lines of the song were good enough to teach a little. The legend of the phoenix, ends with beginnings was easy enough to understand. What keeps the planet spinning was interesting. I explained it not only as the planet, but a metaphor for your own world as well. What keeps you going?

“We’ve come too far to give up who we are.” These kids do so much to be here at this school. Some of them commute from far away, some of them studied really hard to pass the test to be accepted here, they’re on their way to become college students, or middle-class workers. They can’t give up where they’re going now.  “So let’s raise the bar and our cup to the stars.” There are a few track and field kids in the class, so I gave the example of the high jump. Raising it gradually, setting goals. Then I asked them to demonstrate what they think raising a cup to the stars means. Go ahead, hold your cup! Raise it to the stars! The JTE called out “Cheers!” Thank god. The kids looked so confused. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself on your progress.

And then the rest kinda gets erotic, so we moved on.

Classy 渋い sang trọng

Almost all the Japanese transliterations of Vietnamese words are in the northern accent. R’s are transliterated as Z’s, so it sounds pretty classy. It’s so… expected of Japan.

ベトナム語の外来語はほとんど北ベトナムの発音を使って、しぶいと思います。 日本はさすが。

Tiếng Việt khi viết trong tiếng Nhật hay dùng giọng Bắc, mình nghe thấy sang trọng. Gióng Nhật thiệt.

Soy Sauce

I just noticed I had 4 different bottles of soy sauce at home: light, dark, dashi from 喜多方, and a rich deluxe one that’s from 小豆島 in 香川県 where the soy sauce is delicious that was a gift from a friend.  The light and dark ones are for cooking and seasoning, so the bottles are bigger. The dashi and deluxe are in little bottles.

I grew up with one big bulk bottle of Maggi in the house that would last for months, and Kikkoman was the only other alternative at restaurants. Had no idea there was such a difference in soy sauce until I tasted the dashi one and it. is. amazing. I’m not sure if I’ll go back to big bulk bottles again because there are so many different kinds of soy sauce to be had.

The Maggi we grew up with was made in China.  For a long time, I thought Maggi was an Asian thing. Now my parents eat the Maggi that’s made in its original Europe because it tastes a lot better (maybe less salt!). I had to look into that, and discovered that Maggi originated in Switzerland!


We have a Ghanian international student and I asked him what he thought about African Americans. He said that they were not African. So at that point, I decided that there is no problem with calling a black person, Black American. But then, what do we call Asian Americans who are several generations away from the motherland?

I was told that in Australia, everyone is Australian, and that there is no race or ethnic identity attached to it. This person said this with pride and positive inclusion, so I think their intentions are good. However, color-blindness can make one blind to  racial bias. I realized I couldn’t continue a conversation with this person about this topic without blowing their minds, and I’m not ready for that responsibility.

When the Ferguson incident erupted, I arrived a little later to work because I was reading Michael Brown’s companion’s eye-witness story. I was really upset at what he reported, and was eager to find other reports. It was not out of doubt in the story that I wanted to find more, but moreso what other information has been mixed up to confuse people because it happens, as we all know.

Perhaps in an attempt to help calm me down with some sort of answer, I was told that  in moments of shock, facts in a story can get lost.

My heart inside just lost it. The synapses in my brain fizzled a bit as it short-circuited, and reset itself to judgment on this person. What do I do from here, once I’ve made that judgment? How will I treat this person?

A vision of the Little Mermaid came to me. I became Ursula, and sang, “You poor unfortunate soul!”

After my moment of drama, I took a step back to understand the situation: someone who is not American, not familiar with racial politics in America, most likely not interested in it.

And then I became Elsa. “Let it go! Let it gooo!”