Sunday, April 27, 2008

are you that somebody?

OK, I am now going to backtrack a parents and I had a lovely day today but the pictures and explanations will have to wait because I wanted to share these 2 gems:

Amelie, Jeff and I had an enkai with our board of education the night before my parents arrived, it was an epic night which concluded with us and our two favorite supervisory types, at long last, together at Castaway's. For some reason I am heistant to post their names even though I have before, and there is certainly nothing incriminating about requesting me to sing exclusively old school Aaliyah and TLC (do you remember my supervisor's taste in music, which I first experienced while driving around in his car last summer?) nor joining Amelie in a japanese song whose chorus culminates in a lovely "Honey...FLASH!!!". It was just so nice to be with them in a such a casual, fun environment, instead of the stuffy BoE office. Anyway, the bartender did not take pictures of us that night for her blog so of course I had to.

Also, surprise! I got glasses - I mostly just wear them for driving, the need to get them became apparent when I noticed it took me significantly longer to be able to read road signs than anyone else in the car. They're the lightest prescription you can buy, but man, I was blown away by the difference. Glasses are cheap here and almost everyone wears them, especially kids, much more so than braces, which are very rare.

And, oh, my students. They continue to amaze me, mostly in comedic value. As a beginning assignment for the year, they had to write a little show and tell speech about their favorite thing, their "treasure". I got to correct all these opuses, and I swear at least half of each class wrote about their mechanical pencils. I asked my co-teacher if she thought this was funny/strange, and she said she did, and responded by outlawing mechanical pencils as "treasures" in the next class. The kids in this class, however, were not down with this, complained, and got her to revoke the rule if it was a truly special pencil, ie. engraved for one's graduation. This reminded me of the time I first noticed a student twirling his pencil in his hand quite skillfully during class- I commented on it, like "Hey, cool!" to which he shrugged and said "(It's) Japanese culture" and it's true. My other 'first few days of school' favorite is one of my students who now sits in the front row, who is a huge fan of doing free association outloud during class. The other day "United States of America" set him off on "Crinton...crinton...Obama..FRANCE REVOLUTION...obama...obama...obama...france revolution" he enjoys the reaction it gets from me, usually cracking up, and he knows I would never scold him for talking during class because he always does it fairly quietly, and always in English. I hope I get to work with him for a speech contest.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

claude and otto return to japan

So, my parents made it here safe and sound and after a day left on their own to recover from the jet lag we began our sightseeing adventures today with a trip to the nearby oga peninsula. A beautiful drive on the corniche road where we stopped at (nearly) every lookout, including one with mars-like rocks and tidal pools, and a big rock that's supposed to look like godzilla's head (you be the judge) was followed by a visit to the aquarium called gao (an anagram of oga, ha!) to check in with my friend the polar bear. We forewent afternoon onsening in favor of a drive to the top of the peninsula's mountain, which afforded impressive views, though somewhat hazy, of the sea on both sides. On our way back home we stopped at a lovely park (not even on my itinerary!) which still had some sakura left, as well a few interesting ancient-looking re-created buildings to explore!

mom walking in the moon rocks

godzilla head rock

dad and a namahage

at the aquarium

what a photogenic guy!

from the top of the mountain

we found some sakura at the park!

Monday, April 21, 2008


Just spent a low-key weekend mostly in Honjo Park, being part of the sakura paparazzi and general merriment and picnic-ing. I tried to talk some of the trees into keeping their flowers for another few days, so my parents can see them when they arrive, but they're falling off at an alarming rate, the trees turning more green than pink-white. Luckily we'll be heading north on our 'Tour de Tohoku' where we'll have a good chance of catching late bloomers.

Jessie and Amelie enjoy the sakura wonderland

Chika and I

Just to lay to rest any stereotypes of Japanese schoolchildren being obedient, well-behaved angels, a couple of my thug-like new 1nensei students apparently saw the park merriment as an excellent opportunity to wreak some havoc, namely by slashing some other students' bike tires!

I'd also like to give a shout-out to Natalie who just had a yuck-yuck surgery and keeps me updated on her recovery with 2-line e-mails like "percocet is good, feeling better". Here's to the speediest of recoveries, wish you were arriving with Mom and Dad on Thursday.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

soybeans are fun!

Yesterday was the entrance ceremony for my elementary school. The cute new 1st graders entered the school in their sunday best, little suits for the boys with shorts and knee socks and matching plaid skirt and top sets for the girls. I was led to believe from pictures from previous years that the new 6th graders would be leading around the babies by hand in sempai/kohai pairs, however this, sadly, did not happen. It was refreshing to see the new students so boisterous during the ceremony, as compared to my robotic junior high students. They had no problem crying out, climbing on furniture, and cuddling during the ceremony, nor were they reprimanded for such activities (that I saw anyway). A particularly cute moment occurred when it was time for the school song to be sung and the upperclassmen, who have clearly been taught the method "if you can't sing well, sing loudly" started belting out the tune at a deafening level. The new 1st graders collectively turned around in shock and horror, amazed by their fellow students' thunderous singing voices. They continued staring back at them for the duration of the song, though some of them celebrated their new school pride by dancing.

In other news, good news for Japanese women in the workplace and an edamame simulator so you can experience the pleasure of popping soybeans out of the pod, without the hassle of having to eat them afterwards.

Monday, April 7, 2008

weekend in tokyo

For my last few days of 'spring break' I decided to travel down to Tokyo with Doug to get a taste of city life and jumpstart the sakura season (The cherry blossoms in Akita won't be blooming for another couple weeks due to the cooler temps). We traveled in style, on the shinkansen (high- speed bullet train), and it took just a little under an 4 hours from a city to the south in Yamagata. It was nice to arrive in Tokyo at a reasonable hour (ie. not 6am, as with the night bus) and we began the day right outside the station at Ueno Park. We were there for debatably the best part of the approximate 2-week bloom cycle, when the petals are falling off the trees like snow. It was a magical feeling when the wind shook the branches and the petals fell all around you. We tried sakura petal snowballs, which were just a pleasure to have thrown in your face!

A somewhat creepy display float from a local festival at the shinkansen station in Shinjo, Yamagata

The trip began as any trip should, with a stop at 'Misdo' (yumcha?)

Prepare for Ueno Park sakura overload...

In the park we also got our fill of ancient Japanese art at the Tokyo National Museum and Doug humored me with a rowboat ride around the pond, one side of which was lined with sakura trees, lovely. From there we walked to the Yanaka district, a quiet neighborhood filled with old houses, temples, and wonderful narrow pedestrian and bike-only streets.

the devastating effects of hanami

Doug and I kept up a theme of being fraternal twins by dressing similarly

down some quiet lanes in Yanaka...

We stayed at the same capsule hotel I had stayed at before with the girls, and the familiarity was great, it's beginning to feel like a little home away from home! We had excellent Mexican food in Roppongi (though the chicken used for my fajitas was more teriyaki than chipotle) and caught a movie. These may seem like strange activities for foreign Tokyo visitors, but our inaka (countryside) living had us seeking out cosmopolitan wonders such as cinemas, ethnic restaurants, and shoe stores that sold our sizes.

The next morning we went to the Tsukiji fish market for sushi breakfast. We opted for just the culinary aspect of the visit, and skipped out on the messy market experience (which had ended before we woke up anyway). It was hands down the best raw fish I had ever had. Even the tamago (omelet) tasted infinitely better than at our local kaiten sushi. Then, in Akihabara, the 'Electric Town', Doug searched for an appropriate anime figurine mascot for his school's brass band while I went to the 101Tokyo contemporary art fair, a welcome alternative to attempting to navigate Tokyo's gallery scene. The exhibition was in an old junior high school and the way they had laid out the space was quite smart, and it had a nice 'open studios' feel. I felt right at home, which must have been visible to the greeters, who assumed I was an exhibitor! All the rage in Akihabara are the maid cafes. I was intrigued, but thought it might be more fun to check out a butler cafe, though unfortuantely in the end we couldn't find one.

mmm...sushi. and 'hairy crab' soup! oishiiso!

'ice cream cone' sushi aka hand rolls

In the subway...this was in a "Women Only" car (sign above)


Some shopping in Harajuku, down its infamous Takeshita-dori, was followed by a somewhat accidental visit to the Meiji Shrine and an early evening of hanami partying (picnic-ing under the cherry blossom trees) with a friend from home in Yoyogi Park. It was nice to talk to some fellow New Yorkers again (here on vacation), as well as meet some new folks. We met an Austalian woman who had started out in Japan as a hostess at a hostess bar and eventually moved on to teaching, and is now an English teacher at a private school in Tokyo (it is seemingly impressive for a foreignor to be a full-time non-assistant teacher here), and her Japanese boyfriend who claimed to have snowboarded 19 days this March (didn't realize there were ski slopes so near Tokyo!). From there we moved on to Akasaka for a splendid French restaurant (what a gourmet trip!). We attempted to go to a jazz bar as well, but it was full for the night, so unfortunately no live music fix this trip.

In Harajuku, my tribute to The Orion Experience

Meiji Shrine

Slightly less crowded than on New Year's Eve!

Julie and I hanami-ing

The next day was spent at the Imperial Palace park, which had bikes to rent for free (genius! NYC Parks Dept., get on it!) and later, exploring a new neighborhood for me, Daikanyama. It was as hip and fashionable as described in my dependable TimeOut guide. Our last moments in Tokyo were spent in the Ebisu Garden Place, on the way to which I was suprised to find a Doughnut Plant NYC outlet, which had to be tasted to be believed! I checked out the Metropolitan Museum of Photography's Beauty Convulsed special surrealism exhibit, as was recommended to me, which was quite impressive. I am quite taken by how much Tokyo loves their multi-use mall development super-complexes - "mini-cities" a la Roppongi Hills, Omotesando Hills, Ebisu Garden Place, and Ark Hills and Address in Daikanyama. I do enjoy their public space, though their corporate feel can be a turn-off, and wonder why these have not caught on to such an extent in NYC (though I guess there is South Street Seaport and the Time Warner Center).

Tokyo Tower from Roppongi Hills

Today is the first day of school! Ceremonies abound, so I was glad to have spent a bit of last week attempting to memorize the school song. My former elementary 6th grader students are now fumbling around my school looking awkward with their parents, as opposed to their usual mischievous demeanor.