Saturday, December 1, 2007

Merry Early Xmas Us!!

Yep, Christmas came a little early for Ris and I. Ris says it was my idea but I have to disagree. I saw that little twinkle in her eye when we tried out Ninja Gaiden Sigma at the electronic shop.

This thing has it all. With it networked to my computer I can browse my music, pictures, and movies and play them directly on the PS3. It cooks us breakfast in the morning and never overcooks the eggs, and it even gives me neck rubs after work. The only drawback is it sends DNA samples and brain scans back to Sony headquarters once a week.

This is kind of old news but we bought a car last month. It's a Subaru Pleo and so far has been a great car. The gas mileage isn't as great as I think it could be which was a trade off for full time 4WD.

It costs upwards of $3,000 to get a drivers license here so for the moment Ris is the only driver. The only reason we actually purchased the car was for her work so it would be a waste for me to take the time and money for a license.

On the subject of work Ris started a part time job at a Cram School in Hirosaki. She only has one class a week as of now but will be getting more class as she gets better at teaching. She is completely fluent in English but has never taught it before. Speaking a language and teaching it are two entirely different things. She may be offered full time at the School which would mean working late every night, sometimes past 10pm, and every weekend. I guess we will make that decision once they offer her the job.

On a different note. Risa and I have started a D-tox program. She bought a set of d-tox herbal supplements in Canada when she lived there and has never used them. It was my idea to actually go through with it and I tell ya, I am really regretting it. I haven't had a beer in a week!! We are both having chocolate withdrawals and can't even watch TV anymore because every other commercial is about food! This d-tox program only lasts two weeks with a restricted diet to only vegetables, brown rice, and water. The program isn't as strict as other so you can get away with certain amounts of meats (only chicken and fish) and very small amounts of dairies. We are one week through the program and have yet to kill each other so with perseverance we may just make it. The fist week is supposedly the hardest while your body flushes out all the toxins with the second week allowing your body to fully heal and recharge. That's right, this Shamalama ain't no Hypacrippie!

This year we are planning on spending New Years back in Date with her family. Her parents are really looking forward to see me again I hear. (And who wouldn't be!?) New Years is a big holiday here in Japan. New Year's morning is started off with a bang rather than the night before. Everyone wakes up early and a huge feast is prepared. The best part is everyone, including the kiddies, gets a topped off glass of sake first thing in the morning along with a tradition mochi (mushed rice) soup and plenty of sweets afterwards. By the afternoon of January 1st every temple and shrine is packed with visitors who make wishes for the new year and try their first fortune telling for the new year.

This will be my first time back to Date since August of last year. My good friends the Griffith's will be staying in Date for the holidays giving me a chance to see them. Not seeing the kids for more than a year will be a huge surprise in itself. I won't have nearly enough time to see everyone I know there but I will give a warning that The Seamus will be back for a short time only!

I'll sign out here with a short list of PS3 games that have received good reviews. Just in case somebody **cough** TD/TM happens to be out shopping and finds themselves at a store that carries games. One of the coolest things about the PS3 is that there are no region protection. I can play American games as easily as Japanese titles.

Assassin's Creed

Ratchet and Clank

Need for Speed Pro Street

Oh, and note to Jonathan and Ayu. Ris and I have finished Season 3 of Lost and are working on Heroes now. The big question that lingers on my mind is who the heck is Richard (Batmanuel) and why has he not aged at all since he first met childhood Ben!?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Good Friends, Loud Music, and Dead Fish!

Three highlights of my trip to Shimokita with Dustin and Ris.

Saturday morning Dustin arrives in Aomori City after a long overnight ferry ride from Hokkaido. We meet up with him at the station. Ris has reserved a rental car for three days and I pull out some extra cash for the weekend. The rental guy picks us up at the station, we pay for the car, and we start to drive north. That is our pre-departure planning in its entirety for our three days of exploring Shimokita.

Our fearless Jeeves.

Well not really, but close enough. Ris and I pretty much left all the planning up to Dustin, a veteran of traveling in Japan. Our destinations of Osore-san and Oma were pretty clear but our route was pretty much anything goes.

We started north at about 9:30 am on Saturday and reached Osore-san by noon. Dustin gave me a short history on the region once we were there. "Osore" literally means "fear". Yep, we actually made plans to travel to Mt. Fear! I am not too clear on the history but it seems this area is a place that spirits come in order to cross to the afterlife according to the local Buddhists.

We made a few stops on the road north. Along one of the mountain roads we caught a small spring and shrine that are very common in Japan. Also, Dustin wanted to stop by a small train station to buy a "collector" ticket or something. Apparently the crazy guy has been to every train station in Hokkaido that sells these special tickets and now he is getting started on Honshu.

Drink the Urine of the Mountain and be free my children.


Osore-san is quite active it seems. After I relieved myself we
happened upon some active sulfur pools that really weren't that hot.

Have you seen my record?

Once you get past the temple area you are free to walk the grounds. I will tell you they got the name right when they decided to call the place Fear! It was actually quit eerie behind the temple area. There were these piles of rocks everywhere with little messages written on them and the occasional child's toy stuck between the cracks. The pinwheels were especially creepy.

Dustin informed me that the children's toys placed around the shrines were for children who had perished before their parents. They were stuck in some kind of Buddhist purgatory and apparently bored. The occasional crow didn't help the mood either.

The whole area was very beautiful though. The lake behind the sulfur grounds was a very deep blue with yellow shores, and the occasional Buddha statue made for a relaxing atmosphere.

After Osore-san we made our way to the most northern point of mainland Japan. Oma is famous throughout Japan for their high quality tuna. We arrived right at sunset when most of the shops were closing down but managed a few shots.

We asked a local where we could get some of this famous tuna. She gave us some simple instructions for a nice little restaurant downtown (and yes we got lost in a freakin' fishing village WITH a GPS unit in the car...) THIS TUNA WAS AMAZING! I have never eaten such fresh raw tuna before. This stuff just melted in your mouth. We decided to stay the night in Oma since it would be about a three hour drive back to Kuroishi. This would also give us the chance to possibly catch a glimpse of the morning fish market.

We missed the catch of the day tuna haul thanks to our incompetent hotel staff so we asked around about a demonstration of tuna carving. We were lucky enough to catch the last show of the year.

Come touch my tuna! It bring long life and happy time.

This tuna was HUGE! Fully gutted it weight in at 140 kilos which is about twice my weight. The coolest part was after the whole tuna was carved though. Our foreigner power granted us a couple of tickets to eat some of the freshly carved tuna. They would let you scrap the flesh right off the rib cage of this thing, dip it into some soy sauce and wasabi, and munch it right down. I love the idea of sanitation in this country.

After our tribal breakfast we headed south along the coast towards Hotokegaura. They say these rock formations resemble Buddhas...

We made it home to Kuroishi that night and took Dustin to one of our favorite ramen joints. God I missed ramen!

The last day of a three day weekend should always end in an onsen. About 30 km out of Kuroishi is a very famous mixed bath hot spring. They claim you can fit 1000 naked people in this thing at one time and they have a poster on the wall to prove it. It might help that 90% of them are wrinkled old people.

After a half hour of trying to relax in the bath with naked young women surrounding me and trying not to notice all the dirty old men ogling Risa, Dustin takes us back to the apartment. We say our goodbyes and he heads off to catch his ferry home. All around a perfect weekend.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nothin' special...

As the title dictates, nothing special has really happened in the last few weeks...or month...hehe.

The job is great, the apartment is looking good, and it has finally cooled off to a livable temperature here.  I am still in the introduction part of my job, i.e. half of every class I teach is spent with me introducing myself so the job hasn't been too demanding yet.  The last class I didn't even have time for the lesson plan.  As soon as the kids found out I was proficient in Japanese it was 45 minutes of straight questions.  Now these are questions from 8 or 9 year old little tykes mind you.  For example;  "What is your favorite bug?"

This is actually a pretty standard question from Japanese children and I was more than ready with the correct answer.

"Hmmm, my favorite bug?  Kabutomushi of course!"

The kids crack up and start screaming;  "They have kabutomushi in America?!"

Kabutomushi is a general term for the Rhinoceros Beetle.  I am not actually sure if these beetles exist in the States
but the truth is the kids really don't care one way or another.

(I stole this image ;P)

You can buy this bug at almost any hardware store in Japan.  You can either buy a full grown bug or this huge larva and raise your own.  The bug is actually very docile and will let you hold it and play with it.  The kids hold "wrestling" matches between the bugs which are very fun to watch.  It seems that in the wild the male beetles compete for dominance by throwing each other off logs, or branches, etc. with their horns.  These matches can even be viewed on national television!

Here are a few more examples of the questions I recieved.

"How big are your shoes?"
"Do they have animals in America?"
"Who is the person you like the most?"
"How big are your hands?"  (I had no idea how to answer this one...)
"Are you wearing contacts?"  (I was wearing my glasses at the time.  This is a pretty standard question after they see my blue eyes.)

I managed to dig up a picture of me teaching from my supervisor here.  This was one of my first days teaching and was a little nervous.  When I am nervous and have no clue what I am doing I tend to put my hands behind my back...

What post isn't complete without a picture of me, eh Smatt?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Finally Settled...Almost.

Finally back in Aomori. I had flown down to Tokyo to help Risa with the move up here last Saturday and just arrived back here in Kuroishi. It was an uneventful move luckily (besides the cell phone). It's usually quite expensive to move in Japan, sometimes in the thousands of dollars just to move inter-prefecturally, plus key money/deposit money, etc. Risa managed to fit all of her belongings, plus a few things of mine I had left in her apartment, into one crate which cost only a few hundred dollars to get shipped to our apartment in Kuroishi. It should arrive tomorrow and we can finish moving in!

We had a few free days in Tokyo to relax and do some shopping. We spent one day in Akibahara Electric Town where I bought a few "desperately needed" things. We also went out a few nights with some of Risa's college friends that she will be leaving in the move.

One night we met up with a couple good friends of Risa's, one of which is a singer/songwriter with a few albums released independently. His alias for his singing career is Danny. And according to him his first major label debut will be this November. He is quite a character! If you look closely in this picture you can see a white blotch on his crotch (if you care to look). Right before he came to meet us a taxi drove over a tube of dry wall compound and squirted the white goop all over him!

The day before the move we stayed at Risa's sister's place. We had some time to kill that afternoon so we went to a local onsen (hot spring bath) in Chofu. It was a great little bath house! They provided you with towels and your own little bath house outfit (I couldn't help but break out my Chan moves). The water was a dark brown color but felt really good on your skin. There was one bath where the bottom was covered in small pebbles. You could walk around in it and get an excellent foot massage.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


So, I was walking to the station yesterday to catch my train to Hirosaki, where I would catch the bus to the airport and fly down to Tokyo. I figured as I walked to the station I could email Risa and let her know I am on time and about to arrive at the station.

If you have been to Japan you will know that they have torrential rain sometimes. There are large drainage diteches along all roadsides with large heavy cement blocks covering them. There are small holes in the blocks so they can be removed and replaced.

I pull out my cellphone.

I flip it open with one hand. (This is very cool looking.)

It flys from my hand, bounces twice, opens up, and slips perfectly into the small crack in the sidewalk.

There is about a 2 second delay, and I hear a *curr plunk*.

Yep, cell phone is gone for good. I have no way to contact Risa, I have no phone numbers of my emergency contacts in Kuroishi, and not to mention I just spent three days at Aomori Orientation gathering phone numbers and emails of other Aomori JETs. All of who's are only recorded in my cellphone.

I am writing this from Risa's apartment in Tokyo. So I did make it here with no problems and we are going to call Willcom today and see if I can get it replaced.

Take this as a warning people. If you drop your cell phone it will find the nearest hole and fall down it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

First week back in Japan!

Well, it has been over a week now that I have arrived back in Japan. After a very long and boring orientation in Tokyo I was flown to my host prefecture. For those not in the know a host prefecture, or city/town, is a reference to a local Board of Eduction in Japan that has hired a native English speaker through the JET Program (HAHA no “me” at the end ya limy bastards!) to teach English classes.

I have been applying for this position for the past year. It is a long and arduous process but well worth the effort. To say the least, JET's are paid ridiculous amounts of money compared to the Japanese teachers we will be working with. They all know this and probably just add it to the long list of reasons to further differentiate foreigns from themselves. Yes, we are all lazy and the only way we will put up with the Japanese system is if large sums of money are thrown at us.

My first week has been great! I have a huge apartment with two bedrooms, a living area, and a brand new bath. (Apparently the woman before me complained so much that they actually replaced her entire bathroom!) I have spent most of my free time so far cleaning the place up and throwing out large amounts of pink doilies, blankets, pillows, cups, clothes, place mats, etc. I think the JET before me should be submitted to a mental institute for an abnormal obsession with the color pink.

It has been a busy week but my supervisor and I found time to visit the Nebuta Festival in Aomori City. This festival is HUGE. It lasts almost a week with two hour parades of dancers, floats, and huge drums every night. The last night there is a fireworks show. We caught the Monday night parade which turned out to be the largest with over 22 floats. The Japanese sure know how to celebrate! I have heard a few theories about the history of Nebuta, from a celebration of the departure of troops to war, to a theory that the general who was sent north to subdue the barbaric tribes in the 800s used huge lanterns shaped like demons as a scare tactic.

Every year the JET's are given a chance to participate in the festivities. They can rent costumes, or buy, and dance in one of the groups. While this sounds like a once in a lifetime chance I decided to pass this year. It wouldn't have been the first time I have participated in a Japanese festival and I really didn't feel like crashing at a fellow JET's apartment in Aomori City for a night nor did I feel like trying to reserve a hotel for the night. Living in Kuroishi without a car my last chance to get home is at 9:30 from Hirosaki City which really limits my late night travel distance. I figure next year I will be more settled in and can fully take in the festivities, late night drinkin and all!