More about Doughboys!

Thanks to an alert reader, we now know more about doughboys!

From: Doughboy Center: The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces
For us today, and maybe for all Americans who will follow, the Doughboys were the men America sent to France in the Great War, who licked Kaiser Bill and fought to make the world safe for Democracy.
The expression doughboy, though, was in wide circulation a century before the First World War in both Britain and America, albeit with some very different meanings. Horatio Nelson's sailors and Wellington's soldiers in Spain were both familiar with fried flour dumplings called doughboys, the predecessor of the modern doughnut that both we and the Doughboys of World War I came to love. Because of the occasional contact of the two nation's armed force and transatlantic migration, it seems likely that this usage was known to the members of the U.S. Army by the early 19th century.
Independently, in the former colonies, the term had come to be applied to baker's young apprentices, i.e. dough-boys. Again, American soldiers probably were familiar with this usage. This version of doughboy was also something of a distant relative to "dough-head", a colloquialism for stupidity in 19th Century America. When doughboy was finally to find a home with the U.S. Army it would have a disparaging connotation, used most often by cavalrymen looking down [quite literally] on the foot-bound infantry.
In examining the evolution of doughboy these pre-existing streams of application need to be kept in mind. There is, however, an absence of literary citations clearly connecting either to the American miliary. Doughboy as applied to the infantry of the U.S. Army first appears, without any precedent that can be documented, in accounts of the Mexican-American War of 1846-47.
But wait, there's more!! For more information on the history  and origin of the "doughboy," visit this site


Catalina Island, California

My girlfriend Gilda and I took a catamaran out to Catalina Island today. We were prepared to pay $50 each for the roundtrip boat trip. Instead, a good samaritan gave us two free tickets as we waited in line. We will certainly pay it forward in the future. The ride out was a little bumpy, but nothing two water lovers couldn't handle.

Upon arrival to the island, we went to the bike rental shop and took out an 18-speed tandem bike to conquer the hills above Avalon. It turns out those are off limits for tandems, but we still had a whole day of exploring. I had ambitions of circumnavigating the island, but when I learned that the island is about 1/2 the size of LA, we decided to save that journey for another day (or week more like it!) It takes some coordination and communication to stay balanced on tandem bike. Good practice for couples!

We trudged up the gradual valley grade to the Wrigley Memorial Botanical Garden. Yup, the same person whose name graces the friendly confines of the Chicago Cubs. Turns out he owned the whole island during the 20s and into the 30s.

Then we coasted down the slope to the world famous Casino. It's no Monte Carlo, but the Casino is the landmark of Avalon. Gilda and I learned that the Casino on the island isn't a place of gambling, but just a meeting/entertaining place that is true to its definition in Italian.

We found some cozy cafes to enjoy tea, chai, cold french fries, buffalo burgers, and ice cream. Gilda and I both share the favorite flavor of butter pecan! Overall it was a very special day. A unique way to close out 2005: sharing a special moment with someone you love on an isolated island from the #2 metropolis in the USA. 2006 here we come!


A visit to my hometown

A visit to my hometown
A visit to my hometown,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
Yesterday I visited Naperville, Illinois. It is my hometown. This is a memorial to the "doughboys" of World War One. I don't know what a doughboy is. Maybe it is someone who went to fight in that war. This statue is right next to the train station, not the centre of town. Naperville has grown from 40,000 in 1983 when my family moved there from Venezuela to over 140,000 in 2005. It has been a fun week in the Chicago area. Today I fly to Los Angeles!


this is an audio post - click to play

Bed Head KGJH

Bed Head KGJH
Bed Head KGJH,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
This is the "in" style of haircut at school. Short hair gets texture with styling gel. In junior high I sculpted one side of my hair straight back while the other flopped over. Now I'm embarrassed about my lack of style back then. Will the "crazy bed heads" of Japan feel the same way? Check back to this blog in 2017 to find out!

A Snowy Kyoto Morning

A Snowy Kyoto Morning
A Snowy Kyoto Morning,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
A fresh white blanket... The morning sun slowly climbs... A clock is ticking


this is an audio post - click to play

Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District

Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District
Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
I visited the Japanese urban phenomenon of Dotombori tonight. I desparately needed to get out after a week of home-school-home and cold weather. There's nothing like neon lights to get you stimulated again! I went on a ferris wheel that surrounds a buiding here. It offers great views of the neon signs that line the pedestrian mall. I think the signs are so impressive because the streets are so narrow: the line of sight is so narrow, businesses keep moving up and up to get the best line of sight. The result is an exciting night out. However, I wouldn't want to live in this neighborhood. I'd never get any sleep!

Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District

Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District
Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.

Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District

Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District
Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.

Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District

Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District
Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.

Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District

Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District
Dotombori: Osaka's Neon District,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.

Finals at the Junior High

Right now its finals at the junior high. Reflecting the Japanese value
of group unity, students are organized into 45-member classes. They
travel from subject to subject with the same members of their class.
At finals, the entire grade of 180 students takes the same subject
test at the same time. Naturally the teacher of that subject cannot be
in 4 classrooms at once, so we have proctors in four classrooms and
the subject teachers stay in the faculty room. The subject teacher's
responsibility is to visit each classroom and see if the students have
any questions. Usually students' "questions" are covert attempts to
get outright answers. So far, I've been hip to their tricks. Because
my Japanese is not so good, I don't proctor the exams. Parents have
been concerned in the past that their child won't get the help they
need if the English teacher doesn't have the language to explain a
concept. I'd agree with them. Meanwhile, it makes for a slow day. But
it is nice to be on the other side of the test, where all my work is
done (except for grading) and the onus is on the students to perform.
Japanese classes don't have the discussion/interaction that American
classrooms do, so the teacher must take the floor for the entire class
period. Not my idea of learning, but I'm not here to change things.


I took this photo on the same roll as the tree child below. Many people love to take walks and see the fall foliage in the Imperial Gardens. Others read or share a moment with loved ones. This photo shows all three coming together. A couple flirts with a camera phone in the background. Is the single girl dreaming of someone as she reads? Is the older man remembering his youthful days of romance? A photograph inspires the video camera of the mind to take over. Each viewer directs the scene with their own memories and dreams.

Food, Finals, and Fun!

Its Wednesday again, but I'm going to spare you the details of the faculty meeting. Not that it was so bad or long, but just that it was unexpectedly short so there's nothing of consequence to rave or rant about.

Classes have finished and finals have started. Its my first time to be on the other end of finals. This time I'm making the test instead of taking it. So far I've learned that the days get less busy for teachers during finals. Proctors administrate the tests instead of the teachers themselves. This is because 4, 45-student classes take the test at the same time. My role is to check in halfway through and see if students have any questions. After the 45 minute test period, me and my co-teacher get 200 tests to hand grade. Now I see why teachers design multiple-choice tests to grade on Scan-Tron sheets: grading convenience! But it took me about 3 hours to grade 180 tests. Some multiple choice, some open entry. Enough of this testing mumbo-jumbo, let's get to some Japanese culture.

Winter is here! It snowed on Monday night, but it melted as it hit the road. I only noticed the snow from someone's shaded lawn in the morning. My heating unit is mounted about 8 feet up on my wall. I know the Japanese are excellent planners, but if hot air rises, there's not too much further for the heat to go before it lingers on the ceiling and escapes my cold feet. But then again there's another nifty invention called the こたつ"kotatsu" which is a blanket-rimmed coffee table with a heater underneath it. Talk about efficiently warm tootsies! So Yao Ming can enjoy my heater while I take the kotatsu! Meanwhile I'm wearing my Navy Pea Coat, skull cap, brown crusher, and woven scarf to ward off the winter cold. My students are wearing the thin coats of their uniforms and few other accoutrements. What are the Japanese eating to make their blood so thick? Don't tell me its 納豆 (nattoo, fermented soybeans). I don't think I'm ready for that yet. In Jamaica, all the kids tested my toughness by asking me if I eat "spring chicken" which I learned was frogs's legs. Considering that I'd eaten snake and rat in Benin, West Africa, I wouldn't rule out eating an amphibian. Nevertheless, I didn't eat frogs legs while in Jamaica. Here in Japan, its nattoo. I'm told you either love it or hate it. Either way, the smell is strong. Somedays I'm greeted with the smell as I enter the faculty room at school by a teacher who eats it at her desk which is adjacent to the entrance. So far I'm not enticed.

One thing I have gone out on a limb to try is 生卵 (nama tamago, raw egg with soy sauce and rice). I was introduced to it when I was WWOOFing it in the hills above Toyama. My hosts had a free-range organic chicken farm, so the eggs were fresh each day. I've been conditioned to believe that raw eggs carry salmonella or whatever, so at the time I was torn between trying something new and fearing repurcussions from it after. I balked at eating the nama tamago at the farm, but on Monday I took a free-range egg and cracked it over my steaming 嫌前(gen mae, brown rice), added some soy sauce, stirred it up, and wolfed it down. The egg is more of a binding agent than a flavor enhancer, so it didn't taste that bad. I'm not having it every night yet, but maybe again.

Okay, big tangent there. Sorry. It will be just two now before I fly Chicago for Christmas with the family. All the siblings are coming to Chicago to celebrate. I don't think we've been together for Christmas since 2002. Its been so long, I'm not even sure. But its certainly something to look forward to. The blogs will continue from Chicago. I think the reentry and pause moments of international living are just as insightful as the immersion ones. For example, I don't think I've learned a lot of Japanese over the past 4 months. But perhaps when I fly back to Japan on January 6th, I'll realize how much I know. And that goes for cultural insight too. I don't think I've grasped too much, but coming back again I'll get a new perspective. I will be missing one of the festive times of year: Christmas and New Years. Christmas in Japan is celebrated a little bit differently than in other countries. Perhaps next year.

In the next week, I'll try to take a trip into Osaka or somewhere else of cultural significance to have another story to tell you. Thanks for keeping in touch with me through the blog!


Enduring the marathon...meeting

Wednesdays mean faculty meetings at Kwansei Gakuin Junior High. Last week we were spared because it was a national holiday. I should have seen it coming: this week's was going to be long. 3 hours. In which I didn't say a word. And I understood about 10 words in the meeting. But I've learned a lot from these meetings nevertheless.

Earlier in the month I was getting perturbed when students would sleep in my class. But then I realized that I sleep during these faculty meetings when the principal is talking and he doesn't get his feathers all ruffled up.

Tonight a few teachers discussed an issue for an hour of the 3 hour meeting. It was whether to have the school Christmas parties by class or by house. At our school, each grade is divided into 4 45-student classes. Students move from subject to subject, learning with the same class of students all day long. Houses integrate the grades and classes. But the students do less activities with this group. So teachers were discussing the merits of spending more time in houses or classes. None of the teachers got heated in the discussion, just animated with smiles and a series of points. In the end, the principal said a few comments and the bilingual teacher next to me told me that a concensus had been reached: students would have their party by house.

So I've learned that meetings involving everyone, participated in by fewer, serves to put everyone on the same page of all the issues of the school. I think this helps the management style where there are few people with executive authority on school issues and more people with partial responsibility in a lot of roles at school.

I've changed browsers to compose this post and found that the hotlink option has resurfaced. So now my blogs can get more interesting with some links. I'd like to link you to a fellow English teacher whom I know from Concordia Language Villages. Erinn Groeltz is a JET teacher on the island of Shikoku. Check out her blog here. She seems a little more embedded to the community with her language skills and prior study of Japan. Enjoy!


Virtual Daydreaming 2

I just discovered that my blog commentary on the picture below posted
to flickr instead of this blog. So here's what I wrote so you can see
them together on this page:

Isn't this a fantastic shot? My friend Nathan said it was something
out of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" where martial artists run up
bamboo trees waving in the wind. Actually it is a little girl in a
maple tree in the Imperial Garden of Kyoto. She was put up there by
her father for a photo op, but I captured it too. Like something out
of a dream... that's what I've been feeling like for the past week.

Wednesday was Labor Day here. We got the day off from school. Thursday
was Thanksgiving in the USA, so I called up my expat friends Nathan
and Leon to make a meal of it. I'd heard that the Sheraton Kobe was
offering a Thanksgiving Buffet on Wednesday. Nathan came 3 hours by
train and Leon came down from his mountain apartment to Rokko Island
for the meal. It was touted as a Thanksgiving buffet by the American
coordinator for the hotel. So we had some assumptions about the menu.
As we walk to our table, past the buffet, we can't spot the chef with
cutlery in hand to carve a turkey under heat lamps. No yams, mashed
potatoes. Nothing. Well, not nothing. But nothing familiar to
Thanksgiving. It looks just like a pan-Asian cuisine. We ask the
waiter. "Oh, that's for dinner." Great. So much for delivering a taste
of home to my friends. The waiter comes back and says cryptically,
"they're preparing the turkey now." Leon interpreted that to mean,
"for dinner." But finally the waiter gestures over towards the buffet.
We see it. Arranged in slices like silver dollars are "turkey with
cranberry sauce." This the sole Thanksgiving item in the buffet. We
laugh it off and get 4 plates of food by the end of the meal. So we
got our money's worth for the buffet, but not what our stomachs were

I haven't been forthcoming with my blogs on schedule because school
has been getting quite intense over the past two weeks. Finishing up
the term. I have been working hard to leave my lesson planning at
school so that I can enjoy an evening at home without more work to get
back to. I finally did that on Thursday and felt on top of the world.
That feeling lasted until Friday morning when I neglected something in
the lesson plan and threw my co-teacher and students for a loop when I
deviated from the LP to fit it in. That sent me into a spiral of
frustration that I only got out of Saturday evening. Perhaps it was
exacerbated by lack of sleep during this week when I've been staying
late at work and then staying up late at home.

Staying up late at home has been induced by my love for technology and
gadgetry. I have recently become more interested in podcasting because
I have found out it is possible for me to produce a podcast almost for
free. So I've been surfing the web learning how to do it and testing
out software applications to do it. I don't have much of an angle for
a show right now: there's already EFL teachers in Japan with a
podcast. In due time, I'll have something. I just need to get on top
of my teaching first.

And the countdown clock has begun for my Christmas return to the
States. So I think that is making me think of places anywhere but
here. However, nowness is a good quality. I need to be focused on the
now instead of worrying/longing for the future. That will take care of
itself. Thanks for reading and I'll be back next week!

Virtual Daydreaming

Virtual Daydreaming
Virtual Daydreaming,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.


The restaurant less eaten by

Two restaurants lined up on a street... so begins the poem by Robert
Frost. Oh wait, maybe I have my facts wrong. But if Mr. Frost visited
Japan with me, he may have written that line. After working late at
school, I decided to eat out because by the time I could have made
something at home it would have been bedtime.

So I decided to go to my usual ramen shop. I'm trying to be a
connoisseur of ramen while I'm in Japan but I haven't gotten to far
afield in the noodle shops around my own town. Just this one on the
street across the train tracks, the school cafeteria, and the Nissen
instant noodles. Yes, I admit to eating instant noodles in Japan where
I can get fresh ones. But I thought the instant noodles would be
better than the 10¢ ones that slowly kill you with preservatives in
the powdered broth that starving grad students eat back in the States.
These instant noodles came in a nice looking package and they did have
a tantalizing piece of dried pork and radish in them, but after the
boiling water soaked the noodles, they were the same as the 10¢ kind
back home. But I'm totally going on a tangent to my open story.

There's a red lantern restaurant next to the ramen shop. I asked my
friend and teacher mentor Aki what kind of restaurants are those with
these lanterns and drapes that keep passers-by from peering in. Aki
says these are the local watering holes where people go for good
times. Don't think Cheers! with Cliff Claven and Sam Malone, but just
a low key restaurant where people can relax and drink and eat. Well,
I'm not much of a drinker but I decided: what the heck?!

As soon as I slid open the door, there was a sudden pause in the sound
and activity of the restaurant. It about as big as a reception room,
not a sweeping Denny's or anything. All 8 people stared at me without
a sound as I entered. Immediately I knew this would be a wonderful
dining experience. They didn't expect a foreigner to come to their
tucked away place. I had found someplace special. The proprietor moved
around some regulars at the bar so that I could sit alone and watch
Japan vs. Brazil women's volleyball. I took a menu and could read half
of all of it. That means that I could read the hiragana/katakana
syllables that come after verbs and foreign words but not the complex
kanji for the main ingredients.

So I went to strategy "B": sore wa nan desu ka? What is that? I
pointed to my neighbor's dish and asked. He didn't even know. He had
to ask his buddy from whom he'd been separated since my arrival. He
said something that I didn't even understand. The point isn't to
understand, its to establish some interest and interaction. Then I
pointed to a sizzling pancake of diced vegetables, noodles, and
mayonnaise. Okonomiyaki. My girlfriend Gilda says that Hiroshima and
Kansai are famous for their okonomiyaki, so I knew that I had to try
it. The chef asks me if I want seafood or beef. Well, I only picked up
beef but I saw someone else getting seafood so I'll have to try that
next time.

Cutting food with chopsticks is difficult, but it can be done. Even
beef doesn't stand a chance with my hashi cutting skills. A successful
dinner. I overcame fear of something new and potentially not delicious
and found a fun place with helpful people and delicious food. I chose
the restaurant less eaten by, and that has made all the difference!


Mother and Child

Mother and Child
Mother and Child,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
Nara. In addition to the Todai-ji temple, there is another other sacred attraction in Nara. Deer. What you can't see in this photo are about 6 deer poking for position to get the crumbs of food from the child in her mother's arms. The deer are considered sacred here so I don't think the population is "controlled" like I'm familiar with in the States. Instead, the deer are fed by all the visitors. They become quite aggressive to the tourists, but that's part of the excitement of visiting Nara.

I like to take this kind of candid photograph of normal people where ever I travel. These two were a good subject. Many families come to Nara to learn about the roots of Japanese culture. The city provided me with insights as well.

Todai-ji Temple

Todai-ji Temple
Todai-ji Temple,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
For some Buddhists in Japan, this is a sacred destination. For me last Wednesday, it was also my destination though for less holy of a reason. I wanted to see if I could fit through Buddha's nostril and receive enlightenment. Todai-ji houses a statue of Buddha that is probably 10 stories high. So accessing the nostrils is no easy task. And can you believe that the supervising monks won't let you climb up to try? ;) So where did I get this cocka-mamey idea to fit through Buddha's nostril? Well, the guide book. And they have carved a hole through one of the huge pillars in the temple that is supposed to be the same size as Buddha's nostril. Thanks to so many people who have gone before me, the hole in the wood was quite smooth and perhaps a little bigger than when it was first cut. So I put my arms over my head and wiggled through. On the other end, I felt a little light-headed so I guess that's as close to enlightenment as I'll come on this effort!

Atomic Bomb dome

Atomic Bomb dome
Atomic Bomb dome,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
October 10: Hiroshima. This blog entry is out of chronological order, but I want to post more pictures. Here I am in front of the Exhibition Hall which was very near ground zero when the bomb exploded overhead. Ironically, because it was directly beneath the bomb, its location helped it to remain somewhat intact because the force of the explosion did not blow it over.

Looking at the modern buildings in the far background, you wouldn't know that Hiroshima had been totally decimated from the bomb. There was a lot of desire by people to move on from the painful memories of the bomb and destroy any reminders of it. But those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This hollow building is a reminder so that we never forget nor repeat what happened in Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.


Fresh out of my journal from Toyama

On my way to Toyama to wwoof (willing workers on organic farms) it with a chicken farm family. My day started at 5:20 with a hodge podge breakfast and full reading of the Bible lesson. I walked to Kotoen Station to get the bus to JR Nishinomiya station. The bus filled up with businessmen and suddenly it was a packed ride for 20 minutes. I was part of the morning commute. I got there 12 minutes before my train was to leave. The idea of scheduling busses and regular commuter trains to coordinate with each other would be unheard of in the USA. Busses and light rail trains "come when they come". Here you set your watch by the train. I boarded with my backpack in front so as not to hit anyone like when I went to Hiroshima. I stood with the crowed of grey and black suits, looking out the window as silver haired businessmen slept in their seats.

For the land of the rising sun, I haven't been impressed with the colors of the sunrise or sunset so far. Often the mornings are hazy and the sun just appears after the haze blows off a bit. The sun sets quickly and without display over the West mountains. There is some dark pastel glow to the twilight and dawn - I have appreciated that. But its almost as if the sun is too busy to linger around to dance with the clouds and shoot its radiant beams into the fields and alleys of Japan's cities.

We pulled into Osaka station and I knew that I had a quick transfer to Toyama. Fortunately there wre conspicuous signs in Roomaji to guide me. I walked up and down the platform trying to find where my car would be. I asked a conductor and he pointed to these signs suspended parallel to the tracks. Thunderbird was the nickname of the train to Toyama. So I found track #3 and waited there. The train was 10 minutes early - what the? But it would wait until 7:12 before departing. It was an empty train but my seat was reserved in the very front by the window. No tray table to write on and no room to stretch my legs but I have what I need. The train pulls out and I watch the urban phenomenon of Osaka pass me by. I try to read some Kana on the buildings. I snuggle up with my scarf and Paul Simon to catch up on my reduced sleep from the night before. Almost no one is in the car until Kyoto when a lot of people get on, including an elderly couple just across the aisle from me. The man seems kind of out of it, his wife giving him direction where to sit, then switching with him as she sits next to another lady. He stares out the window, dressed in a grey suit. Later he reads his newspaper. I wonder about his life story: when he retired from the corporation, if he was alive during WWII, heck maybe he fought in the war. Now things change so fast that he is out of it. Then I start writing my thoughts. Now I wonder what to say to my farmer hosts. I'd better brush up on some survival Japanese!

11:17 a.m. Now I'm in Toyama and will be for another 75 minutes because I missed the train that left 5 minutes after I arrived. Once again, I'm not used to the tight connections. I assumed that I had to exit the JR system and buy another ticket to Yatsuo station. Wrong. For future reference, just stay in the JR system and adjust the fare when you finally get out. And don't waste your time buying an unreserved ticket in advance when there's no advantage to it. This is probably what made you miss the train. Also, you assumed there'd be one every 15 minutes. Well, this is not Kansai. The 10:27 a.m. train was the last for two hours. They came hourly. So I pay my dues once again. Then I was confused because I called the Hashimotos cell thinking I had done my duty to inform her but I assumed that she would call the intern who was to pick me up at the station. Wrong. So at 11 a.m. I get a call "where are you?" I'm so confused because I don't know the name of whom I spoke to on the cell and now the back up plans are confused. Hopefully country folks will be more forgiving.

I made the 12:30 p.m. train and Mr. Hashimoto picked me up. I immediately apologized but he seemed to jump right into greeting. I said a few things in Japanese: no boots, what river, and nice weather as we drove off but then realized that I should value the silence of the moment adn take in the expanded beauty as we drove further into the mountains. The roads got narrower and narrower adn the mountain views more beautiful. As the single lane paved road began to crumble. I thought that it looked a lot like the rural parts of Jamaica as bamboo grew along hillsides. I suppose there's two more steps to remoteness: two-track and no road. But it is still pretty bush here and I can tell my thinking is far away from teh worries and stress of Nishinomiya. Mr. Hashimoto welcomed me in, showed me my room, and introduced me to another wwoofer who was Japanese. We had tea, arranged afternoon work schedule and then set off a bilingual discussion. We rest until 2 p.m. then start work. Naps in Japan? Where am I?

At work, I shovel chicken feed, counted and collected eggs, cleaned eggs and packaged them. Had more social time with Japanese peers today than all previous two months. Had my ofuro (bath) and read until dinner. This will be a great opportunity to strengthen and enlargen vocabulary. Chicken curry was the hot dish with plenty of cold vegetable accoutrements and sashimi. I gave omiyage (souvenirs from USA) and called it a night. Oh and I read the vista's journal. All the comments are very positive and grateful. That's a good sign.


Just a quick note

Well, I'm finally back on the Internet. I don't have much time to
write now, but stay tuned for this weekend when I'll write to you
about my two trips this week to Toyama and Nara. Get our your atlas
and look those cities up. They're still in central Japan but were
fresh new views for me. Thanks for all of your correspondence and
patience with me as I get more fully entrenched here in the land of
the rising sun.


Its about time!

Sorry that I haven't written a post for almost two weeks. And this one will have to be short. I lost my Internet connection at home. Its a long story but let's just say that now I have to start paying for it instead of picking up wifi waves freefloating in the air! This week is Boonkasai. Culture Festival. It debuts on Thursday but the students have been planning for it for months. There are no classes today. This morning we had a choreographed operation where all the students moved the desks out of their classrooms and into storage rooms to free up space for displays. Now the boys are practicing for the intraschool choir concert which is tomorrow. Each grade is divided into 4 houses of 45 boys. Each house will compete against the other.
On Thursday, the public will be invited to the school to view what each club has prepared for the festival. Our English club did a survey of how people connect emotions to colors. I added a cross-cultural element by translating the survey (with my students' help of course) into English and giving it to the English teachers and maybe some of you readers! One of the interesting differences was that English speakers associate yellow with cowardice while Japanese do not.
Thanks to those of your who have written comments to me about my blog through the link on the right. With this design template, I don't have the link to write a comment through blogger. But if you click on "send me an email" you can email me a comment at my school account.
This weekend I will be going to work on a farm in Toyama which is north of the Kansai region on the Sea of Japan. It will probably be cold and rainy, but from what I can tell through my correspondence with the host family, they are warm and caring. I can't wait to tell you about it! Thanks for reading!


Hiroshima Day Trip

This week's blog is coming to you a little late because I was working very hard on preparing a lesson for my Saturday class. It was based on a Friends episode; I had to break down the dialogue to teach my students something about comparatives and superlatives (-er and -est). So I was working on that from wednesday night through Saturday morning. I think one's first year of teaching is always so labor intensive because the teacher is creating lesson for the first time. After the first year, a teacher can recycle the lessons or revise them a bit more, thereby working a bit less in the evenings. I feel like I'm keeping grad student hours still: classes in the day and homework at night.

Today I went shopping at the big train station shopping center. I wondered what it would be like to run into some of my students. Presto! I walk out of the center to go to the library and three boys walk towards me with surprised faces. I guessed they went to my school because they recognized me, but I didn't recognize them. In Japanese, I told them I was shopping. Then I asked what they were doing. Studying, they said with empty hands and burdenless backs. Really? I said confusedly because Sunday is the only day off they get each week and I figured that they would want to hang out. So I asked where they were going. The library. Oh, yes. The library is this way. So I used another phrase I knew in Japanese, "let's go" ikimashou! We walk together for a bit. One of the boys says, "third year students, right? blah blah blah Murakami-kun (the name of one of my students)." Then the boys start to walk faster as they go up the escalator. I figure they don't want to be seen with their teacher and are wondering why he's really going with them.

They told me the library was on the 6th floor, but it was actually on the 5th floor. So I was a bit embarrassed to go up to the 6th floor only to find a cram school (juku) up there. Oh, so I guess they were studying after all. Then Murakami-kun arrives just as I'm going down the down escalator. I foolishly run back up the escalator to greet my student. He looks different somehow... his eyes are blue! I point to his eyes and say, "they're blue"! "Oh, they're contact lenses." Murakami-kun is a fun student who doesn't seem to work hard. He is always exploding with laughter, is very polite and a leader in his class. But he always seems to fall asleep in class or do anything else in class than pay attention. Definitely an interesting character that will likely pop up in my blog in the future.

Anywhoo, I still haven't gotten to the highlight of my week and the subject of this blog entry: Hiroshima! It seems like weeks ago, but it was just 6 days, that I went to Hiroshima on the bullet train (shinkansen) with a group of students visiting from India on an exchange program. They were 7th, 8th, and 9th graders from Modern School VV in New Dehli: boys and girls. Our school is an all-boys school, so it was a nice change to interact with a co-ed crowd that spoke a variety of English. Indian English is similar to American English with a few differences in stress and vocabulary. Such as "shifted". Indians use this word like Americans mean, "moved". It took me a while to understand one of the boys talking about how their family shifted around the country before their father took a job in Dehli.

The day started out like a borderline racist joke: an Indian, a Japanese, and an American get into a taxi. But the racism ends there. The chaperone from the Indian school, my Japanese supervisor and I took a taxi, 2 trains, and a subway just to get to the Shinkansen station. My English department head who accompanied us to the station said that Japanese public transportation is very comprehensive, but one must transfer many times to arrive at their final destination. En route, we met some of the Indian students. They were all very talkative and excited for their trip. They would be in the country for a little over a week, so they wouldn't be inclined to know all of the cultural norms of daily life in Japan. Like the ticket booths at the train station. They all packed through with one ticket, while the Japanese go through one at a time and take their ticket out every time. There would be sprinklings of this kind of confusion during the rest of the day, but nothing that would interfere with a fun time for everyone.

In retrospect, it was a big effort to make a day trip to Hiroshima, 2 hours away by shinkansen. To do it, we had to keep moving all the time. Few of us were able to find the time to buy a souvenir. The Indian students were used to a slower pace of touring, and I don't blame them. But our Japanese teacher hosts were constantly coralling us to keep up, cross the street during the blinking "don't walk" sign and see the Peace Museum in 25 minutes.

We had reserved seats in the "silence car" of the shinkansen, but 10 Indian junior students are anything but silent! They chatted for an hour and then I began to get antsy that we were disturbing other passengers. I brought along some Origami paper to teach the students the story of Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes. Why not at 200 km/hr? When I showed them the crane and asked if they wanted to learn how to make it, they all quieted down and took their seats. The other Indian chaperone came back from the front of the car to find out what happened. Whew, a relief. Most of the children had heard the story of Sadako and were excited at the opportunity to lay their cranes at the Children's Monument in Hiroshima Peace Park.

We arrived in Hiroshima, on time of course, and walked from the station to Hiroshima Castle. The boys were entralled by the carp. Vashan, the oldest boy, was quite the repository of knowledge and began to tell the others why carp have certain colors. We had lunch there. It was interesting to see the Indian kids eat their obento (honorable boxed lunches) packed by their Japanese host mothers. Are you veg? They'd ask me before pleading that I should eat their ham sandwich. I bought a rice ball and tuna pocket sandwich at the conbini (convenience store) in the train station, but I could have just gleaned off the unwanted food of the students.

We moved on to the Hiroshima Peace Park. Before I knew it, the Atomic Bomb Dome was right in front of me. I was standing almost in the exact spot where the Nuclear Age began. It was a strange feeling. Until recently, I thought the United States was justified in dropping the bomb(s) because it avoided a US invasion and "saved 10s of 1000s of American lives". But then I read an that changed my thought. How can you put a label on one life as good and another bad. American lives or Japanese lives? ALL are precious. Before I left the USA, I saw a documentary about Japan's nuclear program during WWII. I'm not saying this to justify the USA using it first, but just to give a wider perspective about the development of nuclear weapons around the world at that time.

We attended a lecture by one of the survivors of the bomb. She recounted where she was, what life was like immediately and gradually after the bomb hit. Later she told us about the other people she had met around the world who had been affected by the nuclear industry: atoll residents hits by testing radiation, uranium miners who infected their families by bring home a souvenir from the mine. Finally, she took us on a tour of the major monuments of the Peace Park. There are about 60 monuments, so we didn't have time to see them all.

We came back to see the Peace Museum, but only had 25 minutes. In the museum was some of the most impressive evidence I've seen about the impact of the bomb. I learned more about the USA's premeditation to study the effects of the bomb. the USA removed potential A-bomb target cities from the firebombing list so they could study the A-bomb's impact. They set up a research hospital in Hiroshima after the explosion where they took in patients, recorded data, but didn't give them any palliative medicine. I could be wrong about that last detail, but that was my impression.

At our deadline to return to the shinkansen station, we were all very tired and thirsty. I ran ahead with some boys to get some drinks. Then we ran again to catch up with the rest of the group that passed us. We were relieved to take the tram back to the eki (train station) instead of walking. We arrived with plenty of time to line up for the Shinkansen. It waits for no one, so we had to be ready to board immediately when it stops.

One the way back were were seperated because it was the end of a three day weekend (Oct 10, sports day, when the Tokyo Olympics opened in 1964) so everyone was coming home. I sat in the smoking car (yes, they still exist here) with a few other boys. We did Origami on the way home.

But the evening doesn't end there. We went to an Indian restaurant near Kobe. The kids were so excited to have familiar food (which they complimented as very good even in India). It was a bit exotic to me, but I tried to eat everything because that's what's polite in Japan. But not in India. There its polite to leave food on the table/plate because the scraps will feed the animals, less privileged people, etc. Wow, I was stuffed with food, memories, and excitement for one day. It was a great tour, even if a bit rushed. Thanks for reading so far. I'll see you next week!



This week's title comes from some close encounters that I've had with students. Before I came to Japan, I understood that physical contact like hugging and other things intentional were off-limits. So I was very surprised when one of my 9th grade students poked me in the butt during the passing period! I told him never to do that again, but I was afraid of saying anything more because his English and my Japanese were both quite poor. So I asked my cultural confidant, Aki, what the deal-io was here. He said that it was a sign that the boys like me, but not a sexual advance as it might be interpreted in the States. Yes, that kind of touching shouldn't happen between teachers and students. But the best thing I could do is not to react. That would encourage them to keep doing it.

So the next day, I'm more relaxed about it. As I'm passing through the aisle between desks in class before class starts, another student taps me in the groin! Immediately I hold his hands to his side and tell him, "keep your hands to yourself" as he grins and I try to hold back a grin at how strange and absurd this behavior seems to me. To give you some more context to what is going on here, I need to tell you that I teach at a private, Christian, boys junior high school. So I guess that you could call it a bit of a bubble. During the days the boys are pal-ing around with arms around shoulders, horsing around, etc. Now that this happened to me, I'm more aware of how its going on everywhere.

Now I'm not telling you this to embarrass anyone. Its just a story about cross-cultural relations. Even some of the solid stereotypes about a culture don't hold up when you live in a specific sub-culture of it. So I guess that's what I'm in right now. All bets are off and I've got to approach school with an even more open mind!

This past weekend I was a teacher/counselor at an English Camp that we held for the 7th grade boys here. We had about 6 hours of English content and the rest of the program and cultural cues were Japanese. Not exactly an immersion environment, but I definately saw the boys warming up to speaking English outside of the classroom. I'm supposed to write my suggestions and observations for revisions. My duties at school are progressively increasing, so there's a danger of that report getting stuck under the in-box pile.

The camp was held at the retreat property of Kwansei Gakuin in the mountains northwest of Nishinomiya. We slept in traditional Japanese cabins with reed mats, paper windowshades and room dividers. I slept on a futon. It certainly was an experience, but I didn't get a lot of sleep! This may take some getting used to. I was impressed with the open space of the cabin despite its small size. I had the same feeling when I visited Nijo Castle last week. Here is this huge palace inside the forbidding walls, and there is nothing in the rooms! Where do they put all the stuff for running the territory? Tables, files, weapons? All that was in the rooms were the tatami mats, staggered shelves, and wall paper. Perhaps the important thing to see is the architecture and art on the walls, so they present it like a real estate open house. Or maybe I'm missing something cultural here and there really isn't supposed to be anything in these rooms but the art of open space.

This Monday, I will go to Hiroshima with a group of Indian students visiting our school on an exchange program. I'm debating on whether to buy a digital camera this weekend to document it or wait until the next paycheck. I'll see if I can get digital scans of my film pictures. Thanks for reading and look forward to highlights of my daytrip to Hiroshima next Thursday.


Published. Sort of.

This is just a short entry because my weekly blog night is Thursday. A letter to the editor that I wrote to The Christian Science Monitor was published today! Here is my letter. Here is the article I responded to. I wrote about English morphology and variation, which the newspaper reporter thought was bringing the English language downhill.

Things at school are picking up. I'm preparing my first midterm and designing two classes that I'll teach by myself with 25 students after midterms. Wish me luck. I'll be back tomorrow. Mata!



originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
Here is a picture of me in front of Nijo Castle in Kyoto. What you see behind me is just a small part of the fortified grounds of the castle. There's an inner moat and an outer moat to keep enemies from getting near the Shogun. If an enemy manages to get inside the palace, all of the flooring is rigged with "Nightengale" wood that has squeaky boards and nails to allow samurais to track the intruder. Neat, eh?


Getting out of town

I went to Kyoto on Sunday. This was my first big trip out of town if you don't include my brief coffee rendezvous in Kobe with the friend of friend. I just got my first paycheck on Thursday, so now I was free to travel at my leisure. I have to say that the first substantial paycheck in two years feels pretty good. Now I can go shopping at the grocery store and not have to rack my noggin for 5 minutes on which jar of peanut butter has a lower cost/ounce because I'm nickel and diming my way through grad school. So anywhoo, I hop on an early train because I'm trying to make it to the Christian Science Society in Kyoto by 10. I catch an express train in Osaka to Kyoto. I'm thinking, "oh, express. Great this will get me there lickety split." Little did I know that there are like 4 levels of express on the Hankyu line. Express, rapid express, limited express, and super express. So my express is pretty much the local one. By the time I get to Kyoto, church has already started. I take the subway there and arrive 1/2 way through the service. It was nice to meet some Christian Scientists in the area, that spiritual support when one is away from home is important.

After the service, I walked down to the Imperial Gardens. The Imperial Palace is closed on weekends, so I just walked around. You actually need to apply in advance with a passport for some of the buildings on the grounds, so I'll have to work on that.

Now I haven't splurged all my money from my paycheck yet, but I have bought a few essential things that I've been doing without for the past month. Keitai, or cell phones, have a lot of features over here. Seeing as though I am basically illiterate to text message in Kanji and don't have too many people to chat with for hours on end, I decided to go for the basic pre-paid keitai. I'm telling this because I used the camera feature to take some pictures of the Imperial Gardens and Nijo-jo (castle) on my trip. But, I still haven't figured out how to send the pictures from my phone to my computer. So you'll have to use your imagination or the link at the top to get an idea of where I went.

Tonight I had Japanese class. We studied adjectives tonight. Fortunately, our teacher is tri-lingual (Japanese, Chinese, and English) and most of the class is either from China or speaks English. But still, our class is mostly in Japanese. Our teachers uses big and simple pictures to teach new vocabulary. I'm scrambling to write in hiragana and pop my head up to get the new words. By the end of class I have a page and a half full of new vocab to memorize for next week. I'm trying to make use of my commute time (by foot, 10 minutes) to read some flashcards. I honed my skill in reading while I walk during high school, so I'm pretty much the best walk reader that I know of. (echos of Napolean Dynamite there. Thanks Gilda.)

Things at school are going well. This weekend we have English camp for the first year students. Just 24 hours. I'm not sure we'll have any breakthroughs, but at least introduce them to the environment of being surrounded by another language. Our school has two exchanges with schools in India and California each year. The Indian students are coming next week. Perhaps that will be the topic of next week's blog. Thanks for your comments, conversation is the best way to tell a story for me anyway. Ja mata ne! (See you later!)


A little taste of home

This week's blog is about getting more settled in around here. I am
starting to establish a routine for leaving for work, bedtime, and
when to do certain errands. Perhaps that sounds to wimpy for a world
traveller to have a routine, but it does simplify some things in life
while others are still very complex and not yet understood. I feel
like I've passed the honeymoon phase of cultural adjustment and the
long-term contact with Japan is setting in. The Japanese classes have
helped because I need the confidence that langauge instruction
provides for trying new things with the language. I don't speak too
much Japanese at school because my students expect me to speak
English, most of the faculty speaks enough English to convey important
information, and the Japanese English teachers enjoy the practice. So
that leaves my personal time to get outside of the house and practice

The apartment unit that I have here is spacious even by American
standards. Granted its a one-bedroom, but I haven't lived in one so
big before. So, I don't need to get out of the house to overcome
clostrophobia or anything. But I should. Yet there's the written
language barrier that I reach every time. Perhaps you know that
there's 3 writing systems in Japanese: Hiragana and Katakana
(syllabaries, one for Japanese words the former for foreign words) and
Kanji (ideagraphs of Chinese origin that are much more complex to
write). To make it even harder, each Kanji has one word for its
pronunciation and another word for its meaning. Are you confused yet?
Now you know how I feel! Now don't get me wrong, I think the Japanese
have got a great thing going here. It condenses the information into a
smaller package so one can write a lot more to the page. But the
buy-in for new learners is costly.

I think the most challenging thing with Kanji is that there is no 1-1
relationship with English words or a way of alphabetizing the Kanji
characters so one can use a bilingual dictionary to look up the
unknown Kanji. I think various people have tried to systematize Kanji
into a dictionary, but they all weigh 15 pounds so its hard to put it
in the pocket for easy reference on the street. After all this, I
certainly have more empathy for illiterate people in America who have
to verbalize everything to understand what's going on as well as hope
that nothing out of the ordinary happens that one would need to read
to set it straight again.

But I digress from the homey feeling theme of this blog entry. So
after Japanese class tonight I fould an oasis: Mister Donut. Back in
California I didn't belly-up to Winchel's or Dunkin' Donut on a daily
basis with the Po-lice. But I do enjoy the occaisional indulgence in a
donut as my dad can vouch from our evening Krispy Kreme runs. "The
light is on!" So there's a Mister Donut in the mall where my Japanese
classes take place. I went there after class with my Indonesian
classmate. Donuts are about 100 Yen a piece and we had hot tea with
ours. I don't think the USA's Mr. Donuts (the only one I knew was in
Alton, IL during college) has complete tea sets at their
establishments, but in Japan its the basic level of service. I enjoyed
the familiar taste as I fumbled with an unfamiliar lingua franca in
order to communicate with my Indonesian friend.

The moral of this blog is: the more I get out, the more I find a taste
of home. I think I'm still hungry though...


Kidnapped. Sort of.

I slept in because it was Saturday and did some tidying up. I knew I had to get to school at some point during the day and figured that noon would be a good time to get out of the house by. So I'm walking to school and all of a sudden a friend of mine from Japanese class honks her horn and pulls over. Get in she says. Ok, well I figure she wants to talk to me about the dinner she invited me over for today. We start driving. Oh, she's gonna give me a ride to school a few blocks away. We turn around. Uh, what's going on? I ask her what time exactly dinner was. 12 o'clock she says in Japanese. Oh, that would explain why she's taking me away from school. Remember I told you that I'd pick you up at school, she says. Oh yea. That was in my email from her after class on Thursday. Yea, should have read that a little more carefully.

But I'm glad that my intuition served me well enough to avoid missing her party. So now I'm in the car, going someplace I don't know and didn't plan on. I guess you could call that kidnapped. But I just forgot about this social event. We talk in Japanese and broken English has we go back to her house. My Indonesian friend from Japanese class married a Japanese man about 13 years ago, she has two children and lives in a nice house on a hill overlooking the whole town of Nishinomiya. I play with her kids as she makes some Indonesian food. She prepares some shishkabobs and tells her daughters to fan the charcoal on the grill. We get the coals pretty hot and put the grill on. A little too hot. We burned about half of the shishkabobs. I learned the Japanese word for bitter, "negai" or something like that. But the rice noodles were delicious.

More friends come over. 5. They're Indonesians from Kyoto, Nara, Osaka. I thought they all knew my friend from class but only one of them did. The rest knew one other person but they all were talking and joking like old friends. One of them spoke some English so he interpreted every once in a while. We talked about Indonesian geography, history, our impressions of Japan. I tried to be polite, felt a little stiff because I took seriously the joking and flirting that they were kidding about. But chalked up this experience to observation of culture.

I got a ride home when some of the guests had to catch their train home. Phew. I got to school and was seen by a few teachers, so I didn't get thought of as avoiding school. Next time, I'll check the details and bring them with me!


A Clarification

I got a nice comment from an anonymous visitor "Sarah" who wanted to
know what I meant by this quote from my Sept 10 blog:

We talked about the bad rap that English teachers get in Japan from
those who have no empathy or clue about cross-cultural differences.

I think the last part of the sentence was ambiguous. Sorry. What I
meant was that some English teachers who teach in Japan aren't very
sensitive to the fact that there are cultural differences in the
classroom and on the street betweeen Americans and Japanese. This
frustrates the insensitive English teachers and they may act on this
frustration in inappropriate ways. Instead of seeing behaviours, such
as hesitancy to speak in class or ask a question of the teacher during
class, as wrong, they should see them as different. That way, the
visitor to Japan can begin to see that culture is like an iceberg: you
only see 10% of its mass on the surface, the majority of the cultural
force behind a surface behavior is deep below.

I know that adjusting to a new culture can be frustrating for anyone.
I don't want to judge those whom I am stereotyping at the moment. I
just want to encourage those who are planning to or currently live
abroad to hone their cross-cultural skills to the point where his/her
awareness of cultural issues may trigger the hunch that, "maybe
something cultural is going on here and I shouldn't take offense to
the behavior until I learn more about it."

From my experience so far (2.5 weeks!) of living in Japan, I find that
well-educated English teachers are paid well and the country has many
technological and infrastructural features that match or surpass the
USA. But just to come here for the bucks or the gadgets would be like
going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, not giving a donation
for admission in order to save $, use the cloth towels and touchless
faucets in the restroom, and leave. This country is rich in cultural
artifacts, behavior, and language; I intend to get beneath its surface
before I leave here, whenever that is.


First day of teaching

My first day of teaching at KG (short for Kwansei Gakuin) was a great
introduction to a Japanese junior high classroom. Because our school
is a private school, I'm assuming that we have a bit more funding and
freedom to design classrooms with more technology. I taught
conversation with my co-teacher, Ms. Thrasher (or Thrasher-sensei as I
may throw in with my Jenglish at times). So we conduct class in the
AVLL (audio-visual language lab) which has typical headsets,
microphones, and control panels at each desk. I say typical because I
used a similar system in college, but nothing remotely close to this
in JH. And atypical, to my experience at least, is TV monitors for
every two students that are close-circuited to a device that takes a
picture of your handout. Sort of like an OHP display for each table.
There were all sorts of buttons that I didn't want to touch for fear
of discombobulating the entire system.
Today's goal was to introduce my role in the class, facilitating one
on one conversations. Yes, I will conduct approximately 190 2-minute
interviews with all the 9th grade boys. The junior high contains three
grades, 7-9. But today I was just introducing the idea. I created a
detailed handout about the procedure, format, grading criteria, and
success tips for the conversations. My master's degree has informed me
of a lot of issues for testing students, so I think I wanted to be
forthright and fair with the students, even if they aren't aware of
all these things.
As for the actual procedure of friday's class, Ms. Thrasher (a
bilingual, bicultural teacher with American father and Japanese
mother) had a well-organized system of randomly assigning a new
seating chart. The students were trying Survivor tactics (outsmart,
outplay) to predict where their number tag would show up on the
seating chart so they could plan to sit by a friend. All were
disappointed. But they laughed anyway.
Then it was my turn to go over the handout. In retrospect maybe a
more creative approach would have kept their attention, but I
proceeded to just read along with them on the handout. I dramatized a
few points where difficult words were. I planned 15 minutes for this
event, it took 30. I asked if there were any questions. Blank faces.
After the third class, I chose to elongate my "wait time" so much that
it was uncomfortable for the students as they fidgeted in their seats.
I gave them an out of asking questions after class. I've known for 2
years that Japanese students rarely ask questions of their teacher
during class. Hence, my teaching style is still conditioned for an
American classroom. This will take time to work out.
Finally, Ms. Thrasher played a spelling game with the students. The
first word "necklace" really confounded all 4 classes. What's cool is
that students "buzz in" using their control panel at their desk, so
the teacher can play Jeopardy! style games to see the order of who
buzzed in when. That could come in handy.
After school, I had the English club. Yes, from 4-5:30 on a Friday I
stayed at school to have a club meeting. I suppose that sports coaches
at JH and HS do this all the time too, but usually I'm familiar with
Americans who purposefully get off work early on Friday to get a head
start on the weekend. Not so in Japan. But that's fine with me to stay
late. At the moment I have no money to spend and no friends to spend
it with, so staying at a familiar place in an unfamiliar country is
fine with me for now. And I know that being dedicated to work
community is part of the culture here so I'm trying to find value in
this by toeing the party line.
So there's 3 boys in the English club. Fortunately, I have a
repertoire of short English games from Concordia Language Villages so
I wasn't at a loss for what to do with them. They're a polite,
fun-loving bunch. I think I'll enjoy this weekly respite from large
classes to have some comfortable and fun English learning with
motivated boys.
Well, the school day ends there but my teaching experience doesn't.
I'd made plans to meet with a JET colleague of my girlfriend Gilda's
at Starbucks in Kobe. Please toss out any issues you may have with me
patronizing this juggernaut American establishment when i should have
been searching out the local Japanese alternative. I was the only
Gaijin in there as I waited for Leon and the 70/30 post/pre-recycled,
unbleached napkin that I used to wipe my face was made in Japan. How's
that for social responsibility and local employment? Anywho, Leon has
stayed in Japan after 3 years in JET and teaches at the Cram (evening)
school upstairs from Starbucks. We talked about the bad rap that
English teachers get in Japan from those who have no empathy or clue
about cross-cultural differences. We talked about some case-studies of
pre-literate Japanese kids learning English at Leon school.
Interesting hypothesis that the writing system restricts older
students' pronunciation because the vowel systems, codified by the
writing, limit the pronunciation of Japanese people speaking English
because English has certain sounds that Japanse doesn't. For example,
there is no soft "c" sound in Japanese like in the English word "sea".
So for the letter "c" Japanese may pronounce it like the Kana "shi".
My trip to Kobe to meet Leon at the Starbucks was another adventure
story. The short of it was that I left my map at home but didn't know
how to negotiate the 3 private and 1 public railway between
Nishinomiya and Kobe. Yes, 4 seperate train lines. Most American
cities struggle to fill one public line, but Kansai area of Japan has
3 companies making a profit on public transport. Very efficient. The
end of the short story is that I obviously made it to my destination
and returned safely home near midnight. I walked the quiet streets
alone and didn't feel vigilant for thieves at all. This is certainly a
different experience than USA or my last life abroad in Jamaica. Ja
mata ne (see you later)!


Music: the universal language

We had a choral workshop for the entire junior high school today. What
that meant was that 600 7-9th grade boys filled the chapel and
received some instruction from a professional a cappella quartet from
Tokyo. Like the other teachers, I sat in the back and observed. When
the quartet started to sing, i couldn't help but get a little
misty-eyed. I could understand the performers on a very deep level not
because I knew the Japanese words that they were saying, but because
the principles of music transcend human language and culture. Harmony
works the same way in English and in USA as it does in Japanese and
Japan. For two weeks I've been struggling to find my bearings in a
country with roots of civilizations almost seperate from my own. I
hesitate to draw many conclusions as I write this blog because I know
that on the surface it may look one way, but beneath it, like an
iceberg, the culture has deeper reasons for exhibiting the behavior
that it does.

Anyway, back to the music. These singers were real pros. They sang a
few songs in English at beginning and end. In the middle, they led the
boys in singing the school songs and a few hymns (its a Christian
school). Each member of the quartet (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) did
something with voice, breathing, annunciation, etc. as the boys
giggled nervously and tried to imitate. When the quartet performed a
jingled they had recorded for a popular TV show, the boys erupted with
applause louder than what they gave for the operatic duet, Mozart
piece, or Jazz song. That's plugged into culture the boys are at the
moment. That's fine.

Well, tomorrow is my first day in front of these students as a
teacher. Stay tuned for all the details tomorrow!


The Staff Retreat

First of all I want to give a shout to Larry Lawson. He is a devoted
fan of my blog, always comments and is about to travel to Ukraine in 3
weeks with his wife to begin teaching English with the Peace Corps.
You can check out their <a
href="http://klukraine.blogspot.com/">awesome blog</a>, too. I'm also
thinking of Larry (or Rarry as we would say in Japan because the
interdental "l" does not exist) everyday because a ubiquitous
convenient store here is named "Lawson". So when Larry and Karen come
to visit me in Japan on their hefty PC travel stiped, they will
instantly be i-doru (idols) here.

Our entire Junior High School faculty and administrative staff went
into the countryside for a retreat this thursday and friday. The
agenda was to talk about the impact on our school of the Kwansei
Gakuin corporation adding an elementary school to the portfolio of
institutions. They are doing this to be competitive with other schools
in the area. Once students are admitted to a school, they can remain
in it through university. Kwansei Gakuin is a prestigous school for
the Kansai (west Japan) area, so many parents will want this for their
children. The trouble is that the elementary school will be co-ed. The
Jr and Sr highs right now are only boys.

Did I mention that this will only affect our school in 2012? Talk
about advance planning! I have been very impressed by the amount of
forethought that the principal and staff are giving to this issue. We
talked about home economics class for 45 minutes. Did I mention that
all these deliberations were in Japanese and I had to be present for
every minute of them? Wakarimasen (I don't understand)! But I showed
my unity and read a book while everyone talked. Hey, I've just been
here a week, so I've no stake to share my opinion. Plus, I will be
long gone from here when the major change begins.

Nevertheless, we did have some nice socializing and Japanese style
bath. Its different from American baths in that you don't rinse, wash,
and rinse in the same water. You sit on a little stool, rinse and wash
and rinse with a hand-held shower head. Then, you get in the steaming
hot bath to relax for a few minutes. I stayed in the super hot water
too long and got a little light headed. Oh, and these baths are
public. Meaning that there were others around to. The Japanese use a
washcloth sized towel to cover their private parts when transferring
from one area to another. Its a very considerate way to bath in public
without having to show everyone "the full monty".

Now I'm at an ATE neighbor's house bumming her wireless internet while
I get mine installed in a few weeks. Then, I'll be a regular blogger
again. Heck, you can even webcam chat with me if you like. Stay linked
for more updates!



As promised, here's today's second edition. First rainy day in japan,
everybody break out the umbrellas. Today i had meetings with my
counterpart, Aki. We planned out our class and met with the personnel
people. Routine stuff. Then we had lunch at the "Big Papa" cafeteria
on campus. I had the curry with pork filet. Delicious. I could get
used to the Japanese food every day. I gave out my first omiyagi,
souvenir, to someone who helped me with the personnel issues. And i've
been doing a lot of introductions: hajimemashite, doozo yoroshiko,
watashi wa jefu mattison desu. These are the phrases that I use.

Thursday the Junior High school staff will be going on a retreat to
have concentrated meetings on the opening of the second school term.
We're supposed to have On Sen, hot springs, and nice meals. Should be
a good place to get better acquainted with the rest of the staff.
Meanwhile, I'll be going jogging and wandering to get a better feel of
the place. If you'd like to mail me a letter, my new address is:

1-3-8 Kami-Kotoen, A102
Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo-ken

Thanks for reading and stay in touch!


not lost but need lots of translation

It`s my first half week in Japan. I wish I kept this blog more of a
daily thing. But perhaps it reflects my adjustment as not being a
rhythmic thing. Nishinomiya is a town of 300,000 people. I live 5
blocks from the train and grocery store, 8 blocks from school, and
have a nice relatively big apartment. More updates later in the


a day in paradise

Honolulu, Hawaii - I'm finally on my way to Japan. Staying in Mililani
with my cousina and his wonderful family. Its a wonderful 80 degrees
with a mild breeze and some humidity. There's a typhoon looming over
Osaka, so I may have to stay in paradise another day. Darn. It was
hard leaving LA, but with the love and support of my girfriend and
brother and sister-in-law, I know I won't be alone in this adventure.
More updates soon!

visit Jeff's blog at http://braveneword.blogspot.com


Back in the Saddle

So its been almost 3 months since my last blog update. Since that time I've revised my portfolio for a second submission, been dating a wonderful woman named Gilda, moved out of Monterey, and been a facilitator at the English Language Village of Concordia Language Villages. Its two weeks away from my departure to Japan. I'm on the farewell tour, visiting family and friends. Gilda came with me to Minnesota to camp and she's with me here in Chicago now. We've had a good time visiting where I grew up in Naperville and downtown Chicago. Today we part paths for a week, when I go to Connecticut to see Jen and David and Gilda goes to Los Angeles. I'll try to update from each stop on the tour to get warmed up again with the blogging.


Not out of the woods yet

Well, the fury of graduation has come and gone. It was a great event to bring closure to the classes and classmates that I've been with for the past two years. But the studying still goes on. Due to some delay in my research, I've received an extension on my research project. And I have a curriculum to design. And a portfolio to revise. All this before May 28th, when I'm supposed to leave for Japan. Can it be done? Honestly, I don't know. I suppose that I could finish all the work at the expense of my social life, sanity, and health. But I'm not sure it's worth all of that. I'm motivated to finish all of it, but the summertime snooze is creeping up on me.

My family was in town and we had a great time together. It's too bad that we couldn't have been together for longer. The last time we were together was for my brother's wedding in May 2003. And then we didn't have much together time because of one festivity or another. But I think the plan is to get together for Christmas 2005, when we should have more down time.

I'm choto-choto nervous to go to Japan on my own and be illiterate. Going to Mexico in 2001 for a week was one thing, because I'd spoken Spanish 16 years before. This will be totally different. But, I wanted to see a new place and a new challenge. So in that sense, I'm ready for Japan.


Paying it forward

Went out to El Torito this evening to celebrate Karen's birthday. A good time with good friends. Made some new ones, too. Tried Larry's trick of tipping the taco maker man a dollar to get a free taco. Didn't work. In fact, Larry gave me the dollar to tip him with. I know he saw it. Oh well. Maybe that's the down payment and he only starts giving free tacos on the second time I tip a dollar before he make 'em. So later I've eaten my two tacos and am trying to break the $20 I came in with. Dave won't let me pay at all.

Wow. I go to celebrate another's birthday and I end up being treated. I'm not worthy. Karen did relish her presents. And she enjoyed the company that gathered to support her. She'll be going to Ukraine with Larry soon. Be sure to check out their website if you haven't already.


Summer Plans

After two weeks of correspondence with WWOOF hosts in Japan, I finally found one who had space available for me to stay. Its a strawberry farm in the suburbs of Okayama, West of Osaka. When I told this to my friend Yuka at school, she grew very excited. I asked her why she was so happy for me, and she told me the story of Momotaro, the Peach Boy of Japan. I hear he is very famous, so I will have to go and look for him while I am there ;)

There's still a lot of work to do here at school, however. It will all be over when I get on that plane to Tokyo on May 28th. Whew. What a semester!


Strike Two

I'm trying to find a host family for my stay in Japan in June through WWOOF, willing workers on organic farms. My helpful Japanese friends at school have been helping me to type personalized emails in Japanese. But so far I'm 0 for 2: too full or too full. Now I'm looking at the month I have left to find a place, thinking I can only have 20 more tries, and needing to devote more time to finishing up my studies, too. It has been helping my Japanese, I even translated enough of the email response that I got from one host to understand it. My friend Nicole translated it for me and I got the gist. All from self-study, this is a new language learning experience. I was wigging out tonight about how overstimulated I'll be with technology and the new language system I'll be illiterate in. Breath in. Breath out. I'll find some simple arrangement that can work. Any of you readers have any comments to share? ;]


Jefe at The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

Despite a rough schedule of meetings and working on my portfolio, I took time to see The Alamo, which is just 2 blocks from the convention center. Good urban planners down there in SA: they knew that visitors would want to see the Alamo when they go to the convention center. 3 minutes after this photo was taken, I tried to catch a bus to the airport. Missed it. Next bus was 5 blocks away and as you can see I'm in my suit (so I don't have to pack it in a bulky garment bag). So I huffed it over to the bus stop and took the 45 minute trip to the airport. Making it just 2 minutes before boarding. The closest shave I ever got at the airport, but I made it.

There's a whole lota pride of Texans for the Alamo. Many monuments by local organizations. Interpreters who can give you the minute by minute accounts of the 13-day seige. the famous fresco or top of the alamo wasn't even there when it was under seige by Santa Ana. It first was a Mission, they they made it into a fort with cannons on top of the Alamo building we know today.

Ok, well, that's some good history fixin' for you today. Stay tuned for more travels!


Figuring it out

Ok, now I've got this thing figured out. Turns out to be that my cache needed to be cleared because my browser was going to the old page after the new one had reloaded. Well, the 3 months absence from my blogging was because of Portfolio. That's the exit mechanism for my MA TESOL program and its a great way to show the quality of what I've learned. The hard part is putting it all together and remembering all the little details. But I'm done, I'm finished. And I have 3 weeks until I need to see it again. What a relief. I went to Carmel beach yesterday. Wow, so beautiful with rocky coastline, golf courses, and million dolla homes.

Went to a memorial service on Sunday for a woman at my church. Someone read a beautiful poem, "The Rose Still Grows Beyond the Wall" by A. L. Frink. It was a beautiful image and gave me a good perspective that life is more than meeting deadlines and writing papers. Pfew! I needed that.

Now I'm just chillin' for a few days. Should get back to work. Now that I've experienced the overdrive of working on this portfolio, I can do a lot more things at normal capacity. It all seems easier now!


Well, I haven't worked on this blog for months. Now I'm trying to change the skin but it won't switch. What gives? Now I've got the free time, where's the love blogger?

Countries I have visited

Where I've been in the USA