Sunday, August 28, 2011

Daily Life: School Club Activities

I have heard good things and bad things about getting involved with club activities while here.  The good are that the students get more comfortable around you, and are more willing to try to use English with you.  One bad thing being that they can be a huge time commitment.  Another negative thing I have not heard, but predict, is that it is one more thing that separates me from the other teachers.  I am very young compared to many of the teachers, I am clueless as to what’s going on a good portion of the time, and when other teachers are involved in the clubs it is as a supervisor or coach where as I am a participant.

Needless to say I wanted to give it a try since most of what I had heard was positive.  Now, I have visited two clubs.  At my base school I went to a girl’s soccer club practice.  At my visit school I went to the co-ed gymnastics practice (They have a trampoline, I got more excited than a 10 year old counting their candy Halloween night).    I noticed the benefit of the students trying to use English with me instantly.  Especially at the soccer practice where the larger number of students may have been an advantage, as a few of them liked to confer with one another about what to say before approaching me.  The downside was not what I predicted, but I should have.  Someone who has been referring to 20-30 minutes of jogging as a good workout for the last year is likely unprepared for 3 hour long practices, in the Japanese heat, with students who do it everyday.  Turns out I am slow and out of shape (duh).  I quickly got very sweaty, sore, and sunburned.  I may even have pulled a muscle though I won’t be able to confirm or deny this until tomorrow.  The other half the equation is that in summer clubs happen during the day rather than at the end of it.  It is decidedly unpleasant to change into business clothes after exercising.  It also was probably rather unpleasant for any teachers near me as practice ended at noon, and I spent the whole afternoon gross.  

Even so, I am really glad that I went and hope to visit a variety of clubs during my time here.   (Though I may try to get away with cheering instead of playing some of the time) 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Morning Show

At my visit school we record a brief English radio program with a highlighted phrase or word per day.  It consists of a short English conversation between another native English speaker and me, and then two students using the key word or phrase in "their own" sentence.  The most amusing thing about this is that the students don’t volunteer, have time to practice/prepare, or get to choose what they will say.  No this is no Wayzata New’s Break where I imagine getting air time was competitive (though I don’t actually know, because I would have had give up a gym class in order to try a class like that, No thankyou!).  Anyway, the students are chosen at random by the teacher in charge of the program.  He just walks around the hall grabbing whatever students happen to cross his path.  It was hilarious watching a group of girls launch themselves into a classroom when they heard him around the corner.  And they didn’t stop there, they proceeded to shove into the only area in the room (right behind the door) that is not visible from the hall.  Surprisingly enough since I have never enjoyed hearing my voice as it actually sounds rather than as it is in my head, I really enjoy doing these recordings and letting my newly discovered cheesy DJ alter ego out.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Climbing Fuji

happened 8/20 and 8/21

I climbed Mt. Fuji and it was miserable!!! I almost don’t want to describe it because I’m sure you will read it and think “okay that doesn’t sound like a blast, but it’s wasn’t that bad, quit your whining.” …so if thoughts like that cross you mind, know that you are imagining it wrong, make what you are thinking 100X worse and you might be approaching the appropriate amount of anguish our party was feeling.  Even so I am glad I did it, and might be a masochist because I think I enjoyed more of it than most of the group.

General info:
     The plan was to hike up Mt. Fuji at night and summit in the early hours of the morning.  Rest and hang out up top for a couple hours, watch the sunrise, then hike down in the early morning before it gets to hot.

     Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan.  Like hiking in any mountains you need to be prepared.  Weather can be unpredictable.  You need gear in preparation for the wet, and extreme cold, even in the summer
I felt relatively good and prepared.  I had my winter jacket, two long sleve layers, one cotton, one a quick drying synthetic, leggings, my “waterproofs” (the pants I got for hiking in Scotland), a hat, gloves, wool socks, and hiking boots.  I also had separated everything in my bag into three separate plastic bags.  One was for extra layers of clothes I was not wearing, One was for food (I had all the hiking usuals like snickers, peanut butter, assorted candy, calorie and soy bars, etc.), one was for valuable necessities like my wallet, my phone, and my camera.  In addition to the items in the bags I had water, Gatorade, 2 cans of oxygen, and a head lamp easily accessible.

  Before hiking:
            We started with a bus ride which knowing we would be hiking for a good 10 hours or longer I tried to sleep through.  I did manage to dose in and out and whenever I did wake up there tended to be beautiful low mountains around to look at.  Or rest stops with ice cream.  Then we arrived at the 5th Station of the mountain.  We had some time before we started so we looked at gift shops, got hot chocolate and relaxed.  Several people bought wooden walking sticks that you could get branded at each of the huts/stations along the way up.  I didn’t bother because I have tend to get annoyed at carrying walking sticks but I still think it’s a cool idea. 

The beginning:
At about 6:15 the medium/slow group (these are my people) got started.  It got dark pretty quick, and I thought it was a good temperature for hiking, cool but not to cold (at least not for those of us from the Midwest).  We turned on our hiking lamps and headed off quite happily for a few hours.  After about 2 and a half hours of hiking the other (“medium” fast) group passed us.  They had only been going for like an hour or something.  Anyways the biggest challenge during this portion was that a few of us struggled more than others with the altitude and had to stop constantly to catch our breath. 

Things start to go downhill:

Not literally we still had a ways up to go.  Somewhere between the 7th and 8th stations it started to rain.  As we got higher and it got later, the temperature was dropping.  Then the wind picked up.  I think we all had most our layers on by the 8th station, but were still in relatively good spirits (or at least I was) and were still keeping pretty warm and dry.  But, by the later huts between the 8th and 9th station my waterproofs and winter coat proved to only be water resistant, which at this point I hardly noticed because I was getting a touch nauseous. 

The split:
     The medium slow group split at this point.  After being told the hut was full so we could not enter and warm up one girl and guy who were exceedingly cold went to loiter in the restrooms to try and get warm for a bit, while me and our fearless leader sat on benches trying not to puke.  The other half of our group continued on.  After a bit of rest and several hits of oxygen, I felt a little better, and wise or reckless decided to force down a snickers, thinking if I could keep it down the energy might help me stay warmer and maybe make me feel less sick.  Success!  But, sadly the other girl was still really chilly, so we begged and pleaded and the hut agreed to let her in for a short while. The rest of us had to continue on because it was getting to cold to sit still.

     before the summit we caught the first half of our split group.  We all went through phases where some people were struggling more than others and kept eachother going.  We all went slow, most of us struggled to breathe, we were cold, and wet.  This portion was not fun! Not even for a minute.  We reached the top at about 2:30 AM in a staggered group.  I don’t even think I was able to smile I was so cold.  Those of us who got their first tried to huddle in a group, in a doorway, to get out of the wind.  No good the wind felt like it was coming from all directions.  I was shaking with cold from this point on non stop the rest of the hike, and several hours after. 

The decision:
     We lasted about 5 minutes at the top.  There would be no sunrise, we were getting off this mountain, and we were doing it now.  Just in time the final members of our group got to the top.  Only they were not ready to keep moving.  They had to stop, but we had to go!  So the group leader gave a much needed pep talk, “the way down is smoother and easier, the air will get thicker, the temperature will get warmer, it will start to get light”  It worked everyone was ready to move on.  And we almost got off the top before he started to puke.  He refused to let even that slow us down and was practically moving before done being sick (I think he wanted off the mountain more than anyone)

Going down: 
           It was still pretty miserable.  At some point though I became numb to it all. I had been cold and wet and shivering for so long that it ceased to matter.  I actually became deluded enough that I was having fun again for awhile (though I didn’t say anything because there was still occasional puking, and people in a lot pain for other reasons.)    My happy place lasted for a good couple of hours…unfortunately a couple of hours out of six or seven for the hike down still isn’t that good of odds.

The final countdown:
            After awhile going down got painful.  Mostly in the knees but a bit everywhere.  Also we were all sleep deprived.  We became a bit zombie like just shuffling one foot in front of the other.  But we were almost there.  Oh wait no we weren’t.  We began to separate again into two groups, and at the end my group managed to think we were nearing the end 4 or 5 times.  The earliest when we still had about 3 hours left, it was like the never-ending hike. Until it finally ended.

     We went into the restaurant we got hot cocoa in the day before to rest, get warm, and wait for the other group, and girl to get down.  The only problem was with every layer wet even sitting inside I could not get warm.  I decided to get a hot chocolate and in my mind began to panic a bit.  I could not move my fingers well, particularly my thumbs.  Grabbing the coins to get my hot chocolate was incredibly hard.  I got very frustrated when I dropped a coin and could not grip it to pick it up.  I was nearly in tears and started having very paranoid thoughts “isn’t loss of movement a sign of frostbite” “do my thumbs look kinda blue”  “Ive been inside for half an hour surely I should be able to use my fingers by now”  Anyway  I pulled myself together got my hot chocolate, continued to blow on my hands and try to warm them till everyone was back, we got on the bus, and we got to the onsen for hot showers and a hot bath. 

The hot tub:
In the hot tub I stopped shivering for the first time in 9 hours.  All was well in the world again. 
The aftermath:
I lost my phone and my watch to the mountain.  My knees are still sore especially when I go down stairs.  My apartment smell like wet dog because of my soaked through jacket.  But for some reason I am still glad I went, and can’t convince myself that I didn’t have fun.  Clearly the mountain took what remained of my sanity as well. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Around Takaoka: the Kojo Park Zoo

One place I have explored in town is Kojo Park.  It is a big park, and among other things includes a small zoo (like the park by the swamp in La Crosse for those of you who had to observe the monkeys at some point).  But, for such a small zoo I learned a lot. 

~ Spider monkeys have a green/yellow tint to them, and are adorable.  I want one for a pet.

~  A raccoon dog is a real animal, but it is made out of nightmares.  Seriously, they looked pure evil.

~ Emu’s make surprisingly low sounds…idk how to describe it, something between a bark and a honk (of a bass or baritone whichever is lower).

~African porcupines are enormous.  They are not quite the size of a golden retriever but might be about equal to a small lab.  Certainly more than twice the size of Taz, but (probably) not quite three times the size.

And yes I tried to get photos and if the animals stayed still long enough for any of them to come out well I will add them when I get a chance

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Convenience stores and vending machines

They can be a major money sink.  You spend a little here and a little there, just the tiniest bit each day and before you know it you have spent a ton.  I realize this, and that I should stop using them so much but…

1.  They are called convenience stores for a reason, they are convenient.  And they really REALLY are.  I believe there are 3 between my apartment and school, making it so tempting for me to hit snooze a few extra times, and make up for that time by buying lunch rather than making it. 

2.  The little old lady cashier makes my morning when I stop in.  She is always so chipper.  She chit chats animatedly no matter how confused I get or how blankly I stare at her, and her excitement doesn’t disappear even when I tell her I can’t understand (which happens about twice per visit).  She just goes blabbering on until I understand a word or two and she gets even more excited.    

3.  Mountain Dew is not at the super markets near my apartment (I have seen it at one store that is on the far side of the train station, I would estimate it’s around a 45 minute walk one way).  Nor have I seen it in the vast majority of the vending machines scattered liberally around town.  Where is one vending machine that has it?  My school (oddly grape mountain dew is in a lot of them).  

 And for those reasons I think my vending machine and convenience store habit will be a hard one to break!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My First Enkai

Posted Aug. 12
Written Aug. 7th
Happened Aug. 5th

nkais are essentially parties with your co-workers, where there is food and drinking.  My visit school (the school I go to once a week) threw one as a welcome/goodbye party for the outgoing and incoming ALTs (there were 2 of each).  It was the first time I met anyone from this school.  I was very nervous, especially as I have a long history of making terrible first impressions (hello big hole in the bum of my pants on the first day of uni, and spewing in Scotland).  I thought this would be no exception as the day was hot, really hot and I felt sweaty and gross!  I booked it home after working all day at my base school changed clothes as quick as I could and continued hustling to make a stop at an ATM then to the restaurant.  All in all about an hour of speed walking in the humidity (some of which was done in heels.)  So I was a bit sweaty, and I managed to make my foot bleed in the process.  At an American party the foot thing would not have been an issue.  But our Enkai was in a traditional tatami room where you take off your shoes before entering (and sit on pillows on the floor).  Needless to say I looked a mess.  However, it didn’t seem to matter everyone was very kind, and I had a lot of fun.  I tried plenty of new foods (which I ate successfully with my chop sticks).  Some of which was delicious, some of which did not agree with me quite as well.  One shrimp looking thing in particular had good flavor but a dreadful texture.  And there was something green that I felt like I was chewing forever that was not my favorite (It looked like delicious avocado, but sadly was not).  On the plus side I enjoyed some excellent sashimi (couldn’t guarantee it, but yellowtail is a specialty in the area so may have been that) and a brothy pork dish with some vegetables that was quite superb.  All and all, the evening seemed to go really well.  The school even has a gymnastics club ( that sadly has had some flagging membership it’s down to 2) so they have asked me to join, which I am pretty excited about even though I suspect getting back into it will hurt.  After the work party I met up with some other local ALTs and did karaoke a very fun way to finish the night. 

When I get a chance I will post about exploring my town, and about hiking Tateyama Mountain. 

Tanabata Festival and Hanabi

Posted Aug. 12th
Written Aug. 9th
Happened Aug. 1-7 

Tanabata (sp? I probably butchered that, but it's how it sounds to me) is a star festival.  I beleive it is origninally a Chinese celbration in which a prince (represented by one star) gets to cross over and meet with the princess (represented by another star)  one night of the year.  Sadly, if it rains they do not get to meet that year.  In Japan it is usually celbrated in early July, in Takaoka however, the festival was the 1-7th of Aug. so I got here just in time.  To celebrate it children write their wishes onto decorations that are hung on bamboo trees.  There were also several firework displays in the prefecture, food stands, a stage with musicians, and I'm sure many other events I missed.  Here are a couple photos of the decorations in the night.

In addition to going to see the decorations in town I also went to hanabi (fireworks) twice during the last week.  Once in Toyama city and once in Takaoka city.  This was quite similar to how they are done for the music in Plymouth around the forth back home.  A huge group gathers, there is music (hearing supercalifagilisticexpialodoshis in Japanese was awesome), and there is lots of festival food.    I had Karage (some sort of fried chicken), an Octopus ball, A shaved Ice (those seem quite popular even at restaurants and things) and a chocolate and sprinkle covered banana.

P.S.  I know I've been dreadful about posting, but when I have my own internet set up in my apartment I will be better about it (this may not be for another month yet, it's impossible to say at this point).  I also will add more pictures then because I know how on my own computer, and it is a struggle on one where I can not read the options.   

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


The other day I was talking to another ALT about moving in and everything and she was saying how grocery shopping was a bit rough.  I said it was fine, you can tell what most things are by looking at them.  The very next day I stopped to grab lunch at a convenience store and instead of potato chips, I grabbed wasabi potato chips.  If you have ever eaten a meal with me, you know I am an absolute wimp when it comes to spicy food.  Black pepper? no thank you...mild salsa? if you drown it in sour cream and cheese maybe...wasabi? please rip my tongue out!!!

catching up

So its been awhile...  I left Tokyo and my final thoughts while heading to the airport were about how little of the city I had seen, how awesome the buildings are (usually I take excessive amounts of nature photos and ignore city scapes, but if I had not been on a bus I would have at least a hundred random building photos), and that Tokyo has way WAY more green space than I thought.
In Toyama-I have not been an active or exciting person here yet. So far has been a lot of paperwork for the local govt, the phone company(by the way,picking a phone plan when you cant read the details is less than fun), the bank, etc.I have also spent a lot of time sleeping and even more wishing I were asleep. 
Anyway on the few occaisions I have dragged myself out of bed I met a good number of the ALTs in the area and they seem like a great group.  I also found a baskin robbins and a mcdonalds that are within walking distance of my apartment so no need to concern yourself that I may starve here.I had orange muffin flavored ice cream for lunch that day in case you were wondering, and it was awesome!!!(it tastes way better than it sounds) 
Next time I get my computer somewhere connected to the internet I will post some pics from exploring my city and from the Tanabata festival which is going on at the moment.  

P.S. yes I know the formatting got wierd during that post but I cant figure out how to fix it