Friday, September 30, 2005

Giant Squid caught on film!

My dream of being the first person to capture the giant squid, Architeuthis, on film has been shattered! Japanese scientists recently published the first live images ever captured of the largest known invertebrate. Scientists have been doing all sorts of crazy things (sitting around in ROVs, attaching cameras to sperm whales -- the primary predator of the giant squid) to try and see the giant squid in it's natural habitat. These guys did it by studying sperm whale diving patterns and using a relatively simple bait and hook (with camera). They estimate the length of the animal they saw as over 8m (I believe that includes the lengthy tentacles).

Check out the Smithsonian Architeuthis expedition here for more information about the hunt for the giant squid.

Friday Night Fun

I can't believe I'm spending my Friday night trying to figure out the Japanese census. They've helpfully provided me with English instructions and a translation of the form, but I should have brought it to work and gotten my supervisor to help me with those exciting questions like the total floor area of my apartment. And writing my address in Japanese. But I guess it's time I learned those kanji. I'm sure being able to write my address will be useful in the future.

In Japan, the census is taken every four years, so I must be a special JET, becuase not everybody gets this fun international experience!

Deciphering Japanese paperwork -- fun times!

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Today I taught my first day at the Central Daycare in town. I've taught at the two other kindergartens in town, but this one is completely different. I'm on my own with about thirty children under the age of six (okay, there are about three other adults around to assist, but none of them speak any English, and my Japanese is limited at best). The idea is to teach them some English and have some fun for a half hour. It is the largest and youngest group I have ever taught, and I didn't really have any idea how many students I would be teaching or for how long until I got there.

Okay, I did have a lot of fun. After a super abbreviated self introduction, I had the kids play some games. Duck Duck Goose may not be the most educational game ever played, but the kids had fun, once they figured out what the crazy new teacher was trying to get them to do. They must have had a good time, because some of the older kids were asking if I could stay and play some more games with them!

(Side note: my classroom Japanese is improving a lot faster than my conversational Japanese. If only more people would talk to me about playing tag at the office!)

The rest of the day I spent going through the mass of old teaching materials under my desk at the BOE. I found some really useful things like stickers and stamps and basic flashcards, and some seriously random stuff. Note to other ALTs: if you leave really unusual teaching materials for your predecessor, you should give some idea of what you used them for.

I also visited the Junior High School in the afternoon to record some listening tests. I played the role of Aki, who wants to be an English teacher. Let's enjoy studying English!

I also became a hero to my JTE and several of my students for finding a karaoke version of the Backstreet Boys classic: "I want it that way". Domo arigato gouzaimasu to Nick, my Bittorrent sensei. If you don't know the song, consider yourself lucky. It is one of the worst earworms (and a terrible song) and I'm sure by the time the English competition they are singing it for rolls around I will have it permanently lodged in my brain.

With that incredible feat out of the way, I was asked to prepare a report on Japanese students, Japanese English classes and how they compare to foreign language education in Canada. For tomorrow. Because having been teaching here for over a month I am now an expert on foreign language education in Japan and abroad. Especially with my extensive (aka nonexistent) foreign language instruction experience prior to this.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Women in Japan

This news item says it all. Want to update the McDonalds image for Japan? Replace Ronald with a woman in a bikini!

Back to Work

It's a shame, but long weekends don't last forever. Today was back to work at the high school, after a fun weekend in Asahikawa.

After a two and a half hour kendo practice on Saturday, I picked up my friend Jessie and we went into the city for some fun. She had spent a total of 36 hours in the last week practicing for her Junior High School's band concert, so we made our first stop The Den -- the local gaijin watering hole. They have Guiness on tap, and carry tonic water (unlike the bars in my town: gin, but no tonic). We ended up at a club that was supposed to play house music, but it turned out to be disco night, so we did the hustle.

After a good night blowing off steam, I decided that I should attempt to find some new clothes. It's now fall so when I wear short sleeves, even if it's warm out, everyone in the office comments that I must be cold. Isn't it cold? I guess I didn't get the memo about the change in dress code. It is really starting to cool down though. And it was darkl by the time I got home today! I may have to turn on my heater soon!

Clothes shopping was pretty fun -- there are some neat things here to wear, along with some very strange things that wouldn't go over well at the office (or in my small town for that matter). Clothing is more expensive, even for the basic things I was buying, but the quality is really good. Maybe I'm rationalizing; I was just excited that I was able to find tops and PANTS that fit me. Mostly. My arms are too long, but the same goes at home. I still haven't brought myself to buy a new track suit. Everyone wears them here, especially at the Elementary schools. I can handle running shoes, but the track suit is just too much for me.

I talked to mom and dad who sound fresh and relaxed after their trip. It was really nice to hear from them. They've been keeping in touch via email, but it's always nice to hear voices from home. Even if my phone line is terrible.

Today I worked at the High School, which was actually a lot of fun! I had thought I would have to do my introduction lesson yet again (My name is Maryna. I come from Canada. Here is a picture of my family.) but thankfully, I got to do real classes today! I'm glad, because I'm sick of introducing myself. I did some Madlibs with the Grade 10s and some Canadian culture with the Grade 12s. I ended off the work day with the last conversation class for the three students who will be touring Canada next week. I'm so jealous! They're going to be staying in Vancouver for a night (strangely, at the same hotel where I did my JET interview). I want a night in Vancouver! They are a good group of girls, and with a lot of prodding, will even attempt to speak some English. I can't wait to hear how their trip goes!

This evening I spent at a concert. I have no idea who the performers were, but it was a mix of traditional shamisen playing (my favorite part), Japanese folk songs, and comedy routines. The latter was mostly lost on me, but the shamisen made up for that. I feel kind of bad -- I managed to double book myself for the concert and had to bow out of my monthly appearance at the Rotary club meeting. But how often to concerts come to town? Not very often. I just hope I haven't made anyone lose face by choosing one over the other.

Okay, this is far too long, and I need to go to bed if I'm going to be functional, if not genki at school tomorrow.

Friday, September 23, 2005

今日は休みです!Kyou wa yasumi desu! Today is a holiday!

red leavesAnd being a holiday, I took it easy. I had planned on going to Hakodate this weekend for another HAJET sponsored welcome party, but after looking into how much it would cost to get there and back, I decided to stay closer to home.

I slept in, made a nice breakfast (including real coffee!) and went out to Sounkyo to see the fall colours. It wasn't very busy because everyone else had taken a look at the weather report. It was misty and rainy and chilly. I met my friend Mayumi who works in Sounkyo, and she took the rest of the aftertnoon off to go up the ropeway with me. The ropeway is a gondola that runs halfway up Mt. Kurodake every 20 minutes. You then take a chairlift to the seventh stage of the climb, and make your way to the summit from there. The rain and cold, not to mention the complete lack of view thanks to the rain (ame) and mist (kiri) forced us back early. But I took lots of pictures anyway. The leaves are in transition, and the area is really beautiful. With all the shades of green and red and orange and gold you can imagine, it really lives up to the Ainu name of "playground of the gods".

After freezing our way back dowm the ropeway, Mayumi and I stopped for a big hot bowl of ramen, and then I went to the onsen for a good soak. An excellent way to spend a day off.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My House

My House
Originally uploaded by anyram.

Hey -- I don't think I've ever taken any pictures of where I live! This is my apartment building. I'm on the top left. It's a huge three bedroom place. One room of which is currently my office. The other two bedrooms have tatami mats on the floor. The kitchen is big, but the appliances are pretty small. I miss my full size fridge. Someday, when I get around to clearing up all of my clutter, I'll even post pictures of the inside.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Pasukon English

I know I've writting about having to translate pasukon english, but I don't think I've ever posted an example. Today is you lucky day. Try your luck with the following:

The goodwill friendship exchange for the junior high school students, between Japan and Canada in 2005 had expected results and no problems.
The exchange enterprise undertaken over 11 days from July 23 to August 2 was experience precious to a student. I am thankful to you that this exchange concerned from the bottom of my heart. Exchange greets the 10th time by the end of this year. This exchange is the limited opportunity which can actually experience a life in foreign culture for the children who bear a new time. Children have to make a living as earth family’s member. Furthermore, in future society, pulling together and living all together is called for strongly.
There are many things which children learned from living with the men of Canada in both short periods.
As for the students who did precious experience, a spread is looked at by relation of the heart. Developing from the spread is beyond imagination.
The problem arose the middle until it returns from a start.
However, it is a delightful limitation that the planned plan was able to be returned to the town, without causing big confusion by adequate judgment of a leader downward.
When every students have and realize their dream, how does it employ efficiently? It is sure that the student of the K. junior high school also cultivates a life of him focusing on the children who realized wonderfulness of the encounter with people and a man. Finally, on the occasion of this exchange, I am thankful to the exchange enterprise persons concerned by making K. Town into the start.
H. Town develop increasingly and friendship goodwill exchange being more substantial.
Thank you very much.

Edit: I should add, this is a computer generated translation. That explains why some of the vocabulary is pretty advanced, while the text makes no sense. Of course, the same could be said of some scientific papers I have read...
"Pasukon" is Japanese for personal computer.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Board of Education Friendship Club

Saturday morning I was up bright and early to meet the bus for an out-of-town adventure with my BOE. You wouldn't think that a two-day bus trip with your co-workers, who's language you don't speak would be a whole lot of fun, but that's because you've never been inside a Japanese tour bus. The first thing that happens is the coolers of alcohol get opened, and everyone starts drinking. This is mostly a cultural thing -- you have to at least have one beer in you so you can break down the office hierarchy and enjoy yourself. And in Japan, only the driver has to be sober. There is zero-tolerance for drinking and driving if you are the one doing the driving. Passengers can have as much as they want. Then, to go with the drinks, the snacks come out. Dried fish, dried squid, nuts, chocolate. They had piles of stuff to nibble on. I tried most of the strange things too. Sadly, dried scallops are not very tasty.

Our first stop was Yubari -- also the location of the Central Hokkaido Welcome party the same weekend. I didn't run into any other ALTs though. Yubari was once a coal-mining town, but like so many other small towns, it has run into problems in recent years. Yubari has opened their former coal mine up as a theme park called "Wonder Valley". It wasn't so wondrous, but I was hanging out with the office ladies at the location where the Japanese movie "北の零年" (Year zero in the North) was shot. I'll have to see if I can dig it up on DVD so I can see it with English subtitles. The other end of the park has some rollercoasters and things, but I didn't see any of that.

Our next stop was Sapporo. We stayed at a hotel right in Susukino -- the main entertainment district in Sapporo. After a short break, we were off to the enkai. As it turns out, this was also my welcome party! The Superintendent made a speech in English. It was very well done. I understood most of it. Either he had someone help him, or my pasukon English is getting better.
We ate a literal boatload of sashimi: everything from tuna, mackerel, squid and octopus to sea urchin, ascidians (aka sea squirts -- I didn't know those were edible) and whale. The whale was the only thing I didn't try. Yes, I was extremely curious to know how whale meat tastes, but I don't like the idea of eating whale. There was also plenty of crab, a Hokkaido specialty.

The ni-ji kai was at a club with a comedy/song and dance review. It was all in Japanese, but thankfully for me, physical comedy is one of the most popular forms of comedy in Japan. And with enough beer and sochou, everything is funny. I stayed out late with the younger members of the crowd. Yes, my office has actual people under the age of thirty. I hear this is a rarity, and even more unusual, some of them even live in my small town.

The next day, we were off bright and early again -- some of us nursing hangovers -- this time to visit the huge outlet mall in Chitose (also where the main airport in Hokkaido is located). It was just like visiting the States. Most of the same stores, and despite the name "outlet", everything was far too expensive. I didn't buy anything exciting, but I did enjoy the name of this store: VUMPS (Very Upwardly Mobile Papas). The rest of the day was spent on the bus, with one stop for omiyage. In Japan, if you go somewhere, you are expected to buy a small gift for everyone at home. There are stores that cater to this, especially in airports and at train stations, so that you can easily pick something up on your way back home. If you leave through the same departure gate I did in the Vancouver International Airport, there is one near the gate. All kinds of gifts, generally small individually wrapped foods, are available. And not just from the city you are in. If you take a vacation from work, this is a way of apologizing to your co-workers for letting them down and not being at work.

After this exciting weekend, I spent all day Monday doing very little. I enjoyed sleeping in, made a nice cup of coffee, and did some much needed housecleaning.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sounkyo Elementary

On Thursdays, I go to a variety of different schools. Some weeks it's one of the local kindergartens, other days I go to the daycare, and once a month I go to one of the two small Elementary schools in neighboring towns that are under my town's jurisdiction. This week was my first week at Sounkyo Elementary. There are only 8 students, from Grades 1 to 6.

I take the bus there and back -- for some strange insurance reason, I can't drive myself. So, yesterday I packed up my self-introduction goodies, and some other teaching stuff and went out to Sounkyo. I only teach for 45 minutes, and the major goal is for the kids to have fun and enjoy learning English. So after I introduced myself and showed some pictures, I had the kids introduce themselves to me. We reviewed the alphabet and played some fun alphabet games -- I had the kids make letters as a group. The fastest team got a point, and the winners got alphabet stickers. We played tag with all of the other teachers for the rest of class.

I had lunch with the kids, helped clean up the school, played some soccer, and then it was time for me to catch the bus back to the office.

Trip to the "Big City"

Wednesday night, instead of our usual shodo practice, Mayumi-san and I drove into Asahikawa for dinner and a movie. I don't think I've gone into Asahikawa since I first got here! I was really sorry I didn't bring my camera -- the clouds and the sunset over the hills and rice fields was beautiful -- even with Asahikawa's smokestacks.

The movie theatre is in a "big box" complex on the outskirts of town. In the basement is a huge supermarket. And there they have the holy grail for westerners living in Japan: whole wheat flour. So once I have a free day (maybe this Monday, it's a day off to "respect the aged") I will be trying my hand at baking bread in my mini-oven. I don't usually eat white bread, and that is all they sell in the stores here. One of the other ALTs was telling me there is a town somewhere in Hokkaido where the large Australian population petitioned for whole wheat bread, but that is the only place he knows of where you can get non-white bread in the store. I also bought some stewing beef -- 666 yen for 500 grams (it was on sale). That's about $7 CDN. And some parmesan and gorgonzola. Hokkaido cheese is pretty good, but very mild. I like my cheese stinky. They have free refrigerated lockers outside the movie theatre, so you can shop and then watch your movie.

We met up with one of Mayumi-san's former students, who is now a Junior High School teacher in Asahikawa, and had dinner in Asahikawa's ramen alley. There are 8 ramen shops, side by side, across from the movie theatre. I finally tried shio (salt) ramen. It was incredible. I may have found a new favorite. Maybe it was just so tasty because Wednesday really felt like a fall day. It was cold and miserable, and nothing warms you up like a big bowl of hot noodles!

Movies are generally pretty expensive, about 1800 yen ($18). But Wednesday is "Ladies Night" and seats are only 1000 yen. We saw "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". I quite enjoyed it -- much closer to the spirit of the book, and the oompa loompas were great. It made for a very nice break from my regular routine!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Me vs. The Vegetable Fairy

One of my biggest small town challenges: What to do with the anonymous bags of food that appear on my doorstep? I can barely finish one before the next batch is here. And leaving for the weekend only makes it worse. I came home on Sunday to not one, but two bags of vegetables! Potatoes, one bag. Daikon. Red pepper. Tomatoes. Eggplant. Japanese Pumpkin (Kabocha). That brings my pumpkin tally this week to four. And this after being given a bag on Thursday before I left! Tomatoes, a full shopping bag. Hot peppers! More eggplant.
I think I get so much food because people don't see me very much in the grocery store. And the reason they don't see me in the grocery store is because I have to think of what to do with all these vegetables they bring me! It's a vicious cycle. That, and it's harvest season, and most people keep large gardens.

So any suggestions for a good recipe that freezes well and can use up all those pumpkins would be appreciated!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Weekend at Lake Kusharo

This weekend I decided that it was time to get out of town. And what better way to do that than with a HAJET sponsored welcome party in Eastern Hokkaido. I drove out Friday night with one of my neighbors to a town called Teshikaga and enjoyed hanging out with the local ALT and some other people who were there early.

The next day was camping out at the lake -- a really gorgeous place with a lakeside onsen and everything. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring. This one was extremely natural. Some stone stairs had been built up, and there was a little wooden shack to leave your clothes at. It was also really hot! I would guess 43 celcius. So a jump in the nice cold lake was necessary. I guess that since this pool was outside, it would be called a rotenburo. Whatever the designation, it was the highlight of the weekened. Well, that and a late night "appearance" by the famed dolphin-creature that lives in the lake...

Sunday was spent lazing about in the sun and swimming in the lake before hopping into the hot hot hot non-airconditioned car and driving home in 32 degree heat. Plenty of ice cream (they sell soft serve cones in the freezer section at conbini's) and cold water kept me from overheating, but they didn't stop me from coming down with a cold. I came home Sunday, had dinner and a bath and was out by 8pm. This morning I was delightfully snotty and croaky. And I foolishly didn't pack my trusty Sudafed (it's illegal in Japan). And I had three classes at the high school today. Maybe it's a good thing I am still working my way through my self-introduction lesson. I may be tired of teaching it, but I've done it so much now I don't have to think about it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bored but unharmed

So, beacause of the typhoon last night and today, my trip out to one of the small towns in the area to teach got cancelled. Which meant I spent the day at the office. Which was very boring. True, I did get to spend the whole day studying Japanese. But on the other hand, I had to spend the whole day studying Japanese. Thankfully, there was no serious damage caused by the typhoon in my area. So no worries everyone! I haven't seen the news yet, so I don't know how the rest of Hokkaido has fared.

I did get to go teach at a conversation lesson at the high school this afternoon. Those classes are a lot of fun, but trying to get the students to speak English is really hard! Almost as difficult as getting the teachers NOT to help them! I think the students know a lot more than they think they do, it's just a matter of being forced to use it.

Today we talked about life with your host family... so I got to play the host, and talk really fast to the students. Also known as standard conversational speed. I was trying to remember what spending time with a host family was like, and what hosting a foreign student was like. But I was really lucky the last time I was in Japan. One of the daughters in my host family had studied in the States, and had excellent English. Next week we'll be sticking to the same topic. The girls are only going to be with their host families for three nights -- but definitely long enough to have to speak to them!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Typhoon 14

Yes, there is a big typhoon headed straight for Hokkaido. In Japan it's simply named typhoon 14. Everywhere else is calling it typhoon Nabi (Korean for butterfly). I was supposed to teach at one of the small town Elementary schools tomorrow, but the school is going to be closed because of the storm. It's really windy right now, and has been raining all day.

The storm has been downgraded, but there are still some weather warnings for Hokkaido. People are really concerned because it's nearly harvest time, and a big storm like this could ruin this year's rice crop. Apparently, a big typhoon hit last year and wiped out the buckwheat crop (used for making soba noodles).

Off to put my bike in the shed before it blows away!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

I have a big stick

That's right -- I went to kendo class today.

I was all ready for not being allowed to do anything fun because if was my first day. I've seen the Karate Kid. I know how these things work. But my friend (and teacher) Mayumi-san was there, and she brought me an old shinai (bamboo sword) to use, and showed me some basic moves. The class is at the local gym, and the students range in age from 6 and 7 year olds to parents.

I practiced very basic movements; how to hold the 竹刀 or shinai properly, what to do with my feet, how high to hold it over my head, how to bash someone over the head. I only did half a class (45mins) because Mayumi-san had to practice too. She doesn't actually teach the class, but has been doing kendo for a while (as had one of her sons) and is willing to teach me the basics, and even better, lend me some equipment. So maybe I'll get to hit people soon...

If I end up doing kendo, I am going to have some solid pipes -- the sticks are light, but swinging them over your head for 3 hours a week will build some serious arm musculature!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Pictures around town...

Just some pictures I took on my bike ride after work today... a good day teaching at the high school.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Mochi o tsuku

This morning I was excorted by my friend Watanabe-san to a mochi o tsuku party (I thought it was "mochi o tsuki" but my dictionary says tsuku). At any rate, I went to go and help make mochi! This is one of the specialties in the area, I think because the rice grown here is very good (but I hear that about places all over Japan). It was really interesting. Mochi is translated as "glutinous rice cakes" which make them sound extremely unappetizing. I wish people would stop translating food items. For example; nobody pours me sake, they pour me Japanese rice wine. O-sake wa sake! (The "o" is usually put in front for politeness I think). It gets really bad when you move into more interesting food items. Sushi sounds tasty, raw fish not so much. I don't mind, I like both ;)

So, I helped to pound some steamed rice into a glutinous paste -- which was a lot harder than the old guys doing it made it look. The paste was then rolled out, and formed into dumplings. These were topped with either sweetened soybean flour, shouyu (soy sauce), or natto (fermented soy beans). It was really neat to get involved in a small community gathering where people were getting together to make something. And, there was plenty of food. I was less excited about the beer that was thrust into my hand when I got there about 11am. Drinking is really an important social activity in Japan. I ended up hanging out with the old men at the party, and some of them were falling down drunk by the end of the afternoon. But they were really entertaining to talk to. All of them said I should stay here for many years. One of them even offered me his son to marry. Never admit that you don't have a boyfriend to an old Japanese guy. He will either offer you unmarried children, or to be your boyfriend himself. But I did learn some new Japanese hand gestures too. I think that a thumbs up indicates a boyfriend and a pinky up shows a girlfriend. I'll have to check with some of my younger Japanese friends to make sure.

I'm really glad I have a contact here like Watanabe-san, who makes sure I am invited to events around town (and brings me vegetables from his garden). It's really hard to find out what is going on in town because I don't speak the language. But there are a lot of people here who want me to stay a long time, and go out of their way to make sure I'm doing well.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

JHS Festival

Today I was at the Junior High School Festival. Even though everything was in Japanese, it was still really fun. The morning program was lots of speeches, mostly from the students. They ranged from funny slideshow presentations of recent class trips, to serious speech competitions. The school "brass band" played a few numbers, and there was also the class singing competition. Each class sang a proscribed song, followed by their own selection. They were pretty good for a bunch of Jr. High kids. And I guess singing in Japan isn't like at home -- here you do it whether you like it or not. But they seem to enjoy it. Even the boys. Even the grade nine boys. The boys here enjoy cross-dressing too. There were a handful of guys who ended up in drag at various points during the morning presentation (and at the Strawberry camp I helped with last month, the boys were much more into the wigs and dressing up than the girls were... interesting...).

The most fun was hanging out at the バーザー or bazzar (pronounced katakana style as baazaa). I got a chance to actually hang out with the students, instead of being a "teacher". They had all sorts of different games, and food and stuff. These are some of the really crazy ni-nen sei's (Grade 8s) manning the "bobbing for goodies" area. Goodies included plastic beetles, superballs, and balloon yo-yos. I'm almost as bad at these games as I am at catching fish. Same technique.

Another fun area was the candy store -- I was treated to all kinds of strange Japanese candy by many of my students. Stuff like dried squid, dried umeboshi (pickled plums), dry ramen noodles, and some really nasty sugar "yogurt". I don't know what that last one really was, but I hope never to encounter it again. I should have taken pictures.

After the bazzar wrapped up, there was a cool trivia game. All three classes and the teaches participated. Each team sends up a group of four to six players each round, and they have to answer a question together. And by together, I mean each person writes one letter. So not only does the whole team need to know the answer, they also need to figure out which part of the answer they are. Example: One of the questions was what is ringo in English? So to get it right, the first person writes "a", the next "p", and so on. I'll have to try and incorporate this game into some of my English classes. It made for some entertaining answers.

There were also some skits and entertainments from some of the students, and a perfomance by a student rock band. They weren't too bad, except for the really off-key vocals.

And of course, no school festival would be complete without having the student body dance in unison around a bonfire to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw". In pairs no less. Of course, I got in on the fun too, and was there was much laughter because I started out dancing with one of the cute, young male teachers. For some reason, this blog won't let me put any other pictures on, so please take a look at my flickr site if you want to see more.

Oh yeah, there was also the closing ceremony where prizes were awarded for the morning competitions. I think the san-nen sei (Grade 9) swept the awards.

It's definitely getting to be the end of summer (sigh!). I was freezing by the end of the afternoon, and it was only 20C in my apartment when I got home. In the last few weeks it's been closer to 28C. And, yes, living in Victoria has made me a total cold weather wimp. It's a good thing it doesn't get that cold here -- just boatloads of snow.