Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Over Three Months?!

I passed my three month mark here this week – I can’t believe how quickly time is passing by. It seems I haven’t been here that long, although I have done more than enough to cram into those three months. I keep saying it and don’t actually do it, but I really need to slow down! There is just so much I want to do and it seems so little time to do it :)

Last week I did a home stay in Kakegawa, a city in my prefecture. There was a festival going on and the international office organizes home stays for ALTs every year. I was put with an amazing family! We had a big welcome party with WAY too much food. Then we walked around the festival, which had a bunch of different artsy things displayed along a long stretch of road. There was pottery and paintings and much much more (including "learning" how to play the Japanese harp...notice me laughing at how terrible I was considering I couldn't read the Kanji to play it!). Then I went and hung out with my host mom for awhile, the first test of my bad Japanese and her bad English. It worked out, thanks to the few pictures I brought of my family and close friends. We then went out for some traditional Japanese Izakaya, where the food and drinks just kept coming! It was me and 3 other ALTs and the four host families. It was a good time, although I had way to much to eat! The whole weekend was seriously food, food, food!!! I hung out some more with my host fam after that, and in the morning we went to the onsen and out for lunch. The onsen is quickly becoming one of my favorite things about Japan, especially cuz I live in the land of hot springs! It’s like having 30 hot tubs in one place, some with bubbles, some without, some with waterfalls, some with places to lay down, some with tea and extra goodies for your skin. So relaxing! Overall, the homestay was great. It was good for me to start trying to communicate in Japanese a little, cuz I really don't get the opportunity at school - they just always have one of the English teacher's help me or translate things to me. I really enjoyed seeing how a family lives here, considering I live alone and in subsidized housing! My family has three cats, plays a lot of tennis, goes to the country club (it seems quite frequently haha), and have three children. Good weekend.

The biggest news of my life right now is that I am getting a car. Like actually getting it after all the talking and deliberating and waiting! Less than two weeks now. I test drove it during my homestay (the car dealer is in the same city) and things went okay (well I stayed on the left side of the road anyway haha) except for the stupid blinker is on the right and the windshield wipers on the left. So naturally, I turned the wipers on every time I went to turn on the blinker. Old habits die hard, and I’m sure I will be a terrible driver when I get back to the US and everything changes back again! I am waiting to pick up the car til I go down to Kakegawa again (since it’s a bit of a hike, I gotta take advantage of my school paying for my business trip in two weeks and drive it home then). My friend Dion graciously agreed to ride back with me, manning the maps and probably gripping on for dear life since it will be my first time on the open road! It’s mostly the same highway all the way back though, so I think we should be good to go :) The car dealer was a little worried about me haha driving so far the first time, we'll all cross our fingers. So on that note, here's a picture of my car, and a dedication to the hill I ride up everyday :) It was remarkably beautiful today, so I had to stop and take a pic. It's not a great pic, but the sun was hitting perfectly as the sun set and Fuji-San was a brilliant red color. 8 more times biking up that stuipd hill :) But hey, who's counting?

Thursday, October 23, 2008


My school week is basically over, and I'm glad. My classes fizzled out as the week went on and the last one left me seriously frustrated! But I will trudge on...only two more weeks of lessons, the final test and then a big break in December from teaching. That sounds like seriously no work at all! 12 lessons is all I have til the end of December. Wow...way to use that teaching degree Ashley! Although there's not a lot happening on the teaching front, I did get a request today to help a senior student every day for a half hour - do you have any idea how amazing that sounds to me?! A half hour every day is a lot of work for me, and it's still not very much haha. But she has to pass an interview type test to get into college, and since she's going to be an English teacher, a few of the questions will be in English. So she has enlisted my help every day for a month before the test - even though there will probably only be 1 or 2 questions in English!! I am really looking forward to it; I love working with students one-on-one.

Tomorrow I am traveling to Shizuoka City for my first committee meeting for It Takes Two. It Takes Two is a prefectural publication that has lesson plans and ideas for the Shizuoka ALT's that comes out each year. I was chosen for the committee to put this years together, so I guess I'm sorta unofficially publishing something! Pretty small scale, but still pretty cool considering it will be passed down from ALT to ALT and so many people will use it. They will never look at my name on the back cover I am sure, but they will use the book :) I have copies dating back to the nineties that I still use pretty frequently at work. Really, the committee gets me outta school for 3 days with a paid business trip to the city (aka civilization!), it looks good on the resume, and let's face it, I could use more work to do on a daily basis, especially come December when I'm done with lessons and still have to go to school everyday!

I don't want to tell you about the whole weekend before it happens, and frankly I should be packing for the weekend right now haha. But, I'm going out for a friend's birthday, test-driving a car (!!!!!!!!!!!) and doing a homestay with a Japanese family...back to the daily grind on Monday!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Good Day

Today was a good day. I got to teach this week for the first time in 2 weeks and I rocked my lessons. I may just have found a rhythm that satisfies my co-teachers and satisfies what I'm going for too. Just the right amount of fun and learning. So excited. Hopefully tomorrow will go well cuz I teach with two other teachers tomorrow, and lessons tend to go differently with different co-teachers. We shall see.

In addition to classes going well - I had two invites from teachers - one to go play soccer with the teachers (which I unfortunately had to decline! :( I already had plans tonight) and one to go out drinking with a few of the teachers. Hopefully that will happen, just because it's really helpful to socialize with the teachers outside of school here. They spend so much time working, that it's rare they take time out for themselves and they live completely different lives in public than in private. Either way, the invites make me feel good about the relationships I'm building at school. I'm thinking of inviting a few teachers over for dinner some night. They don't really have Mexican food here, so I might try to cook them something Mexican, just for fun. Don't worry though, it won't be too spicy, the Japanese couldn't handle it ;)

I also got together with my "culture exchange" partner tonight. It's so nice to get out and socialize on a weekday, especially with Japanese people. Afterall, I am living in Japan and feel like I don't get enough interaction with Japanese people outside of work. His girlfriend wants to meet me, so I am hoping that him and some of his friends including her can go out sometime on a weekend or something. It would be really fun.

To add to the good day, tonight I found out that I was selected to go on the volunteer trip to Thailand!! So as long as I can get the vacation time from work (which really shouldn't be a problem), I'm going! I'm super pumped and know it's going to be an amazing experience!

And last but not least, I got to talk to my parents and Nicole tonight. It seemed like forever since I got to talk to my Nic, our schedules have been clashing a lot lately! Happy Birthday to my parents - hope you guys find time to celebrate this week! Love you all lots!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hiroshima Adventure

Sorry for the delay in posting, it’s been a pretty filled up week – really filled up and seeping out the cracks busy! This past weekend was a long weekend, so I travelled to the Hiroshima area.

Saturday I spent the day in Hiroshima. We lingered around the A-bomb dome, went to Peace Memorial Park, and spent a few hours in the museum. I’m really not a museum person, but this one was incredibly interesting. I also don’t know a lot about history, so a lot of things I was reading about were all new information. It was an incredibly intense experience – really sad to see and think that the effects of the bomb that we dropped are still affecting victims today. I really can’t say a whole lot else about the day in Hiroshima, you’ll have to look at the pictures and check out my explanations there – it will give you a much better idea of what it’s like there. Pictures highly recommended! That night we ventured out to Saijo, a nearby city for Sake Matsuri, a huge annual sake festival. It had been going on since 11 in the morning, so when we got there, the train station was surrounded by staggering old drunk Japanese men! The festival was a good time, and I had the opportunity to meet some new people and see Paul, one of my coworkers from UMM info desk!

Sunday we had a slow start in heading off to Miyajima to see the floating torii and shrine. The island is covered in deer that come right up to tourists – kinda crazy! The torii and shrine weren’t actually floating when we were there unfortunately, because the water only reaches that far during high tide early in the morning and in the evening. SO, I guess we’ll just have to go back some time when we have more time. :) We took a cable car up Mt. Misen to get a great view of the water and nearby small islands. We all agreed it was a place we’d like to return when we have more time. Maybe hike up and down the mountain next time. Oh yeah…at the top of the mountain there were monkeys just running around freely. So many animals!

That night we headed out to Kasaoka to stay with Molly, another one of my former UMM info desk coworkers. What a Minnesota reunion it was this weekend! We went to her town’s festival, where the men carry huge portable shrines on their shoulders. They weigh over a ton, some up to a ton and a half! The men (no women allowed!) carry them around for hours around the streets of the city, singing and taking breaks for beer. At the end, they carry them up a steep stairway to the shrine. I can’t imagine how sore their bodies must be the next day! Molly’s fiancĂ© Bobby joined in on carrying one of the floats and the group he was carrying with gave us their robe/shirts so we could be a part of the festivities. It was great! We were a little exhausted at this point from packing so much in the days before, but it was really fun to see.

Monday was a holiday in Japan, Health and Sports Day, obviously worthy of missing a day of school for students and teachers alike. We headed off to Okayama with Molly to Korakuen, one of the top three gardens in Japan. It was amazingly relaxing and we saw a bride strolling in the park on her wedding day. Gorgeous! Our stroll in the park was followed by lunch at an organic restaurant with real wheat bread, salmon, cream cheese and tomato. Amazing closure to a great adventure!

This week at school I don’t have classes because it’s midterms. The students left school at noon yesterday, and I’m not sure, they might do the same today. Since I don’t give midterm tests, they don’t keep me all that updated on what’s going on…but I guess tomorrow in the afternoon the whole school gets to go to the theater, so I get to see a play or something in the afternoon. We’ll hope there’s a lot to look at since I won’t understand a word of what they are saying haha. Should be interesting. Tuesday night I had my second adult conversation class which went really well. I feel like I kinda know where I am going with it now and understand what levels the students are at so that I can actually help them learn more English and practice with what they know! The people in the class are super fun, and I’m hoping to make some of them friends!

This weekend is going to be a weekend of RELAXATION. I need a break from the rat race; I feel like I haven’t stopped going for over 2 weeks now, except when I was sick, which obviously wasn’t really all that relaxing either. Thankfully I am doing much better this week! Like I said, looking at the pics and descriptions on my flickr will probably be much better than reading about this trip! Check ‘em out –

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sick Day

I took a sick day from school today in hopes that sleeping would help my body heal helped...but I'm defintely not completely better. I am going to school tomorrow, which doesn't mean that I will be working haha, but I will be at school drinking green tea and probably blowing my nose 20 times. 20 times is an improvement though for the record.

My first Eikaiwa class (adult conversation) went well. I was glad I had Dion there to help me. He's really outgoing and it was nice to have another native speaker in the class. Even if he makes fun of my name games :D Things went well and hopefully next week more people will come! There are supposed to be 12 in the class, but there were only 7 there last night. I gotta put my thinking cap on for new conversation ideas cuz there are some people who took the class with Audrey last session - so I gotta come up with new ideas and not reuse too many of hers so those people get the benefit of having both of us as teachers.

I'll keep downing OJ and sleeping a lot, so I probably won't be calling any of you anytime soon since that requires staying up too late. So keep me posted through email...hope things are going well!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

sniffle sniffle

So as you can see from my post yesterday I am sick. It seems like it came on all of a sudden :( Sunday night I had a sore throat, then I didn’t sleep well at all and woke up with an extremely stuffy nose. I drank 1 1/2 liters of 100% orange juice yesterday and slept from 5 pm to 10 pm then woke up and had some ramen (closest thing I had to soup haha) and more oj and went back to sleep til this morning. I woke up pretty early this morning since I had slept from 5-10 before going to sleep at 11:30, but I actually feel quite awake today. I do not feel any less sick however. Ugh. Maybe I’ll get a sick day outta the deal, but not today because I teach my first Eikaiwa class tonight! I’m looking forward to meeting new people, and hopefully I can put on a Genki face despite the fact that I am sick.

Since asking me to do the class, the community center has since asked another teacher that speaks Japanese to join the first class to make sure things run smoothly. I was taken back at first because they never told me, and if he hadn’t told me I would have shown up to an extra teacher being there. Despite the fact that they sorta went behind my back, it will probably be a good thing to have him there tonight, especially cuz when I had my first meeting with them I got about 3 sentences of information translated to me. But of course it makes me more nervous and makes me feel like I am being “checked up on” and this is only being compounded by the fact that I feel icky and really just want to be in bed until I feel better!

I did have a good weekend this past weekend. Jenny came to visit me in Friday and we were able to go out in Fuji with a few other English teachers in the area. We got some dinner and socialized for awhile and then Jenny and I headed to the peninsula for Saturday. I got to watch a high school team that were national champions in taiko. I was quite tired from the night before so the beat of the drums was putting me to sleep for awhile, but it was really cool when I was awake enough to appreciate it! Then Saturday night we ate at a Mexican restaurant, which of course, was divine! I think Mexican food is becoming my new comfort food – makes everything in life feel more normal. Sunday we went on a hike along the Nanadaru Waterfalls – a path with seven waterfalls out in the middle of the Izu peninsula near where I live.

This coming weekend is Hiroshima, hopefully I am feeling better by then! I hope things at home are going well and that this post wasn’t too dry toast. Love you all!

Monday, October 6, 2008


I woke up this morning officially sick. Then I had to walk to school in downpouring rain.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Kamakura Field Trip

Yesterday I joined the senior students on a field trip to Kamakura. It took about 2 ½ hours to get there and another 2 ½ hours to come home, and we only spent 3 hours there…1 of the hours spent in a restaurant where I paid $20 for a quite small crock of beef stew and two dinner rolls. Crazy! It was a really cool city though, and I would love to go back. The city is called “Little Kyoto” because it has the same cultural feel as Kyoto. It also has Japan’s second largest Buddha. It is made of bronze and weighs 121 tons!! Although it is second in size, it is generally recognized as artistically superior to the larger one in Nara (near Kyoto). Here’s a picture of me with the Big Buddha and one of me with a few teachers and senior students at one of the temples we visited.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Life threw me a curveball this week – a curveball pitched from left field to me at home plate. And I was lost. It was the first time since I arrived here that I really wondered if I should be here or not, if I was missing out on too much at home, if I was making the right decision for me and my life and the life of my family and friends. Tonight, I realized that life is probably gonna throw me more and more curveballs as I grow older, and there’s really no way to escape that whether I’m in Japan, the United States, or Yemin. But I have been unbelievably blessed with those I have beside me, those who support me through thick and thin, and those I would not trade for the world. Thanks God.