Monthly Archives: December 2008

No You May Not

Sadly, one of the more complicated phrases the munchkins learned in the after school English program this semester.

The biggest complaint stemmed from the fact that, after the first two weeks, we started assigning seating according to our own nefarious purpose – to keep kids sitting next to each other from engaging in all out warfare. We weren’t perfect (seating S and Tin Tin together is a mistake not easily forgotten) but we thought we had things fairly well settled.

The kids rarely agreed and I usually spent the first five minutes after they arrived stating “No, you may not” ad nauseum until they gave in.

A typical day consisted of them coming in around 4:20 and spending ten minutes or so running in and out of the classroom fetching whatever they had forgotten, going to the bathroom, or visiting friends participating in other activities. Around 4:30, we had them wrestled into their seats, did the roll call (one kid, Y, consistently replied with ‘I’m hungry’ rather than ‘here’), and appointed the Teacher’s Assistant (technically, the Teacher’s Assistant’s Assistant).

From there we moved onto the warm-up activity, which alternately consisted of practicing a phrase they already knew, like ‘what’s your name?’, or singing a song, my personal favorite and the apparent bane of their existence. We managed to get through Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes;  The Itsy Bitsy Spider; and  Jingle Bells. The Twelve Days of Christmas defeated them to a man,  however.

After warm-up, we’d review or introduce whatever vocabulary they were going to need for the day’s activity.

This is where the kids usually shone – they hated repeating the words and moaned bitterly, but they could clearly remember the pronunciations and meanings weeks later. On this particular day, we were going over Christmas themed words and one kid shocked all three of us TAs by answering my question of “Does anybody know what an ‘ornament’ is?” with a well-detailed explanation in Japanese. Shocked, mostly because the typical response to a question in English was a) dead silence or b) shouts that they didn’t understand.

After going over the vocab, we usually moved onto a craft activity or game that used the words they had just learned. On Tuesday, my last day, we did a Christmas-themed crossword puzzle and a Christmas memory game.

Finally, we wrap up with a book, though this is the first thing to get dropped if we run out of time. On Tuesday, I read the Night Before Christmas, which was way too advanced and read way too fast for them. I really wanted them to experience hearing it though and after reading through it, we went back and explained the story in Japanese. The same kid as before revealed that he knew the the names of all eight reindeer, which even I can’t remember.

Technically, I’m not supposed to post pictures of the kids here, but in this one they’re all looking away from the camera (for once), so hopefully it’s okay. Miyake, another TA, is sitting next to me, ready to explain in Japanese. Her English is very good, but even she had a hard time understanding the story before I explained some of the vocab.

That’s all for now, this is probably my last post while in Japan. I have to get my stuff together for my 30 hour trip home that starts Saturday morning. Wheeee!



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Tokyo or Bust

This trip almost didn’t happen, mostly because either Lisa or I couldn’t stop putting it off for one reason or another. We had IES field trips, host family obligations, my dad took up two weekends, exams, the works. So when Lisa pointed out that we basically had a free week right before we left (save for an exam each on Friday), we decided to jump on the opportunity. We left Monday morning by shinkansen*, stayed overnight and returned late Tuesday morning.

I finally got a un-blurred picture of the Nozomi super-express. Believe it or not, that train is still going about 40 mph in this photo.

Lisa in front of the train right before we scrambled on board. The thing was almost empty and we had our choice of seats. I wish I remembered what Lisa’s t-shirt said…

Because there were so few people on the train, I was able to run around and catch the best possible shot that could be had of Mt. Fuji from a high-speed train using my camera. However, I had a chance for a better shot – there was a brief moment where I could both the mountain itself and its reflection in a river under the train, but I was too slow. Drat.

After arriving at Tokyo Station (which, thankfully, is having its more historical bits restored), we popped out for a bit before hopping right back on the train. Saw the Imperial moat and as much of the Palace as you can see on a Monday (none).

From there, we used the Yamanote line to get to Harajuku, known for its crazy clothing shops, at Lisa’s request. I had been hoping to catch a glimpse of the area since I missed it with Ceci two years ago, but it turned out to be a bit small and disappointing. Of course, any place that involves buying clothing in Japan seems a bit small and disappointing to someone like me.

Next up was Shinjuku, with its giant Takashimaya/Tokyu Hands department store and the six-stories of Kinokuniya, the biggest bookstore I’ve ever seen (okay, maybe Powell’s is bigger). I didn’t get a picture of either of those places, but…

…apparently Krispy Kreme has made it to Japan, complete with ridiculously long lines.

From there we headed to Asakusa, where our ‘hotel’ was. Maybe you’ve heard of ‘capsule hotels’? Well, they’re right in the college student price range, so we decided to check one out.

They were actually bigger than I would have expected and fairly comfortable while you were awake. There was a TV with local channels and the lighting was bright enough for comfortable reading and knitting. They were also ‘tall’ enough that I (about 175cm tall) didn’t feel like I had to hunch and long enough that my feet weren’t sticking out other end. The hotel had a decent-ish public bath and wasn’t crowded at all.

Not bad, eh? Well, except that the ‘futon’ was about two inches thick and the pillow not much better, so I’d only recommend them for people young enough to shake off that kind of strain in the morning. It’s Thursday and I’m still not sure if my neck is going to forgive me.

Also, there’s no proper door on the front of your capsule, just a pull down curtain. Just FYI.

After a convenience store breakfast the next morning, we stopped by the shrine in Asakusa for a visit and some last minute shopping. This is the first time I’ve this particular shrine gate with a protective covering of scaffolding. Most of the stalls in front with awnings are selling hagoita (battledore) paddles. It used to be a tradition for girls to play battledore around the beginning of the new year, but now the paddles are mostly purchased as good luck items. They’re incredibly ornate and some of them are much too huge to be used by any one person. The link has a few good pictures.

We left from Tokyo before noon, mostly because I had work that afternoon.

Some knitting was accomplished – I finished the sleeves for Eiffel and got back to plugging away on the body.

Tomorrow – the much-awaited post on my job at Nanzan Elementary.

* Dear Firefox, ‘shinkansen’ is so a real word.


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12 on 12 Almost on Time

I was this close to getting this out on the twelfth (it’s one in the morning on the thirteenth) but my computer refused to cooperate. Typical.

Let’s jump right in, shall we?*

Slightly blurry shot of the dorm residents’ shoes. I snapped it from the hip as I was running out the door to part 3 of 4 of my Japanese final, having forgotten about the twelfth. You don’t want to know the size of the guy who wears the blue boats in the center.

Another day, another hill. This one, between the dorm and the main entrance, is steep enough that I’m fairly sure my car wouldn’t make it up and local teenage boys dare each other to ride their bikes up it.

The auditorium where we spent all of the morning, taking our final, filling out evaluation forms, holding a talent show and our farewell party. The final was only on kanji, vocabulary, and writing today. Listening final was yesterday, oral final was last Tuesday, and the grammar final is coming up next Friday. I kind of wish I could take it on Monday and go straight home, but oh well. I’ll be heading to Tokyo instead to kill time.

 Two people decided to dress up in kimono/yukata for the event – both guys. They were MCing the whole thing and decided to dress the part. The teachers were…bemused.

 Here they are, being drawn on the board by Erika. We have five female teachers and one male teacher, who was always indicated in class by a head-shape with the kanji for ‘man’ written on his face.

 Somewhere, Ellen knows she’s being embarassed on the internet. She did this hysterical dance routine to a Japanese song from the 70s. Something about an alien love song?

This guy was…not prepared. He ended up strumming a few chords and ad-libbing a song about forgetting to prepare for things.

There was some more western style dancing from these two. I was pretty surprised, I knew that the girl enjoyed ballroom dancing, but I wouldn’t have said that the guy had a right and a left foot.

All of the 400 level teachers, from left to right – E-sensei, Nice-sensei, Mean-sensei, Cool-sensei, Sensei-baachan, and Hobbit-sensei. Don’t ask me why E-sensei is looking at the camera oddly, I’m hoping it was a coincidence.

Next up – parents, please don’t look.

 This was lunch – chicken nuggets and Calpis. I’ll miss Calpis back in the US. It’s hard to believe that it won’t be at every convenience store, sitting right next to the bottles of Coke.

No, I did not eat the newspaper.

 I still had one more class to attend – Sumie. The professor had waited all semester to teach us a neat trick. You pour a little ink into some water and drop a piece of paper in.

Ta-da! Though there is no green color in reality, they still turned out really cool.

*Like you have any choice.

IES Program Coordinator: We’re going to be a little late getting into Nagoya. Is that okay with you?

Students: *silence*

Lisa: If we say no, will the bus go faster?


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Closing Up Shop

I’ve started packing about 10 days early, but really, what else do I have to do besides study?

Don’t answer that.

I’ve been putting off the dorm post mostly because I am really, really looking forward to going home and I’ve discovered that it’s colored my opinion of Japan. Just a bit.

Student Who’s Staying Next Semester: How’s the sumie class? Should I take it?

Me: It’s dumb.

SWSNS: So that’s a no?

Me: No. Everything’s dumb right now.

It’s true. Japanese class? Dumb. Finals? Dumb. Grocery shopping? Dumb. Going outside? Dumb. The pile of paper on my floor that I don’t want to pick up? Dumb, dumb, dumb.

I’m fairly sure this is just my brain trying to prepare me for the return home – why be unhappy in the country that you’re living in rather than the one you’re going to be leaving in less than two weeks. I’m sure I’ll be deliriously happy when I return home, but right now I’m kind of banging my head against the wall.

So anyways, the dorm. I did a bit of research on the Nanzan University website, jut to make that there were only the two dorms that I knew of. There are and someone has messed up the description – my dorm, Yamazato, is NOT a ‘few meters’ from the University, unless they’re using some sort of definition of ‘university’ that I am unfamiliar with. It’s closer to a few hundred meters away.

Strangely, Nagoya, the other dorm, is described as being ‘a short distance from the University’s main entrance’ when it is in fact, right across the street and slightly to the left of the main entrance. D’oh.

I was going to take pictures of the inside, but it’s not very photogenic and the residents are mostly entirely camera-shy. So have a picture of my room.

It’s a mess, mostly because I’m packing/trying to figure the cost of the stuff I bought here instead of studying for my listening comprehension exam (which is tomorrow) or my kanji/vocabulary exam (which is the day after that).

I’ve also taking to knitting incessantly, finding that it takes the edge off of crazed cabin fever. So here, a picture of the mysterious red thing from before.

It’s the Eiffel sweater, from Knitty. I’m knitting it up in Jarbo Garn’s Tropik, a cotton, bamboo, acrylic blend. Incredibly soft stuff. Sadly, this picture was taken a few days ago and not long afterwards the whole thing was declared ‘dumb’ and stuffed into a drawer. Instead, I taught myself to cable without a cable needle and got back to the Slippery Socks.

And finally, what’s a living situation without a little missionary work?


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I Say Hello

Okay, so there’s something I need to bring up. I won’t be posting here anymore starting sometime in mid-January. Obviously this blog is about my experiences in Japan and I leave for home on the 20th. There’s only so much mileage I can drag out of my PTSD. I hope.

Instead, I’ll be creating a new blog, as yet unnamed for general day-to-day things, seemingly like every other person on Earth. Topics to be included in the new blog, in case you’re interested:

– Knitting. Lots and lots of knitting. Every year in February, I have a presentation of knitting to make of about 14-20 items. I still have eight things to finish by the 8th of that month, plus a new baby cousin, plus my own, deep desire to knit something with chunky yarn and large needles (what was I thinking, bringing only socks and lace to Japan?).

– Medical school, the application process. I have to *gulp* take the MCATs this upcoming spring, in preparation for applying to medical school my senior year.

– I’ll be living in a house with two of my best friends and a kitty cat. Yes, I have a cat. Isn’t it in the rules somewhere? 

– I read. A lot. Derive from that what you will.

Expect notice of the new blog sometime in late December.


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Miscellaneous 部分

部分 [bubun] means ‘portion’ or ‘piece’ in Japanese. It’s one of those words that never showed up on a vocabulary test, but the professors (all seven of them) simultaneously started using it about two weeks ago, much to the confusion of about two-thirds of my class.

What’s the shopping like?

I can divide my shopping experience into four categories – specialty shops, convenience stores, malls, and grocery stores.

The malls are…new? I don’t recall seeing any two years ago, or three years ago, or four years ago. They do seem to be a bit older than that, though not by much. They are very much so like your average American mall with way too many clothing stores, houseware stores, CD stores, and typically an excellent bookstore. There’s also usually a food court (complete with Subway and McDonalds) and some sort of gaming arcade.

Department stores play a smaller part in shopping here than they do in American malls, rather, all of the malls I’ve been to in Japan have had a grocery store attached instead. There usually is one department store available, though they only occupy one floor and sell mainly brand name clothing and accessories. Besides the food court, there are various sit-down restaurants concentrated in a separate area, only accessible from inside the mall.

While these seem to be gaining in popularity (I saw a rather frighteningly large number of them on the train from Nagoya to Okazaki, a nearby, smaller city), Japanese people still seem to prefer specialty shops. There’ no real equivalent to Walmart or Target in Nagoya that I’ve seen, no get-it-all-at-once stores. A shop that specializes, the wisdom seems to go, is focused and highly skilled at what they do, probably because their livelihood depends on it.

Thinking about Tucson (my hometown) and St Paul (my college town), I would definitely say that free-standing, specialty stores are more common for day-to-day shopping, followed closely by department stores. Obviously, proximity matters – a nearby department store offers most of the same things as scattered specialty shops will win out, even in the Japanese mind. I’ve been to small CD stores, stores that just sell black ink, too many small bookstores to count, fruit stands, stationery stores, tombstone shops, and tea shops, just to name a few. Specialty shops don’t have to be small here, though. Electronic stores and bookstores especially, can swell to enormous proportions, though I haven’t seen any of the chain takeover business that you get with Borders and Barnes & Noble in the US. Sure, we have major chains like Maruzen and Kinokuniya, but for every branch they have, there’s a small bookstore operating in a branch subway station.

Convenience stores are king here. I can name seven within ten minutes walk of my current location, and there’s probably more over the hill that I don’t know about because I’ve only lived here for two and a half weeks. I’ve been in Japan long enough, however, that I can’t quite remember the differences between Japanese and American convenience stores, but I’ll probably be vastly disappointed when I get home.

A few items of note – convenience stores here sell such items as spare underwear, extra socks, books, adult magazines, bananas (and rarely any other fruit), a fairly large selection of stationery and, starting in the cooler months, oden – stewed goodies that you can select to go, such as hard-boiled eggs, fish cake, and tofu. Yummy.

Finally, grocery stores. They’re fairly small, unless you happen upon one attached to a mall. There’s always an attached bakery, with excellent quality bread, usually for very cheap. Wandering up and down the aisles, you can get a pretty good idea of what’s universal and what’s not. Spaghetti is, as is spaghetti sauce (though it comes in a pouch, rather than a jar), canned soup is not. Sliced bread always comes in packets about 15-20 centimeters wide, the only difference between loaves is the number of slices you get for your money, 4, 5, 6, or 8. In other words, you pay 108 yen no matter what (for store brand bread), and get the same amount of bread, just different thicknesses.

There’s no deli counter that I’ve seen, just meat out for display. There’s usually a sushi counter though and nearby you can find prepared meals of rice, croquettes (various bits of breaded and deep-fried who-knows), and pickles.

Various Japan-specific treats I’ll miss – yoghurt flavored drinks everywhere, iced salty rice cakes, a type of citrus that’s somewhere between a clementine and an orange, enormous sweet grapes, oden, potato croquettes.

How does Nagoya compare to the other places you’ve been to in Japan?

Okay, for starters, where I’ve been in Japan besides Nagoya – Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara (the ancient capital), Hakone (but only for a day), the fifth station on Mt Fuji (for about 3 hours), and the Izu peninsula.

We’ll eliminate Mt Fuji and Hakone right away, since I don’t have a very strong impression of either of them. Mt Fuji’s a lot more impressive 100 miles away, rather than sticking off of the side of it.

The Izu peninsula is exceedingly rural and where I’ve spent the most time. Houses, schools, and businesses vied for space with rice fields, the ocean, and the mountains. Very different from Nagoya.

Between Nagoya and Tokyo, I would say that this is one of the few cases in which Tokyo comes out with a better image of history and culture. Nagoya was pretty much burnt to the ground in World War II and lost many of the cultural resources it previously had (even Nagoya Castle got a little toasted). Furthermore, when the time came to rebuild, they made the decision to have very wide, “convenient” boulevards for cars. This resulted, vexingly, in one of the highest rate’s for traffic deaths for a prefecture in Japan. Whoops.

Another difference – walk anywhere in Tokyo city limits and within 5-10 minutes I guarantee that you will practically fall into a subway station. I had managed to trick myself into thinking Nagoya’s subway system was fairly extensive, though less so than Tokyo’s.

Nagoya has 4 major subway lines. Tokyo has 13. The map looks like a spider web.

Nagoya does not compare in any way to Kyoto or Nara with their hundreds and hundreds of years of history. On the whole, I believe it suffers culturally, but is a well-enough place to live, though it definitely has it’s nicer areas in which to live.

What was the reaction to the US election?

From the Japanese people? No idea. Japanese news reporting can be a little…obtuse. The English-language newspaper that I can follow here at the dorm, The Japan Times, follows a rather happy-go-lucky style of news distribution. From what I can tell, they are less exuberant than Europe, but not angry or disappointed in any visual way. Mostly, I think that Japanese college students can visualize what impact it will have on their lives and so have no strong opinions either way.

From the other foreigners studying at CJS? Very pleased. You’d think that we were sheepherders whose best ewe had just dropped triplets; cigars and backslaps all around.

That’s the last of these question posts, unless something else suddenly occurs to you guys. Next week, I’ll do a post about the dorm, then there’s 12 on the 12th. Things are starting to wrap up here, with final exams and final papers and planning out how to get to the airport. That last one seems to be on order of marshalling an army.


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Education, Outside of Class

Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Do any of the IES kids have new local friends or does that not happen?

First, a bit of clarification – I am an IES student studying at Nanzan University through that school’s Center for Japanese Studies. There are about 25 IES kids that I went through an extra orientation with and, on the whole, know much better than the other 100 students who are studying at CJS through various other programs. There are exceptions – I know some people in my 400 level class better than I know the IES student who I never saw again after orientation and nevers comes on the IES field trips.

In any event, I’ll speak to my own personal experience and make a few generalizations.

I have no Japanese friends. The Japanese college students that I am closest to are my co-workers at the elementary school. After that, probably the Japanese people in my dorm. The thing is, it was so much easier to make friends with the other foreigners from CJS and IES. We all had a fairly common background, usually a common language, extremely similar interests and goals, and had just been thrust into a stressful situation that drew attention to our outsider status.

Part of this is because, while Nanzan has an excellent Japanese language program, there is very little integration with the Japanese student population. Even when we do interact, it’s in a classroom setting (like my Education class) and poor language skills all around can make things awkward, especially if your interests run towards things that are seen as typically male, or typically nerd.

Obviously, there are students who have managed to make the leap to having Japanese friends, joining Japanese clubs and so forth (they tell you to make friends here, you need to join a club, but the success rate’s about 50/50 from what I’ve seen), but almost no one I know spends more time outside of school with their Japanese friends than with friends they’ve made at CJS.

People who do have a large number of Japanese friends seem to fall into two categories – they are male and/or they are in the 500 or 600 level classes. Obviously, my sample size is only about 125, so don’t take me too seriously.

How’s the cafeteria food?

Pretty bad. You’re told when you arrive that Nanzan has multiple cafeterias, all serving varying kinds of hot lunches for about 400-900 yen, which is a good deal for a meal here.

Except that the meals fall into two categories – some sort of noodles with way too high salt concentrations and not enough protein (though plenty of veggies) and lunch sets (which are more expensive) that are usually cold and unappetizing. Neither one provides enough nutrition to get you through your afternoon, but almost religious devotion by most of CJS, including myself, did result in a precipitous drop in waistlines through September and October.

The school does have an on-site bakery, though, as well as a convenience store, where a more nutritious lunch can be had for not too much cash.

How’s dorm life?

Not bad, but I’ve only been here two weeks and my noted charm hasn’t had time to make many enemies.

The rooms are pretty nice, with your own wall-mounted heater/air-conditioner, toilet, and sink. The storage is also pretty impressive – a desk with four drawers and a cabinet, a dresser, a closet, a cupboard full of shelves, and a nightstand. A mattress, blankets, and sheets are provided, though I would recommend getting your own pillow. The provided one is filled with plastic pellets.

The kitchen is communal and you get your own cupboard and refrigerator space. Kitchen cleaning is divided among everyone and done every day (and not very stenuous). There’s a TV and waaaaaaay too many video games (N64 is a favorite). There’s a washing machine and a dryer on each floor (2nd floor’s dudes, 3rd floor’s chicks) and bathing is communal, wia private shower, or a Japanese style personal bath tub, if you prefer.

There are occasional events, such as when we challenge the other dorms to video game tournaments and your average dorm meetings. Last week, a resident organized Thanksgiving dinner for 25 people.

Upsides – complete, American-style dorm freedom. No curfew, you make what you want to eat and stay up as late or get up as early as you want. There’s no commute for two of the dorms, Nagoya Koryu Kaikan and Yamazato Koryu Kaikan, both about five minutes from campus.

Downsides – there’s no ‘family’ to depend on. You’re dependent on CJS and its operating hours for any problems you might have. You have to buy and cook your own groceries (and I do not recommend trying to live on cup ramen).

Next up, miscellaneous topics, such as shopping, Nagoya, and the US election results.


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