Japan Time

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's Santa AND his samurai...and me!

Discovered this on Louana's blog...read the lyrics and the meaning behind them here.

And now, a word from our sponsor (me):

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The past few days...in pictures.

One of my students was in a concert with her university's band in Kusanagi (about six train stops away) on Sunday, so myself and three of co-workers went out to support her:

The University of Shizuoka


Yusaku, Kengo, and me

After the concert, me, Hiromi, and Kengo stopped in Shizuoka so I could buy some Hershey's Kisses (for more peanut butter cookies with Hershey's Kisses on top), grab some dinner at a great Indian restaurant that Jen took me to when I first got to Fujieda, and enjoy some coffee at Tully's. In Shizuoka, we stumbled across a beautiful hotel with an awesome backyard for weddings. It had a small pond, a bridge, and some little walkways and such:

Then, yesterday, I had some fun with trains around Fuijeda:

And today was the emperor's birthday, so I had the day off of work. My school's manager hosted a nabe party:

(Winnie the Pooh fish paste - thankfully, this wasn't included in the nabe)
(yes, I am rocking the peace sign in this photo - that's fine)
My toaster oven cookies were a hit - I also made sugar cookies this time:

AND when I got home tonight, I made banana bread:
I seriously might forgo becoming a photojournalist to pursue a career in toaster oven baking. I think I have found my true calling.
And, as always, see more photos here, at my fantabulous Flickr page.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Some photos from my recent bike ride around Fujieda...

Tomorrow I am going to Kusanagi with some fellow teachers to see one of my students play the clarinet in her university's Christmas concert. More photos to come!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I'm just saying...

You know you've been living in Japan for a while when you cook your bacon with chopsticks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"dreaming of the osaka sun..."

Today I got invited to a Coldplay concert near Tokyo in February with some fellow teachers. I don't actively listen to Coldplay, but going to concerts is always a good time, especially ones close to Tokyo, so I said yes.
I checked out their website tonight and watched "Lovers in Japan" - the video is sweet:

I am definitely looking forward to the concert and an evening out with some of my cool co-workers!

Monday, December 8, 2008

"and when all's been said and done, it's the things that are given not won..."

General timeline of the past two days:
-took the train to Shimizu at about 10:30 am (saw Fuji-san for the first time on the train!) - had to change trains in Shizuoka, got confused, called Michiko and got everything straightened out,
-arrived in Shimizu at about 11:35 am, went to Michiko's friends' house for a very international Christmas dinner, complete with sushi, mashed potatoes, pumpkin soup, edamame, KFC chicken and McDonalds french fries,
-enjoyed some conversation with Japanese and foreign guests,
-took the train from Shimizu back to Shizuoka at about 5:15 pm with a new friend from the party, Kim. Met up with Christina, a fellow teacher, at the station and took the train to Hamamatsu,
-arrived in Hamamatsu at about 6:45 pm, met up with a group of other teachers and foreigners, and headed to a Western (literally - waitresses complete with cowboy hats) restaurant for a few hours,
-then off to karaoke...the group of us who had to catch the train to get home decided to take the 1:19 am express so we could enjoy as much karaoke fun as possible,
-caught the train and got off at Shizuoka with Christina (since it was an express train, it didn't make a stop in Fujieda),
-stayed the night at Christina's,
-took the train this afternoon at about 12:35 pm back to Fujieda (P.S. I had to do this without my contacts in, half-blind...we bought Japanese contact solution at a convenience store since I didn't have mine with me, and when I tried to put my contacts in this morning, they were all cloudy and weird...don't know what that was about),
-went for a bike ride and took some photos around Fujieda:

and now, after a long (but very fun) weekend, it's time to go to bed and get back to work tomorrow!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A prime example of how much importance the Japanese put on working together.

I am watching Japanese group three-legged racing on TV right now:

Only in Japan, a country that is rooted in the importance of being part of a group, would this ever work.

In other news, I did karaoke on Thursday night! It was so fun. Photos will be posted on Flickr soon.
I am going to two parties tomorrow - a Christmas party in Shimizu and a going away party for another teacher in Hamamatsu. It should be a good time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I am, in fact, a cookie baking genius. Or I just have too much time on my hands. Either way...

It's Christmas time in Japan. The decorations are out, the stores are playing Christmas music, there are Christmas parties happening. And so, just like every year at this time, I feel the need to bake Christmas cookies. Namely, peanut butter cookies with Hershey's Kisses on top. My mom and I used to make them when I was a kid and it just wouldn't be Christmas without them.
Of course, with only a toaster oven, a microwave, and a burner in my apartment, the idea of baking cookies was a little daunting at first. But, with the translating help of my manager today on my break, I bought the necessary ingredients to make those peanut butter concoctions of goodness.

(crazy Japanese ingredients)

I didn't have any measuring cups, so I had to eyeball all the cups and teaspoons.

Here's the thing about my toaster oven. It doesn't even have temperature settings like American toaster ovens. There's just one temperature - 860 watts, whatever that means.

Since the whole thing is heated by a coil in the middle of the oven, the cookies were coming out a little...uneven, to say the least. So, I devised a plan to put the two rows of cookies on separate sheets of tinfoil. When one side was getting too done, I took them out, turned the tinfoil around so the not-done sides were facing the center, and put them back in the oven.

Okay, so even with the whole tinfoil turning stroke of genius, they definitely still aren't the best peanut butter cookies with Hershey's Kisses on top that I've ever made. But, I made them in a toaster oven, for goodness sake. Cut me some slack.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A bunch of wiseguys I'm dealing with here...

So, I'm not going to lie - this week started out pretty rough. Wednesday and Thursday were really stressful - I walked home from work wondering if I could really do this. But Friday and Saturday were much better; I ended the week on Saturday with a really great group lesson. My students in that class are funny and hardworking, and they were making me laugh so hard on Saturday that my stomach hurt.
The lesson was about softening criticism and there was a lot of focus on phrases like, "I'm sorry, but..." "I'm afraid that..." "Maybe you could try..." Toward the end of the lesson, there's usually a lot of free conversation, where the students are given something to talk about and they have to try and use the target phrases. In this case, I paired them up and gave them different cards with scenarios on them. For example, Student A was a parent and Student B was their child's teacher - they were at a parent-teacher conference and Student B had to inform Student A that their child was doing poorly in school. Since I had an odd number of students, I paired up with someone and the conversation went something like this:
Partner (Student B): "I'm a little concerned with your son's attitude in school."
Me (Student A): "Why? Isn't Bobby doing well? He's so smart and I'm so proud of him."
Partner: "He's very smart, but...I'm sorry to tell you that his last test scores were horrible."
Me: "Horrible?!"
Partner: "Horrible...terrible!"
Me (whispering): "Remember - softened criticism!"
Partner: "Oh, right, right...his test scores were...not so good."
In another scenario, Student A and Student B were married and getting ready to go to a party; Student A had to tell Student B that he/she didn't approve of their spouse's outfit. One of the pairs in my class spent a looooong time on this particular scenario - and when I checked in on them, I found out why:
Me: "What is going on? How can you possibly still be on this scenario?"
Student A: "He says that if I don't like his outfit, he'll just take off all his clothes!"
Meanwhile, Student B is just cracking up, along with me and the rest of the class. Oh, man...that was a perfect way to end a stressful week.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Because how many times have you said to yourself, "Man, I could really go for some octopus balls right now..."

Tonight my school manager, Michiko, invited me to Shizuoka for a takoyaki party. Takoyaki is fried octopus balls. Yeah, you read that right. Fried. Octopus. Balls. I wish I was kidding, but unfortunately, I'm not.
After taking the local train from Fujieda to Shizuoka, Michiko and her friend Kana picked me up at the station. We headed to their friends' "mansion" (a Japanese apartment with more than two rooms) and the takoyaki party began.
Just in case any of you back home want to make your very own takoyaki (and I mean, really - who doesn't?), here's what you do:

1. Get yourself a nice slab of octopus.

2. Add some batter to your takoyaki pan.

3. Drop in some of that chopped octopus goodness.

4. And some squid if you're feeling daring.

5. Add some chopped onions and pickled ginger.

6. Get your friends to help you flip the balls so they cook evenly.

7. Keep flipping until...

8. ...they are a nice golden brown. Then you can add some okonomiyaki sauce, dried fish and dried seaweed.

And, actually, they weren't that bad. There was enough batter to kind of mask the fact that there was octopus even in them. I didn't throw up at the table, which is always a good sign. But will I go out and by a takoyaki pan so I can make some octopus balls at home? Probably not.

9. Smile with your new friends because you just survived your first takoyaki party!

And last night, they lit the Christmas lights near Fujieda Station, right in front of my school. I took a quick photo tonight on my way home:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hooray for a good day.

Today was a really good day.
Saturdays are the busiest days at work - I will be teaching lessons pretty much back to back for eight hours (with an hour and a half break). At the beginning of the week, I observed Jen while she taught. In the middle of the week, I taught some and she taught some. Today, I taught all of the lessons but one. I was pretty nervous at the beginning of the day - just anxious about the lessons and hoping that everything would go smoothly.
All in all, I think it went really well. My students are great - I've been getting along with them well. There's still a lot of information for me to learn, but I think I'll be fine.
I'll miss Jen, though! I've gotten so used to having her around to help me and answer my questions. It's been really fun getting to know her.
And after work, I went to Jen's goodbye to Fujieda party and had a great time. I met some more foreigners and had some good conversations. It was really nice to talk to some people who have been in Japan for a few years and share some of the struggles that we've experienced.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eating...one of my favorite pastimes.

On Tuesday night, I met up with some girls from work at a restaurant near the school. They had nabe, but I had already ate at home, so I just hung out and enjoyed the company.

(Jen and Miho enjoying some nabe)

And yesterday night, we went to the Gato Rojo - a Mexican restaurant about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Everything is 500 yen (about $5). I was so happy to have some Mexican food - we had such a hard time finding some when we were in Japan in 2005. It was great to spend some time with some of my co-workers. AND, they play classic rock - incredible. This might be my new favorite restaurant.

me, Yusaku, Hiromi, Jen, and Miho

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"treasure what you know is real..."

So, today was my first day at my school. I just observed Jen for some lessons, applied for my Alien Registration Card with the help of the assistant manager, and familiarized myself with the school. The students seem wonderful and the staff is super friendly - I think I'm really going to enjoy my time there. Tomorrow all the teachers are going out to a Mexican restaurant in Fujieda - I will take photos and post them for sure.
On another note...
I love Skype. I've talked to Mallory twice now and it's so good to hear a friendly voice from home. The call was clear and without delay - and free. So...those of you who haven't downloaded Skype yet - DEW IT. Then call me. I can't tell you how great it is to actually hear someone's voice when you are a world apart.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quite the eventful day off.

Embarrassing Moment of the Day:
I went grocery shopping today to finally get some food in my apartment. I rode my bike that I bought from Jen (the teacher I am replacing) - photos to come of the bike later. In Japan, bike riding isn't just for kids; it's for everyone, from businessmen to old ladies. Since I've just moved in and my cupboards are bare, I had to stock up on a lot of stuff. More stuff than I should have since I was riding a bike with only a small basket on the front and some bungee cord on the back to strap stuff down with. Somehow, I loaded everything on the bike. With the front basket piled high, my purse on one arm, and a bag hanging off one of the handles, I pedaled my way back to my apartment. I did really well - just a little wobbly here and there - until I tried to stop. Sure enough, the weight of my groceries overpowered my bike and my balance, and everything went toppling over in the middle of the street. In front of the playground with about five kids, whose laughter I distinctly heard as I scrambled to right myself and my bike. Luckily, my groceries weren't hit by any cars, and the only casualty was my eggs.

"Really, Did That Just Happen?" Moment of the Day:
So, after I dropped AND dropped off my groceries, I took my camera out around Fujieda. I stopped at shrine-looking place that had caught my eye when I first moved in. I'm not sure what it is - the first time I passed it, some men were sitting in one of the buildings, kind of looking like they might be having tea. I figure it's a shrine of some sort, with an area to cleanse with cups of water and another area to write down prayers. So, I was getting ready to walk into into the shrine to take some photos, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man - a NAKED man - running from the middle building to a small building on the right (I didn't actually take a photo of him, but I've made this helpful diagram so you can visualize what I'm talking about). I just kind of stood there, dumbfounded, and then quickly turned my head, realizing that I was holding a camera and starting to look much like a creeper at this point. By the time I looked back, the naked guy was righting himself and pretty much fully clothed. I have no idea what that was about - maybe there's some kind of public shower and tub for cleansing in one of the buildings. Even weirder was the fact that I saw him still kind of lurking around the area - still clothed - and when I turned to look at him, he hid behind a big statue. He must have been super embarrassed...or maybe he was a lurker who wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. But I mean, really...did that just happen?

And just the normal stuff...
I went to the used bookstore here in Fujieda that Jen told me about. It has an English section! Normally English books in Japan are super expensive. BUT this store has them cheap! I bought Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, The Cat Who Said Cheese, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and The Great Gatsby for 1100 yen (about $11.00). I am really excited about this store.

My apartment!

my bike, which I've decided to name "Popeye the Sailor Man"

It's coming along. I bought a really pretty wall hanging today for about $10.00, and I am planning on putting up a lot more photos from home.

Be sure to check out some more photos from my adventures today in Fujieda!