Saturday, May 29, 2010

School Festival Prep

The longest week of my life...errr...year is coming up. School festival is next Saturday, Sunday and Monday, so the kids are busy busy preparing. Yesterday was our last English club before the festival, so the kids were there pretty late. I gave in and left at around 5:45pm but there were still kids all over! Here are some pics :)

My crazy girl fan club. We keep each others' "secrets"

The responsible girls chatting up front about logistics.

There was a lot of sign making going on!

I'm excited for the festival, even if it means I have to work so many days in a row! Should be fun!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Thirty before Thirty

Along with big life changes like moving back to the US comes a lot of thinking. Naturally, I'm a thinker. And though I try not to be, a worrier. It depends on my mood and the day, but overall, I've done so much thinking and pondering about life in this past year! I could go on and on about all the things I've thought about, but it would be long and a lot of incoherent and unconnected thoughts. But, I just thought that I would share one of the things that I've been thinking about lately.

My friend Brian and I seem to have a lot in common, but we live a little far away and don't really get the opportunity to hang out without doing a lot of planning ahead. Nevertheless, we chat online and video chat from time to time. Awhile back, he recommended a blog to me called The Art of Non-Conformity. I was instantly enamored and couldn't stop reading. I read so many of this guy's articles in the first week. It's his personal quest to travel to every country in the world (see his map here). He also writes a lot about free lance writing, blogging, entrepreneurship, and following your dreams. I'm digressing, but all the articles there have helped me assess my dreams for life. Helped me to realize you can only achieve great things if you dream big dreams. I'm perfectly willing to share these with you if you ask, but I'll get back to where I was going.

But first I do have to mention another inspiration I've had recently, from the most unexpected place in Worthington, MN. I started subscribing to and old friend's "inspirational" emails he was writing, figuring "who couldn't use a little inspiration and motivation!" I've been shocked to see what he's been doing with his life and it turns out that he's got a book deal to publish 3 books, one coming out soon (he's only recently started blogging, but check it out here). I've started to see what people who I've deemed ordinary (like myself) doing extraordinary things, and I want to join them. Things that seemed so far into the future are no longer that. I'm 25 and not getting any younger. I'm no longer a teenager thinking of my life in terms of potential, but need to start living my dreams and working towards the others. I don't want to look back at my life and have to say that I've "just made it through."

On that note, back to Brian -- he also has a goal of "30 before 30," visiting 30 countries before the age of 30. To some of you that read my blog this might sound crazy, and to others it might not even seem like a big deal. I don't think it's all that uncommon of a goal among travelers, but it was new to me, and also seems like an admirable and realistic goal. I started pondering it and I think I've solidly decided that I want this to be a goal in my life.

Another friend I chat with regularly is Kavita. We challenge each others' thoughts and ponder the mysteries of the universe. You think I'm joking, but I'm not :) Today we were talking and we discussed what people's goal is with traveling the world these days. I think it used to be something really rare, and that's why people were interested. It's become much less rare, evident in that such a small town girl like myself has studied abroad more than once and now lived abroad for two years. But, I think that in places like Minnesota, it still is something a bit rare. Kavita made me realize that it's important to assess my reasons for such a goal. Otherwise, am I actually just doing it because "everybody's doing it"? Is it only my passion because I've encountered people who have these plans? So here I assess some of my own reasons, some of it nostalgic, so I apologize. Bear with me if you're interested.

Though becoming more of a norm, especially among new friends I've met along the way, I do like travel and learning about another culture. I actually have been thinking a lot about fate vs choice in life recently. I haven't decided that one and not sure I ever will, but I remember one specific night where I think my whole life took a different turn. For some reason I decided to go to the Study Abroad Open House on my campus. I don't remember why, but no one in my family had ever traveled abroad and none of my friends from home either. I may have been inspired by my roommate (and best friend now) Nicole who had gone to Greece the May before, but frankly I don't remember any one thing influencing me. I went and learned about a program, and instantly knew it was the one I wanted to go on. I vividly remember coming home with the brochure and telling Nicole all about it and being so excited. I remember calling my parents, I think that same night. I was met with some surprise and "Why would you do that?" So apparently Mom and Dad, I'm going back to the drawing board on that "Why?"

Going to Chile changed a lot about me. I think it changed my values, helped me move on from my first love, made me think about what I wanted about life, and most of all instilled a love for travel and piqued my curiosity about other cultures. After I came back, I think it further turned the direction of my life after I quit volleyball. Though I couldn't have said it so clearly back then, my priorities had shifted. Sports were no longer the thing that filled my void, but learning about new places, planning trips and the exhilration that comes along with finding my way around a new city or subway system, getting myself out of a bind in a country where I don't speak the language, overcoming obstacles like snowstorms in the mountains that cancel buses back to the country I'm supposed to be in, and daily life is a list in itself here in Japan. But it is exhilarating and I love the feeling I get after having succeeded and survived the mishaps I encounter.

So I guess in a nutshell, there's my answer. The exhilaration. The reward of taking positive risks. Surviving the negative risks and learning from them. Seeing how people live in different places and taking a little bit from each place I visit, allowing it to change my thoughts and perceptions. Seeing a beautiful sunset , a place rich with history and culture, strolling through a garden in the afternoon. Helping other people whether it be giving directions or recommendations to a fellow traveler or playing with kids in an orphanage and giving them much needed attention. So here's to the next 21 countries in 5 years. See the sidebar on my blog for a running list. Thanks for your never ending support and love!


One stereotype that Japanese have about Americans is that all Americans eat hamburgers and that American hamburgers are bigger than Japanese and all other hamburgers around the world. Often my students will write in an essay that they want to go to America to try an American hamburger. I think they will be sorely disappointed that most of the time if we're eating a burger, it's usually from McDonald's, not the kind they imagine, as McD's is the same in Japan basically.

Anyway, building on this stereotype, I was researching "How to write a paragraph" the other day and found this random PowerPoint comparing a hamburger (actually a Big Mac, which is inaccurate as a Big Mac has a bun in the middle...) to a paragraph, the buns being the topic and concluding sentence. So I decided to run with this and make a worksheet based on a big, fat, juicy cheeseburger. Thought you might enjoy it.

This worksheet is actually for second year students (grade 11), who I don't usually teach. I grade their essays, but don't get to actually teach them. Finally (!), my teachers asked me to help, teaching the kids how to write a proper essay. I've been hoping for more classes my whole time in Japan, so it's exciting...though since I'm leaving in like a month and a half, it seems a bit late in coming. Either way, I enjoy the students and it will be nice to see them one more time before I leave. They were the only class that I taught from start to finish here in Japan, so they are the nearest and dearest to my heart.

In other school news, school festival is next week. I'm super excited about it this year, because I remember how much fun it was last year!! It does mean however that I have to work 8 days in a row, possibly 10 days if it's rainy on sports day/sports day make up day. I'm crossing my fingers for good weather. 8 days is enough, I don't need to tack on 2 more days to that! Then I get one holiday, and will go back to school til Friday. Until next time...thanks for reading folks. Sorry I've been MIA on the phone calls. I've been busy almost every night, so much so that I'm making myself sick. Need to give myself some R&R this weekend to recover!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Catching Up

Last week an "old" friend came back into my life for a brief moment. Luther was a teacher in Kambara last year, fairly close to where I live. He was actually my orientation group leader and was super involved with AJET, in both of which I seem to have followed in his footsteps :) He was also a good friend and fellow Minnesotan!!! He left last July back to Minnesota and South Dakota and came back for a week when he heard that a friend of his from Scotland was coming back to visit.

On Friday, we met up with a group of people and had Korean BBQ. Were were Americans and New Zealanders (zealonites?) eating Korean Barbecue and Chinese gyoza while speaking English in Japan. I'll miss the mishmash when I go back to the US! Afterward, we headed to a karaoke booth. Unfortunately I had to leave early to catch the last train, but I was having a fabulous time and it seems that didn't end when I left!! On Saturday I went to Tokyo to celebrate some friends' birthdays, and again Luther joined the crew, so I was able to see him one last time before he boarded the plane on Sunday!

I wasn't so sad to see him go this time, as I know that we are good at keeping in touch and see each other on the webcam from time to time, and I know that since we're both from Minnesota we'll meet up again someday. When he was here, it seemed like he had never left and things were the same as they were the year before. Thanks for being a good friend and positive influence in my life, Ru-sa-kun :) Hope you enjoyed your time in Japan!

p.s. I posted the smaller smile picture this time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Love!

Alright, it's coming a day late. Gomen ne.

The other person I went down to see this weekend was Nicole. One fateful night while out celebrating another birthday actually, we started to click. The next weekend I invited her to bake cookies at my house with a group of girls and then we spent a bunch of holiday parties together and quickly became the best of friends. I already said it, but I guess the only way to say it is that our personalities just clicked and we felt like we could talk about most anything with each other almost instantly. Since, we've been hanging out almost every weekend.

Last night we had a chill dinner with just 5 of us to wish our best girl a Happy Birthday. She also had some shenanigans in Tokyo where I hope she had lots of fun ;) Next weekend we're heading back to Tokyo, and this time I'll be in tow! We're going to dinner and a hip hop club. It will be my first time clubbing in Tokyo, so I'm actually excited even though I'm not really a club scene kinda girl!!So anyway, my darling new friend, I wish you all the best this 25th year of your life has to offer!! I'm so glad that we met and because fast friends. I love you and am looking forward to the next 2 months of excitement (though after this weekend, your birthday week and two weekends is a lot of celebration!!).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hair Cuts!

This weekend was pretty chill. I went to visit some friends on Friday night for a huge food fest!! We had chili cheese fries, chili cheese dip, oreo cream pie, tacos/chalupas, guacamole, homemade salsa and more. It was AmAzInG! Here Sharla and I are posing in front of the food pre-hair cut. The others were in a food coma....

The next day, I spent some time with Sharla. We've worked together on different committees, but have never really hung out on our own because we live so far apart!! We had a girls' day, going to buy makeup and get our hair cut. We both cut off quite a bit!!! Check out our new styles below :)

It was a fab night and day!! After that I met up with some friends in Fuji on Friday night and then spent a lazy Sunday. It was a nice chill weekend -- I'm not ready to go back to school tomorrow!!! It's midterms this week, so I won't be teaching. I have a big stack of essays on my desk that I need to finish and more jobs to apply for!! Hope you all had a great weekend!! XoXo

Monday, May 10, 2010

Susono 5k

Last year, Jenny recruited Kari and me to run a 10k in Susono, a town here in Shizuoka. It's a race with a great view of Fuji. Last year I was sick and wasn't so happy with how things turned out. This year Jenny is in Hawaii, but Kari and I decided to do the 5k. I was really glad that we decided on the 5k instead of 10k. I hadn't really trained since I had Oxfam last month. Of course I was in decent general shape, but not really race running shape!! My goal was to run 10 minute miles, so not so fast really. I finished in 31 minutes and 30 seconds, which is almost exactly 10 minute miles (5k=3.1 miles), so I was happy. Kari also finished well under her personal goal, so it was a great day overall. Mt. Fuji was out in the morning, but was hiding during our race. It was still a good day for a race with sun and warm weather.

Here's a video of the start of the 10k race. I thought it was interesting to start with the traditional Japanese drumming (taiko). Probably the only place in the world a race starts like that!! Check it out on my blog if you get this by email.

Before the race with our consecutive bib numbers.
After the race with our certificates. I was 27th out of 65 competitors, so in the top half. More than I expected, so I'm more than happy!!

It was the first time in a long time that I got a chance to hang with Kari, so I stayed at her house the night before. We couldn't resist a little purikura on a Saturday night!

Yabusame Horseback Archery Festival

During Golden Week, I not only went to a big kite festival, but I also went to a horseback archery festival in my town, Fujinomiya. Last year I was in Kyoto for Golden Week so I missed it. It was interesting, but I've learned that I'm a bit jaded with Japanese festivals these days, along with shrines and temples. It was a fabulous day outside though, with sun and a slight breeze. Also, a lot of ALTs came from surrounding areas making for great company. There were the usual food stalls with fried food and food on a stick. They made a big temporary runway for the horses.

One of Brian's Japanese friends was there and told me a lot about the festival, all of which I can't remember. But I do remember that she said they had been celebrating this horseback archery festival for over 800 years. She had a magazine with some of the mythological gods from history that each shrine prays to, and at Sengan Shrine the people pray to this god on the right. She is representative of Mt. Fuji and I'm not sure what else. The people used to bath in the pond at my shrine to cleanse themselves before climbing Mt. Fuji as it was at one time a spiritual experience, not just for fun or for sport. Today, some still describe climbing Fuji as a spiritual experience, and many Japanese will ask you if you climbed it as one of the first questions they ask when they meet you.

So anyway, there were a bunch of men with bows and arrows on horses and they each went down a path with two targets. The first bow they had loaded when they started, but the second they had to grab from behind them and get loaded while the horse is moving. Here's one of the guys on horseback.

Nicole, Me and Brian with Shaune lurking in the background while watching the archers. Is that a word, archers?

Here's a video of one of the competitors. Remember if you receive this by email, you'll have to go to my blog to watch the video.

Overall, it was a pretty cool festival. I need a break from festivals though...and I guess I'll be getting a very long one in 2 short months whether I want it or not!!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hamamatsu Kite Festival

This weekend was the Hamamatsu Kite Festival. Many of the locals dress up in happi (pictured at left) and head out to the sand dunes near the water to fly 3 meter x 3 meter sized kites for their newborn children. The festival is during Golden Week every year and the last day of the week (Wednesday) celebrates Children's day. Nicole and I didn't really plan on it, but ended up spending our entire Golden Week together from Friday until Wednesday. The chosen day for Hamamatsu (about 2 hours by car, 3 hours with traffic) Kite Festival was on Tuesday. We had a leisurely morning before heading out to the dunes from her house in Iwata (about 30 minutes away). We met a bunch more ALTs there, ones that I don't see so often since I live pretty far away. It was nice to catch up, especially with those who had done the Trailwalker. Seems we have a special kinship now. We know each other's pain :)

We enjoyed the festival food and watched the kites in the fabulous sunny weather that we were blessed with all vacation. Here are a few photos with descriptions:

A random team asked us to take a picture for them, and then wanted one with us too! I think their kite had already come down for the week.

There was tons of festival food per usual -- lots of food on a stick. Which coincidentally in Japan is always a chopstick :) Corndogs, bananas and more all on a chopstick. Chocolate covered bananas are my fave festival food. I'll miss them!! Thankfully, they are easy to make on your own!

These are the huge kites. They take a big group of people and meters and meters of rope to keep in the air. I don't really know the art of kite flying, but it was still cool.

Nicole and I posing in front of one of the big kites.

Each group has their own little band walking around playing tunes and multiple people to maneuver the kite. The kites sort of battle -- the goal is to the be the last one in the sky. If your kite falls to the ground, you're done. So the goal is to not get tangled with other kites.

Here's some kites up in the sky. There were hundreds.

Some of the Kakegawa/Shizuoka area JETs we met up with.

I'll post more pictures in a Golden Week album on Flickr soon!!! It finally feels like spring/summer here. Frankly it seems like we jumped from winter to summer as the temps went from being in the 40s and 50s to being in the 70s in just a few days. It's been welcome for me however. Biking is so much nicer without the rain! I hope you're getting in some sunshine at home!

Cohen's First Jimbei

When I came home this summer, I wanted to bring Cohen (my best friend's son) something uniquely Japanese, so I bought him a jimbei. A jimbei is a sort of traditional clothing, and it's worn I suppose as some people wear a bathrobe. It's an around the house lounging wear or bedtime wear. Some people where them out for festivals in the summertime as they are a lightweight material. Typically when you go to an onsen or hot spring bath, you also get a jimbei to wander around in after you bathe.

So anyway, I bought one for Cohen and for Avery, but they were a bit big. Cohen's fits just perfectly now!! Nicole took some pics and sent them to me - totally made my day! Too cute!! Wanted to share with all of you!!!

A Japanese Stud

Ready for a summer festival!

Can't believe the little guy is almost one!!! Can't wait to see him this summer -- I'll get to see him the first day I get back for a wedding, so he'll be all dressed up in his tux, cute as ever!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Trailwalker Pictures

Because of the rain (and frankly, the exhaustion) I wasn't able to take many pictures during the Oxfam Trailwalker. But my good friend Kelly who was on our support crew did what she does best: record the moment on camera. She snapped pictures and most of the checkpoints for us and at the finish line. Check out her pictures by clicking here. Thanks so much Kelly!!! Here's a preview:

I'm almost still in shock that I completed this thing...seems like it was all a dream. I'm glad to be done and I've been doing a mix of celebrating and recuperating for the last week as we got four days off work for national holidays. One more day tomorrow. Will update on my adventures with that soon. I really hope you'll check out the pictures!! Thanks again for your continual support!!