Archive for the ‘Pre-Japan’ Category

Thoughts on Summer

June 29, 2011 1 comment

I’ve begun to compile a list of observations about the absurdly humid Japanese summer. A few of the ones I’ve come up with so far:

 I’m sweating through my pants!
 I’m staying plenty hydrated! Every time I breathe it’s like I’m swallowing a gallon of water.
 Since coming to Japan pools have stopped looking so inviting, mainly because it’d actually be drier than not being in one…
 My schools have resorted to putting dehumidifying packets INSIDE the paper trays of the printer because otherwise the paper soaks up so much humidity it creates constant paper jams.
 One of my schools is considering buying a shaved ice machine to have on continuously in the teacher’s room.
 I haven’t had to pee in like three days. No matter how much water I drink I’m just sweating it out immediately.
 I am constantly in the middle of doing laundry, since I go through approximately half of my wardrobe every day.

Feel free to comment with your own, if you have any others 🙂


Categories: Pre-Japan

I went to…山口県

June 21, 2011 Leave a comment

In the middle of May I took a trip with my taiko team to Yamaguchi prefecture. For those of you unversed in Japanese prefectural geography (like me…), Yamaguchi is the most southern prefecture on Honshu, the main Japanese island. (I’m on Kyushu, the southern island. Yamaguchi is famous for a few things, most notably fugu (blowfish) and kujira (whale.)

This is where Yamaguchi prefecture is.

For those of you with ethical issues, let me come out and say it right now. Yes, I’ve eaten whale. And no, it’s really not worth eating. Anyone who says it’s the most delicious thing on the planet is delusional. Is it bad? Nope. Is it worth killing off an entire species? Certainly not. It’s meat. Plain and simple.

Anyway, we gathered in the morning on a Saturday and piled onto a bus which would take us to our first stop. In true Japanese fashion this trip was to be spent mostly on a bus. It was a quite oshare (osharay – fancy) looking bus, and we got off on the right foot by passing around 500ml cans of beer as soon as the bus was in motion. (It’s approximately 10am.)

The inside of the bus!

Fancy Fancy!

After an hour and a half drive we arrived at our first destination, the bridge spanning the island of Honshu and the island of Kyushu. They had some nice places to take pictures, and we hung out there for a while enjoying the wonderful sunshine. The weather was quite favorable for us the whole weekend.

The bridge to Honshu!

The buildings always look nicer on the other side of the river...that's how that saying goes right?

Ishihara-san lookin' cool

After our bridge stop we headed to lunch, which was underwhelming. After lunch we ran into a group of elementary school singers singing the whale song though, which was interesting. I didn’t understand a thing, though I’m a bit disappointed that it didn’t sound very much like whales. It would have been nicer if it’d been similar to this duo des chats concert.

After watching the performance we headed over to Suzuki Kaneko’s house. “Who’s that?” you ask? I have no idea. Still don’t. But she’s famous, so to her house we went! On the way I saw a sweet VW bus. I also saw a really interesting piece of graffiti/social commentary on a wall which I had to capture. It was the first real taste of “whales!” I’d had since coming into Yamaguchi. It would not be my last.

A VW van in Japan!

"On the beach people may have a feast, but meanwhile under the ocean the sardines will mourn for the dead."

After another hour or so in the bus we arrived at a small whale museum which talked about the culture of whaling in Japan. Learning about the old ways of catching the whales was quite interesting and further implanted me a feeling that catching whales in and of itself is not necessarily such a problem. The struggle they used to endure to catch a whale, hundreds of people going out on hand carved boats with little more than tiny knives to fight this massive animal is quite impressive and a real test of courage and endurance. I can respect that. Of course the advantage has changed now that we have boats and weapons about the same size of the whales themselves…

Leaving the museum and heading up a steep incline we arrived at one of the more striking places we visited that weekend. A grave for baby whales. According the inscription, some whales which were caught were naturally female, either with baby whales in tow or pregnant. Killing baby whales really was never part of the deal in catching whales, but after taking the mother putting the babies back in the sea was just cruel since they’d never survive. So they built a shrine and a grave for these whales to honor their sacrifice. There are about 70 baby whales/whale fetuses buried at the shrine.

Etou-san workin' the harpoon.

I'm not dwarfed like this too often...

The actual grave...

And then we all posed in front of the shrine.

Pretty much the whole taiko group

From there we headed to the hotel where we were staying the night. I didn’t take any pictures of the hotel, but it had a lovely onsen and REALLY tasty food. We spent the rest of the evening drinking and socializing which was nice.

Waking up in the morning we did some more sightseeing around the area before heading to Karato Ichiba (Karato Market) where they had tons of super fresh sushi, fugu and whale for eatin’. I did not partake in the whale at that time, but I did have some DELICIOUS sushi and fried blowfish (which is oh so good.) Fugu sashimi (the raw kind) is alright, but they usually cut it so thin you can barely taste anything. Fried fugu is SO juicy and delicious…oh man. We took a few pictures around the market and then wandered into a random outdoor flea market type place with live music and dancing going on.

Inside the market

Fugu sashimi (raw blowfish)

A live blowfish. But not for long!!! Muhuhahahahahahahahahaha

The front of the market

One performance in particular was a fascinating and disturbing display. It was a hip hop dance group dancing to some crazy US rap music. These girls were bumping and grinding all up on the stage, shaking their behinds like they had something stuck to it. Simulating all kinds of sexual acts and all around acting like the world’s biggest [insert dirty word here.] Oh and also, they were like 8 years old.

I didn’t dare take a picture because if I had done that in the states I would have been arrested immediately. Instead, everyone was clapping along to lyrics such as: “Fuck yeah motherfucker, smack that ass! Work it all up inside.” It was truly disturbing. I did take a picture of the girls who came later who were more my age, just so I could look at that picture and remember everything that was wrong about everything that happened there.


After “enjoying” the performance we headed back to the bus for our journey back. It was a truly fascinating weekend, a real insight into both Japanese people, the way they travel and where they travel to. That’s not to say it wasn’t a lot of fun though!


Categories: Pre-Japan

Picture Perfect Pizza Party

June 15, 2011 1 comment

This past Saturday I hosted the first party at my place in a looooong while. I usually don’t keep my place super clean, and since I’m not willing to have people over while my place is a mess, I usually don’t host parties. However, I had decided a while ago I really should host a party, so plans were made. Thanks to the mud volleyball event the weekend before my place was actually clean!

Keeping the momentum going, I managed to keep my place relatively clean during the week and so was able to have a pizza party at my place. I only invited a few people because I wanted to keep things small. Alex came over earlier to prep the dough, and I made a delicious pizza sauce to go along with it! We had tons of ingredients! The usual – salami, spinach, pineapple, cheese, mozerella, basil, peppers of various colors, olives…and we had some typical Japanese pizza ingredients – shrimp, corn, mayonaisse.

People started arriving around 7 (there were five of us in total.) It was all delicious, though I felt slightly discriminated against since I lack the ability to create a perfect pizza circle. Something Shirin still won’t let go. To be fair, her pizzas were spectacularly round, where-as the ones Alex and I attempted were…of various shapes.

Taste is paramount, however! Please enjoy these delicious pizza pictures.


Is there anything better than a pizza margherita? How about a square one?!

One of Shirin's many fine circles, a skill crafted after many years of apprenticeship to an Indian mother.

10 Dash Dollars to those (who didn't make the pizza) who can tell me what all is on here!

Forgot the cheese! - or - "Healthy Pizza"

Cheesy crust!

Alex's face pizza. I think he might be compensating for something, because he doesn't have that much spinach! ZING

I've never eaten a more delicious face.

Categories: Pre-Japan

Mud Volleyball Photos!

June 10, 2011 1 comment

Well, I’ve finally received the photos from the mud volleyball tournament on Sunday and am able to upload them to the web! They are in a pretty random order, so just enjoy the photos! Without further ado, I present to you this year’s “Muddy Mutant Ninja Turtles!”

Mud Volleyball team entry number 8!

Resistance was futile. Tackling was just going to happen. In spectacular ways!

This kid was bugging us for about 15 minutes, mainly trying to hit our junk with a baseball bat.

After the first game! Nice and muddy already!

Getting pumped up for the game!

This was a pretty good metaphor for our performance on the field...stuck in the mud!

There was lots of infighting as well!

Mud Rackers!

T'was a rough day on the courts indeed

Coming back from the court wondering if they could ever attain glory in mud

The post volleyball football bouts were far more successful!

Andre showing off his football skills, even though he's

This can't end well...

Andre all over Claire...literally

A wardrobe malfunction in the making!

And so rubgy was begun

Go David Go!

May making a run for it

But alas...t'was not to last

No escaping this one...

I decided I could not resist participating...

And immediately became of non-seeing ability.

I got a few good shots in though!

Kelsey wanted payback for me yelling at me all day to play better volleyball

The chase is on!

Fun and describes the whole day

It really was an incredible day. There are so many more pictures and they’re all on facebook, if you want to have a better look!


Categories: Pre-Japan

Let’s talk Kanji

June 7, 2011 1 comment

The more you study kanji (the Japanese characters based on Chinese,) the more you begin to see and understand the patterns behind its uses. One of the major failings of my formal Japanese education was that it never taught me any of the etymology, or any of the radicals of the characters I was learning. They’d just give you the weekly list and say: “Go for it!” Maybe they don’t teach it because they don’t think it’s useful during class time. Granted, it would take quite a long time to explain. But even a little introduction to it would have been a massive boon to my ability not only to learn kanji, but also to look them up in a dictionary, or learn how to write them.

Since beginning my independent study of kanji I’ve discovered so many crazy little stories and similarities, it has made studying kanji enjoyable. Now that I know there are methods to the madness I don’t feel so utterly lost and it has helped me come quite a long way in a relatively short amount of time. I am at the point now where I can read many kanji without even knowing their meanings just by knowing what it looks like. This is a holdover from the Chinese characters kanji are based off of. In Chinese each character has a section dedicated to the meaning and a section dedicated to how it’s pronounced, meaning that if you know the system you should technically be able to read all of the Chinese script even if you don’t know the meaning behind each individual character. Japanese has evolved since adopting the writing system, adding its own characters and changing some meanings and pronuncations. This means that it’s not as fool-proof as Chinese is, but it’s still an invaluable thing to know. Let me give you some examples those of you who aren’t studying Japanese probably won’t care one bit about! 😀

1. You can reasonably assume that more often than not, a kanji which includes 反 can be read as “han.” Examples include: 反、版、販、叛、板、阪 and there are quite a few more. This doesn’t mean that it’s so every time, but knowing this definitely helps!
2. Kanji which include 見 will often be pronounced “kan.” 観、寛, etc. Again, certainly not fool proof.
3. This method does not work for the Japanese pronunciations of the kanji. This means it’s only helpful in compound words (words with more than one character) which use the Chinese pronunciations.

As I said before, in Chinese there is a part of the character designated for pronuncation and a part designated for meaning. These meanings, even more than pronunciations, remain true in Japanese as well.

I used to have a terrible time keeping 待 and 持 apart. The one on the left means to wait, the one on the right means to hold. The right part of the character is the same, so the only thing distinguishing these two kanji is the front radical. Had, however, my education told me that the radical of “to hold” was 手, or hand, I would never have had any problems! Indeed you hold stuff with your hands, so the radical in front gives you a pretty good idea of what the kanji is all about. Since then I’ve looked into it further and discovered that pretty much every single character that has the radical 手 on the left side has something to do with hands, or holding. Let me give you some examples.

*Often times the radical and the chinese character it’s based off are slightly different, so if you’re wondering why 手 doesn’t quite look like 扌 , it’s because it’s been changed slightly as a radical. In this same way, water (水) becomes 氵 *

打つ (utsu), to hit.
払う (harau), to pay
扱う (atsukau), to handle
投げる (nageru), to throw
技 (waza), a skill, ability.

I suppose 払う, to pay, is a little bit of a stretch, as is 技, a skill/ability, but really if you think about it it’s not so strange. How do you pay? You hand over money to the other person. Skills are overwhelmingly accomplished with your hands, whether you’re a skilled craftsman or a musician playing an instrument. Throwing, handling, hitting, they all use hands. Having this information is invaluable both in remembering new kanji and inferring meanings of kanji you’ve never seen, something which happens on a daily basis here in Japan.

It’s something I feel strongly would have been a huge help from the beginning of my Japanese study.

A little more insightful today 🙂


Categories: Pre-Japan

Muddy Mutant Ninja Turtles

June 5, 2011 Leave a comment

“Oh my God! I can’t see!” “Jesus! It’s in my eyes! It burns!” “There’s mud in places I never even knew existed before!”

These were only the few of the many complaints and screams of anguish I heard yesterday during the annual Nakatsu Mud Volleyball tournament. We all gathered at the volleyball court, a flooded rice paddy, at 8:45 dressed to the nines in our home made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles outfits. Donatello made an appearance. Michaelangelo was present as well. Leonardo and Donatello were ready to go. Splinter was there to guide the turtles as always, and April O’Neil and Casey Jones wore their Sunday best. Indeed, the TMNT were well represented. As coach I had opted to wear my pimping Nakatsu’s finest. We were indeed a motley crew.

As soon as we got out of the car in the morning we were blasted with a nice amount of “oh right, we’re foreigners and this is going to be a huge spectacle” realization. A nice Japanese man of 25 or so was changing into his costume right beside us, and as he noticed us he decided it wouldn’t be at all inappropriate to take off his underwear and shake his junk at us. We simply thanked him and moved on. Everyone was staring as we made our way to the court, and we instantly had a gaggle of photographers following our every move, capturing our every motion. Striking a pose? Sure we’ll take a picture. Talking to a friend? Front page of the local newspaper. Eating a rice ball? OH MY GOD GAIJIN EAT JAPANESE FOOD? SEND THIS TO TOKYO!! I had previously been in contact with a photographer who had photographed us last year as well, a man named Mr. Kojo. He wanted to know if we were participating again this year, and asked us if he and his friends could come photograph us again. I agreed, having forgotten how invasive the experience really is. If you ever want to feel like a hollywood super star, come to Japan and participate in a mud volleyball contest dressed up as a ninja turtle. It’s a rather unpleasant experience which really changes your perspective on how privelaged the lives of hollywood stars are. The upshot of this is that we agreed he would send us all the photos they took of us, meaning that we’d have lots of semi-professional shots of us playing in the mud!

Our first game began right at 9:30, so after posing for a whole bunch of photos with various other teams we made our way to the court and got down and dirty! We were all a bit rusty since we hadn’t practiced our volleyball technique in 23-25 years, depending on the person. It showed too as we lost in spectacular fashion 32-10. We then had an hour or so wait until our next game (we were scheduled for only two) so we decided to toss a football around in the mud. As manager I had elected myself as the one to stay dry in case anyone needed something, so I tossed the football into the crowd of foreigners who then dove around and wrestled in the mud. Soon the entire bank was lined with Japanese photographers (literally, every single one of them) and we were having a great old time. Later we lamented taking so much of the attention away from the actual volleyball event, but it wasn’t like we asked those photographers to take pictures of us.

Our second game was fast approaching so the team got into a little huddle and sang the TMNT theme song to get pumped up. We then went out and lost equally as spectacularly, 35-20. No matter how many coaching instructions I yelled (“No, HIT the ball! Get the ball OVER the net! Serve it to where there’s NO ONE there!”) we just weren’t having much success. We did manage to score some more points though, which was welcome. With all of our games now over and with no chance of us moving on to the playoffs, we started a little impromptu mud rugby game. It started off as just our team and another team another JET (Brie) had set up. We were having so much fun, though, that slowly but surely the numbers grew as more and more Japanese folk wanted to come play rugby with us. I too could not resist and, taking off my pimp jacket, joined the scrum. Apparently this delighted a few of my fellow teammates who had been waiting for a while to take me out (since I was the only one not getting muddy and had been telling them how to do volleyball better all day…) and soon I was coughing up delicious brown water like the best of ‘em! Literally no part of our bodies were spared from the mud. It truly is a filthy, uncomfortable, amazing experience.

After rinsing off our mud caked bodies in the moat-like area next to the rice field we began packing up and heading back. To my apartment. Dragging mud everywhere. Actually everyone did an amazing job of being super careful and courteous about coming into my place and I was super thankful for that! Last year it was quite a bit worse! Most of the folks headed to one of Nakatsu’s best onsen to clean up, but Kimberley and I stayed behind and did some cleaning. We then headed to Pushkar for the traditional “when people come to Nakatsu we have to eat this” curry.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. In two years I’ve done and experienced a lot of things. I’ve climbed Mt. Fuji. I’ve hiked for 12 hours to one of the world’s oldest cedar trees. I’ve been to Korea. I’ve eaten raw blowfish, and whale, and horse. I’ve spent three days biking 300km around beautiful Oita and Miyazaki prefecture. I’ve organized a 3 day 250km charity bike ride which raised over $20,000 for earthquake and tsunami relief. But of all the things I’ve done, the most fun I’ve had in Japan is when I play mud volleyball. It brings together amazing people and bonds you through your blood, sweat and slippery mud caked bodies. It combines two of the greatest things to do in the world: sports and just getting eff-all filthy (which I firmly believe brings us back to our animal days.)

After this year I just can’t wait to do it again. Which isn’t much of a wait since my Taiko team will be doing it July 17th!! Once I get the pictures from Kelsey’s camera and the CD from the gaggle of photographers I’ll be sure to share them on here!

Until next time!


Categories: Pre-Japan

Muddy Sunday

June 4, 2011 1 comment

This Sunday is Nakatsu’s annual Mud Volleyball tournament. You may remember it from last year when I posted about it as well.

This year I am organizing the team, which I have dubbed “Muddy and Fantastic.” I’m not participating, but I will be there watching and coaching my team to victory! Though we did not enter into the costume portion of the competion, we will be dressing up as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We’ve left it up to the individual members as to what to do for their costumes, so I’m quite excited to see what everyone will come up with. I will be representing with my snake skin suit, an annual tradition.

The weather has been odd lately. I recall last year on the day of the tournament it was scalding hot, but it hasn’t even reached 30 degrees this year, and it’s been less than sunny the past week! Hopefully the weather gets its act together and we can have a good, hot, sweaty, muddy and non-bloody Sunday.

Pictures to follow after the tournament!

Categories: Pre-Japan