Sunday, February 24, 2008

let's kamakura!

Last weekend I went to Yokote's kamakura festival, for which a few parts of the town are filled with igloo-like snow huts. Friendly locals manned the huts (very homey inside!) to serve visitors snacks and drinks. There were also tons of mini-igloos filled with candles on the riverbank in the city, but unfortunately it was snowing so hard that night, pics of that magical scene did not come out. All in all it was quite fun, and something I had been looking forward to as it was one of the first things I heard about Akita before I came. The best part of the festival was definitely sliding down a big curvy snowslide on trash bags with my fellow honjoites at the end of the night after all the kiddies had gone home.

it's a kamakura!

an inside look...surprise! you have to take off your shoes.

a small shrine kamakura

we finally made it inside one! amelie, jon, owen, cathy and edel

I was very disappointed when I discovered this snow sculpture was not a rabbit, as I had hoped from afar, but pikachu

edel took amelie for a sleigh ride through the wonderland of snow

Aomori, the province north of akita, is said to have the best apples in japan. I think these are some of theirs, with kanji carved in for fun.

My favorite picture from the festival! A random baby positioned into a mickey sculpture for photo opps! genius.

(thanks edel for the pics!)

Also, this weekend, at my school enkai, I was invited to participate in the Shinto prayer ceremony prior to the party which included drinking the "sake of god" presented by a shinto priest. I'm not such a sake fan, but it was quite delicious! At the party I talked to several teachers about the 3rd year students and the process of getting into high schools. I cannot believe the stress the kids, parents, and teachers go through. A while back all the kids took interview tests as part of the entrance exams for the more academic high schools, but only a handful are admitted based on those scores alone; most everyone has to take the comprehensive written test as well, which is coming up. And I am sure this test would put my little old Our Lady of Lourdes "impossible to fail" entrance test to shame. Graduation is in a couple weeks and I've realized I'm going to miss the sannenseis, they were definitely the students I got to know best as individuals, and I'll be sad to see them leave. Of course, I have my incoming first years, half of which will be the naughty 6th graders from my elementary school, to look forward to!

Friday, February 22, 2008

more new!

also new, I've added links to a couple of new things, including an old friend's blog about running across america with his friends. Is this more or less adventurous than edel's brother biking from ireland to beijing with his friends? You decide. I've also got rid of my NYC real estate links, mostly because I stopped reading them myself. Don't worry, NYC, I haven't forgotten you though. I spent the last week working on an informative and interactive poster of "New York Pizza" - the first in a series to be posted on my new English Bulletin board at school. Next, I think, will be NYC graffiti art. In other news, I've started going to art club after school at my junior high which has been great. About 10 7th grade girls and I listen to music, look at magazines, talk about boys, and, of course, draw pictures. My goal is to get them to consider not always drawing anime girls with too-short skirts. I also might start in with tennis club with the new year (which starts in April), you know, to make the girls feel good about how great they are compared to me (unfortunately, Amelie's school is the only one with a rowing team).

Tonight I am going to an enkai (party) for the teachers at my school - the theme will be praying for the students' success on the high school entrance exams, particularly for the 3 teachers who have children who are taking them. First we pray, then we drink. Coming soon - pictures from last week's kamakura (snow fort) festival in yokote.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


so, I have been seriously distracted recently by certain nyc comedy websites, and in a string of links, I stumbled upon a girl's blog who had the exact same layout as mine, and she even kind of sounded like me. Anyway, it weirded me out enough to consider changing the layout of mine, to separate myself from this doppelganger. I won't even link you to her blog, because it's just too eerie. Any thoughts on this one? I'm not sure how I feel about it, it's barely even blue.

Monday, February 18, 2008

sometimes honjo is pretty

Yesterday the sun was shining so I set out to get some vitamin d and enjoy (the eternal) freshly fallen blanket of snow.

my park looks pretty in winter

the shrine at honjo park

my hood - you can see my school far in the background to the right if you enlarge this - it's the big white rectangle. mt. chokai almost made an appearance, but slipped back into the clouds

here's probably the only wide grassy public space in honjo that's not a rice field. on the left is the wonderful swimming pool where I occasionally swim laps, and the mountain in the back is the one the naked men (and me) had to climb for their festival

another view of honjo - the building in the foreground is city hall. You can also see the central cultural institution of honjo: the JC department store, and behind that, the affectionately named 'pink hospital'. From city hall everyday they blast a noontime and a 5pm 'end of work day' (or for most japanese workers, a 'let's gambatte for the next 4-5 hours of work') tune through speakers around town. It feels very institutional, but the songs are certainly more pleasant than military bugles and at least there's no reveille.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

candy and snow

this weekend I visited some friends in a city in northern akita called odate. they had a candy festival going on, which was...delicious. There were pink candies tied into all the trees in town, and vendors sold such delectables as candied strawberries (which are a winter fruit here!). For free you could have an old man in traditional dress put a fresh liquid sugar lollipop in your mouth (of course I did!).

dried squid for sale beside the candies!

fancy lollipop gift basket

the candy god (the kid in red) and his entourage. The white ghost looking thing is a kiritanpo, rice mashed together onto a chopstick and cooked over a fire, a specialty of the area

thanks jesse, for the pics!

One of the most memorable parts of the trip occurred when Jesse and I were walking back to his apartment from the festival, on a sugar high. Now, first of all, it is pretty common practice to get shout-out's from students when out and about in town, but this was a strange instance. Two little girls saw us coming down the street, one of them had two of those plastic-ice-cream cone-with-foam-ball-attached-with-string toys. The girl not holding the ice cream cones began beckoning us "Kitte! kitte!" looking stern. We stopped, thinking they just want to say Hi!, but as we came closer we could see that the two ice cream cone things were tangled in a huge mess of a knot. One of the girls handed it to Jesse, demanding that he untangle it. While Jesse carefully began to untangle them, the girls proceeded to mock us as we talked, repeating the sounds of what we said in high pitched tones, and rooting around in our shopping bags to see what we bought. As it turns out, these little 9-yr-old bullies weren't even Jesse's students, they had just stopped some random gaijin on the street to fix their toys! When Jesse got to the root of the knot which proved near hopeless, we decided to give up and run away. But the little girls were having none of that. They ran after us, grabbing on to Jesse's coat. We complied and returned and Jesse eventually got the knot out, despite the girls' impatient yanking. We were allowed to leave, but we decided to have a little fun with them, and Jesse took one of the toys and launched the foam ice cream ball into the meaner one's face. She fake-cried for about 10 seconds before some more of their girl gang showed up to distract them so we could run away.

The next night we traveled to Lake Towada, in the northeast corner of akita. They had a mini-Sapporo Snow Festival going on (which made me feel better about missing it - next year, I promise!) that they called "Snow and Light Fantasy" which included taiko drumming, ice sculptures, shamisen playing, namahage (akita-native boogeymen monsters who scare children into being good), an igloo bar with ice glasses, and of course, fireworks.

in the ice bar

juls and me

it's a rabbit!

glass buoys lighting a path along the lake

fireworks over a snow fort

also in odate...

a giant shell! this gym had a roof made of bent wood and sheer plastic

inside the gym

a hill overlooking the town where the kanji for "dai" is imprinted (and lit on fire during daimonji festival)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Learn to Be Nice to Your Wife, or Pay the Price

an interesting washington post article (not so recent) about a newish change in japanese law that allows women filing for divorce to claim up to half their husband's pension, which has caused an increase in divorce rates, and some husbands to re-consider their ideas (re: archaic) about marriage.