Thursday, August 31, 2006


Hello my religious readers of the blog:

I didn't realize how many people actually read this! Great! Motivation to keep up with it! Today was my first day at Elementary School. GEEEEENNNKKKIIIIII!!!!!! I walk in and I am greeted by the teachers with such enthusiasm. They are all wearing nametags in English. Domo Arigato Gozaimaassuuuu!!!!! (Thank you sooooo much). One woman spoke excellent English - thank goodness because she is basically it for that school. They show me my desk which has a cute little poster on it with a ribbon. See Picture.
I am then told to go sit with Kocho - Sensei and Kyoto Sensei (Principal & Vice Principal). I do as told, and we try to make small talk with limited Japanese and English. I don't know if we really discussed anything of material. We found out Kyoto Sensei lives on the other side of my house that I didn't think anyone lived in. Most of the people that live in these houses have that as an address but actually have a real house somewhere else. We semi discussed how one teacher spent time in Boston last year. Other than that I don't know if we really managed anything else. Thankfully, it was now time for me to go to my welcoming ceremony. I cannot even describe my welcoming ceremony. I really wish someone was there to video this. I arrive and all the kids are lined up and standing. When I enter the room, they all start clapping. I am showed to walk down the middle of them - and I do. The kids start pushing each other to touch me. I was seriously celebrity status. I then go sit up on stage while I am introduced by Kocho Sensei. Then, one of the teachers interviewed me before I went out there. Things like my favorite food, foods i hate, my hobbies, when my birthday is, what is my favorite animal, etc. She then turned that into multiple choice....When is Sara Sensei's bday? In April, June, or November? Then kids take turns raising their hands. I am then asked and I respond and the kids all go YAYYYYY! if they guessed right. It was quite fun, the kids are absolutely darling. Imagine 120 kids smiling, laughing and pointing super excited like I am there to bring presents or something. Impromptu speech ....Sara Sensei is now going to give a speech! Oh, am I? HA! I don't even remember what I said, but I had the microphone and rambled something or other off - heck yea, after a while you realize there are probably only 3 people that actually understand you when I have to do it in English. I could be up there saying YOU ALL SMELL! (they don't really) - but they'd all still be smiling. When you think that way, it's not so bad being up there with a microphone giving a speech. Afterwards, the ceremony ended and I am brought back through the middle of the kids where I am touched like a celebrity again. In the teacher's room I am briefed on my instructions on what to do in the classroom. I thought the Homeroom teachers would also have an idea so I was listening but didn't ask many questions because I thought I was going to be guided. Big mistake.

First class of the day - combined 3rd and 4th graders.
Task 1 : Perform Greetings:

"Good morning, everyone!"
Blank stares at me
"Good morning, everyone!"
No response
"How are you today?" Nothing. " How are you today?" Nothing... ook time to get creative...
"Are you happy?" Pointing to a big smile on my face...."Are you sad?" Make a frown and point.."Are you hot?" Fan off my face..."Are you mad?" Make an angry face...."Are you excited?" jump up and down with happy face "Are you tired?" Yawn and lay on the ground and pretend to sleep. I at least got some giggles out of them but I don't think they understood...time to move on!

Task two:
Self Introduction
I used the same material as I did for Junior High School. This morning, I threw together our currency to show. THANK GOODNESS! I explain New York State, where I come from, my name, age, pass pictures of my family, do the whole favorite foods, music, hobbies etc. Yea, they looked interested but I am sure they had no idea what I was saying. For my hobbies, I used I brought a book and said reading and pretended to read it. For hiking, I hiked and looked out into the distance. For running, I ran around the classroom. I think they just thought I was crazy. ha! For food, I used thumbs up and thumbs down gestures, I used happy faces, sad faces, i pretended to throw up when explaining vegetarianism. Really, just get a visual of me doing these things in front of 50 kids with adult bystanders who are just curious about me. They must think I'm REALLY wierd. So, with all this clown work and pictures and posters...I take out my american currency. Well! Talk about the weird things that kids LOVE. The kids went CRAZY! If they were older, they would have been throwing punches over who gets to touch it first. Haha!

Task 3: London Bridge
After that, which was kind of a flop in my opinion...we did London Bridge... I am singing it for the kids, then we try to do the circle thing that I forgot how to do. Anyways, the teachers didnt' know how to do it either. But apparently, when the songs says "My fair lady" - you're supposed to "capture" the kid under the teacher bridge and then they have to be the bridge. It didn't work out that way. It was basically me and the teacher being the bridge and the kids running in circles. Another flop.

Task 4: Make Name Tags
This was easy because the kids got to do it themselves. I basically went around the classroom trying to spend time with the kids. As expected, the girls loved me and the boys hid from me. One girl was touching my hair over and over and over (because it's not black like theirs). Japanese people wear shirts all written in English even though they have no idea what it says. So, I went from kid to kid to kid reading what their shirt said to them. It was actually a big hit.

Task 5:
Goodbye greetings. I didn't expect anything after the hello greetings. Ah, relief, first elementary class is over.

5 Minute break

1st and 2nd graders combined


First task same as before: Hello greetings, complete flop, try the whole emotion things again, more giggles no responses.

Task two: London Bridge, except I am asked to sing it by myself without a CD. Okay, here's my little secret...I know the verse but I don't know the ENTIRE song. I tried remembering it from the earlier class...ended up needing the lyrics in front of me...Now, yes it's just ME singing in front of everyone...ME! I hate singing! ha! I suggested to the teacher the game, where we become a bridge. Language barrier. No luck. Next thing I know, they are telling me to teach the kids gestures to the song. Gestures? what???? OKKKKK, more creativity. So, London bridge is falling down....Fall down, over and over. Get some materials and build it it up...Raise hands to the ceiling.
First material: Wood and clay Pretend to hammer
Wood and clay washes away: Mimick motions of a river with your arms
I forget verse two but trust me i had gestures
But Verse two "Bends and Breaks" - Bend your body over and over
Third and last material: Gold and silver Turn hand into circles and just kind of move your arms about
Gold and silver gets stolen or something - Mimick putting coins into your pocket.''

Then end of my creativity. The first time I was "teaching" them or rather making it up as I go along, then they had to do it with me and soooooooo I did it with more confidence.

Task Three: Self Intro

As with any speech, each time you do it, it gets better. Again, the coins were a huge hit. This time I asked them if they had any questions for me...and that they did! About 100! "Do you have a boyfriend?" "What is your favorite flower?" Really a bunch of random questions, many of the things I covered during my intro - only verifying they have no idea what I'm talking about even with my crazy gestures.

End class.

Lunch time. Eat with 6th graders, nothing to report.

Go to 5th graders - Teacher was great to work with.

Greetings, same failures, same tries...etc.

Self Intro - same deal
Skip London Bridge, thank god...5th graders don't want to do that. Instead make name tags and have Sara Sensei try to pronounce the English to make sure they wrote it right. Taught them how to say "It's nice to meet you" and explained handshakes as opposed to bowing and made each student shake my hand.

Followed by Janken aka Paper, rocks, scissors.
Goodbye Greetings

Class went smoothly, turned my self intro into twenty minutes to waste time thinking I'd have to do London Bridge again.

Grade 6

Same deal , except we did London Bridge and it went over okay...teacher understood the game aspect of it.

Random facts of the day: One girl asked me why I have blue eyes and not brown eyes. I explained that my dad has blue eyes so I do. Cute, very cute. Kids love me. Teachers are super nice. School planned out my next visit as There isn't much English teaching just babysitting. I feel like a nuisance in the teacher's classrooms. Like I go in, make them rowdy, while teachers discipline. I want to actually create my own curriculum. According to my teaching handbooks, when I ask a class "how are you?" they should be aware to say "im fine thank you and you?" They have no concept of that. All the teachers are great but I wish I could develop the curriculum. I had my picture taken probably over 100 times today. I was consistently told how young I am. It was fun, tiring, creative, confusing but fun.

After that, I told my JHS base school I'd help the girls with their English speech at 5:00. I show up at 5, and the teachers are all in a meeting for Sports Day Festival this weekend. It's 6:00 and I've been sitting there for an hour and they are still in it. Finally, one teacher walks out with me to have the girl and I sit in a room to work on it. 40 minutes later, we end the session. I used a lot of phonics with her, I love phonics. Really helps with all the vowels and stuff. Go in and ask Yosco to call Saijo San to ask three things.

1. After Elementary school tomorrow, can he drop me off at Brian's apartment.
2. My hot water is broken still and it needs to get fixed
3. Can I get into my preds house to get some things

Simple questions, right? Wrong. Ends up in a meeting at my house for an hour with two teachers and Saijo - san. Frustration. Frustration, frustration.

TGIF. Elementary school again tomorrow then off to the city with Brian to meet up with everyone. I won't be drinking a lot because I have sports day on Saturday followed by a teacher's party somewhat in my honor. I need to be to school at 8:30am. So, yea...

Hope all is well stateside as usual...missing everyone.

Sara Sensei

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My House Videos




Goal - Setting

I really find myself falling back to my college experiences in so much I do here. As I mentioned in my last entry; I was going to create a space dedicated to English/American culture. I spent 3 hours on Tuesday doing just that. Yosco is letting me do it in her room and since she spent time in Niagara Falls about ten years ago and I grew up so close to it, she wanted me to focus the space on Niagara Falls. I was like ahhh! great idea! Unfortunately, my creative juices got flowing. I'm sure those of you who live in New York and NOT New York City get annoyed at the automatic assumption that you are from the city. In fact, many people while travelling in other countries do not realize that there is a state of New York. When I try to explain that I live 8 hours from NYC and have only been there once in my life, they just don't understand. I used my bulletin board creativeness that I gained as an RA and went to work. Since being here and lost and confused all the time, I've tried setting goals for myself to make my confusing life have more direction. Goal #1 of this entry: My students will know the difference between NYS and NYC. I brought in my road map of NY that I got from AAA before leaving the USA and that was my starting point. I decided the places I was going to put ont o the map. I decided on Albany, since many people think NYC is also the capital of NYS. I chose the Adirondacks because many people are unaware they are there - and in my own personal opinion - I think they are one of the most beautiful natural places I have been to in the world (I haven't seen too much of this planet yet but hey), NYC, Long Island, Niagara Falls, Buffalo (since it's the 2nd biggest) and I also put Lockport and Plattsburgh up on the map. I printed out stars and numbered them. I taped those stars to those areas of the map. I then numbered around the map. #1 - Niagara Falls - I used a lot of tourist stuff I grabbed and brought with me, a lot of Yosco's souveniers and some random facts about the falls. I printed out a picture of Ferris and I (that's right Ferris, you're hanging on a bulletin board in Japan with me) and Yosco had a picture of her in the same exact spot. So I wrote "Wow! Sara Sensei and Yosco Sensei have walked on the same part of the earth before meeting!". # 2 - ADK Mountains - Printed out pictures that I took myself and also some from tourist magazines. # 3 - Long Island - Printed out photos from my visits there (thanks Erin, Benj). #4 - NYC - Printed out pics from my visit there and also from tourist mags. #5 - Albany! No pictures, just stating it is the capital of the state and tried writing it in Kanji. #6 - Buffalo - the 2nd largest city in NY - printed out some pics and used some tourist info. # 7 - Lockport - Where exactly did Sara Sensei come from??? Then some pics of the area. #8 Plattsburgh - Where did Sara Sensei go to University? Wrote it in Kanji ( at least i think it is right). So, if you come across Japanese people - that understand New York State - ask if they ever had an English teacher named Sara Sensei cause maybe I got through! After that, I had lunch with Yosco's class. Following that, Saijo - san showed up and went on mystery ride with him. I got my Alien Registration Card finally. When he left, I worked on learning Hiragana. I am working on the sounds that sound like a, u, e, i, o and how to write them. Yosco and Mitsue asked me to help with another speech, so I did. That kept me after school until 5:00. Typically, I would not care but Brian was picking me up shortly. I rushed home and tried to get ready in time and then realized I forgot school supplies I needed for school today (since I would be going to a different school). I hopped back on my bike and went and picked it up. Brian was early - and I was late.

Brian and I are volunteering in our area to teach adults English conversation. We will be holding a class once a week for this group of individuals that are keen on learning English and about other's cultures. They held a party in our honor last night. Of course, I needed to rely on Brian for a ride. We sorted it out that he would pick me up, then one of the students would pick us up from his place and then we'd go to the party. Afterwards, I'd spend the night at his place because it is zero tolerance on drinking and driving here (immediate grounds for deportment). Then, in the morning he'd drive me to the new school I'd be visiting since it was only 5-10 mins from his home. He came and got me and we went to his place and hung out for about 30 minutes until we were picked up by Kazuko who is the class organizer. Brian had already met everyone last week so he knew everyone, but this was my first time meeting everyone. I think there were probably about 15-20 people at the party. It was very overwhelming for me because I was trying to remember names and hobbies, etc. They gave us a speech which was really touching, thanking us so much for teaching them. Then we were both asked to give speeches too. I sure am getting used to all this public speaking - this one was impromptu and a toast. I'm going to be a master at my skills by the time I leave this country. I had a really, really, really great time. The man I sat next to - Mitsuhiro was an absolute riot. I LOVED his laugh. We had two flasks of Sake' together. In Japan, when you finish more than half your drink, the person you are near will keep filling your glass. If you don't want anymore, then leave your glass half full. I always forget this - and so I kept finishing it, thinking it's polite. Then, MORE sake for me! Between my 3 or 4 glasses of white wine and our flasks of sake, I was really having a blast. The people in the class are so lovely. Some of them like to hike, so I expressed that I would love to join them. There is a woman who does Tea Ceremony and she said she would love to teach me. Mitsuhiro is an avid runner, which leads me to goal # 2 of this blog. There is a 10km race in Ishinomaki on October 22. I want to do it. I told him, I want to - and he is going to get the information for me. Great plan. The women sitting across from me were friendly and one is "semi-vegetarian" too. I don't know what that means but she was psyched that I was a vegetarian - probably the first Japanese person who is happy about me being vego. We were there for probably 3 hours. I'll get pictures up ASAP. They took pictures of Brian and I like we were royalty. I can't wait to see them myself. I am really excited to do this class - and plan it with Brian - it gives us a lot of freedom unlike the school system which follows pretty rigid procedures it seems. Afterwards, we got dropped off at Brians and we hung out for a bit before calling it a night.

This brings me to today. I went to Kanan Higashi (East) Junior High School today for the first time. I arrive and the Kocho - Sensei and my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) talk with me for 30 minutes. I then am introduced to all the teachers and am asked to do yet another impromptu speech - which I kind of just stole from all the other speeches i've been doing in the past. After that, my JTE discussed briefly what we would be doing in class today. That means today was my official first day of teaching. It wasn't anything spectacular to be honest. I hope my base JHS is better. I did my self introduction. I created posters of my favorite music, foods, hobbies, etc. I had a map of the USA and stickers on NY state and where I've lived. I had the USA flag, passed around photos of my family, did a small quiz, etc. When I would ask the students questions, they generally just stared at me, I don't know but I'm pretty sure they couldn't understand anything I was saying. After my intro, my JTE went back through and translated it all into English. I'm pretty sure if 8th graders didn't understand my material, the 1st graders I'll be with tomorrow will be absolutely clueless. Wonderful. They got to ask me questions, some of them being "what is your favorite animal?" "are you married?" "Where do you live now?" "What is your favorite sport?"etc. Pretty simple. Following that, for one class we reviewed words they learned before summer vacation. I was asked to read certain words and that was it. Boooorrriiinnnng...

The next class...same intro...different lesson. Let me tell you, how awkward it is to be asked to read a short story in English about the bombing of Hiroshima. "HI! My name is Sara and I'm from the USA!!!!" Twenty minutes later, "And then the USA bombed Hiroshima and many people died, including innocent women and children..." read by none other than me, the new American in their school!!!!!! It sucked. After reading it to them, they had to repeat the whole short story. So....Sara Sensei read sentence, students repeat, Sara Sensei repeat sentence, students repeat...this was for like twenty minutes. I was bored!!!! Those poor students. I need to change that and I am going to. Goal # 3 - Make learning fun! It's possible - but I don't know how much freedom I will be granted since I'm only in that school at most twice a week. But man, this is everything that all my teaching books tell me NOT to do. Do NOT make students just repeat. Next week, I've arranged that they make name tags for their desks. They will be making three fold paper with their calling name and i'm asking them to draw pictures of things they like to do or write in English things they like to do. At least that won't be so bad. I e-mailed the girl I replaced to see how flexible my JTE might be in letting me do the lesson plans. I asked the JTE if i can do any type of reward system with the students. She said she would talk to me about it later...which we didn't. The rest of my day consisted of me looking at how to do lesson plans and be effective in the classroom. Goal # 4 - I want to be the best damn teacher that I can be. I also worked on my hiragana. My script is pretty bad, but I think I am learning a bit. I'm not at lightning speed here - but a bit at a time. =)

My sub - supervisor, Akki, picked me up and introduced me to the BOE for this school district that I'm in. Of course, impromptu speech number 3 of the past two days. This one needed to be in Japanese - and I have no practiced my Japanese speaking in like 3 days. I tried - I did pretty bad - but I just laughed at myself. No worries. Akki dropped me home and I went back to my base JHS in Monou. I told them I would be in today again to help with the speeches again. I came in around 5:00. Brownie points for me!!!!! That's not why I did it - but wow Kocho - Sensei was soooooooo kind to me! He actually SMILED at me! Other teachers were thanking me for coming in to help the students, etc. I mean really it's no big deal - I have no life anyways, I enjoy being around my base school and the students. I stayed at school until about 7:00. I told them that I would be back tomorrow at the same time to help after I am done with Elementary School teaching. I was praised and thanked even more. Honestly, I dont mind!!! I'd be pretty happy if one of my girls that I am helping with the speech makes it to the finals. We'll see. I also helped two girls at the other JHS I was at during the day today. I am spending my free time with my base JHS, I feel way more comfortable there.

That brings me to now - yea, pretty boring entry I'm sure, but I'm keeping this blog for my own memories as well. My last 24 hours were pretty memorable. I'm quite tired and need to be extra genki (energetic, crazy, fun) tomorrow for elementary kids. I'll post those pics as soon as I have them e-mailed to me!

Thanks for reading -

Sara Sensei

Monday, August 28, 2006

Week #3

I haven't written in about 5 days, which is good and bad. Thursday and Friday really consisted of me just hanging out at my JHS (Junior High School) - not doing too much of anything. Saijo-san took me to get the internet, which I couldn't understand how to connect to in my house simply beacause I can't read the instruction on how to hook it up myself at my house. Mitsue tried to come over to help but she didn't really understand it either. It ended up that Yosco took my computer and all the parts to the computer store and they did it for me. I just got the internet in my apartment now. I suddenly feel like east meets west. It feels good that I am not so isolated. I now have a landline (please call!) and the internet. I can't even explain the relief these two modern inventions brings to my whacked brain. I am downloading this program called Skype where I can call other computers with it for if you want to chat with me, download it on your computer, buy a headset and we can talk for FREE!
Check it out:

And those of you who are just scared of technology or do not want to do this I can call you for TWO CENTS a minute. Can you believe those rates? Anyways, I need to get to a city to purchase myself a headset.

My weekend was pretty decent. On Friday, another ALT (Alternative Language Teacher) tried to come pick me up so I could spend the night at her place to go hiking on Saturday. Now, since she has never been to my town, she was well prepared to get lost. The plan was - I wait at my post office until 7:00, if she does not show up, I will go back to my house so she can call me. I get to the post office and realize, yea I have no watch, so I don't know if it is 7:00 or not. I see a woman across the street, I cross the road and communicate:
"sumimasen" excuse me
"do you know what time it is?" pointing at my wrist where a watch would be.
woman: "something in japanese" - goes into her house and comes out and says "nana"
"nana?" seven?
"Then, many questions to follow, so when I don't know what is being asked of me, just repeat my 5 lines of japanese:
watashi wa sara desu
watashi wa amerika no new york shu kara keymashte
watashi wa eigo sensei monou
needless to say, she continues to ask more questions in which I cannot answer. She asked where in monou I lived i think, so i explained through pointing and stuff...
anyways, my 1 minute question of what time is it turned into 5 minutes of broken conversation. I walked back to my house to wait for the other ALT to call. However, Mitsue called and explained that the other ALT got lost and that Mitsue would take me to her. Into her vehicle I go. Sarah, the other ALT, got lost and stopped at a random person's home to call. Another example of how kind the Japanese are; they let a completely random foreign stranger into their home to use their phone. Sarah said they kept trying to feed her and stuff. Thankful for Sarah, she's been here for a year already so has conversational Japanese abilities. Sarah and Sara (me) went to a community center where we played basketball with 3 of her Japanese friends. I've never been one for basketball (seeing i'm so tall and all) - but I had a bunch of fun. I stepped out with one of the guys and had a small conversation with him. We knew a bit of English and I knew a bit of Japanese so we could actually talk! When I left there, I felt amazing because I know two weeks ago I could never have pieced together questions and sentences, even if it were broken Japanese to talk to him. YATTA! (I did it!). I spent the night at Sarah's because we were going hiking the next day and we needed to meet the rest at 5:30am..and again with no car, I am reliant on others.

Saturday 5:30am.
Ishinomaki- shi
Destination: Asahi Mountain Range which divides Yamagata Ken and Niigata - Ken.

We make it to Ishinomaki bright and early to meet the others to hike. I saw a gorgeous sunrise. It reminds me of Rainbow Sherbet. It was pink, orange, and yellow colors escaping the ground and rising to the sky. There were 8 of us altogether. Suzuki-san and his old friend were our "leaders". These are two older men who go to an English conversation class and often arrange hikes. There was Sarah and I, Brian, Meghann, Dom, and Mandy (all of us ALTs). We crammed into one SUV car and started the trek to the trailhead. It was approximately 3 hours drive to get there. Mostly everyone slept on the way, but I was crammed in the middle and was more of a pillow for the others than anything else. I was grateful to be awake, however, the landscaping was fascinating. I always appreciate driving through the Adirondacks, but these mountains have different greenery, so lush, so alive. One isn't more beautiful than the other, it's just different. We arrive at the trailhead and start the hike. At first you follow a short stream and then begin the ascent. At first, it was difficult because there were 8 of us. Thankfully, we split up into "group a" and "group b". I was in Group A - which we naturally formed into by our abilities. A was the faster, quicker paced group, while B followed in about 20 - 30 minutes behind us. We always had "stopping points" to meet. It was funny because Suzuki san and his friend had bells on to "scare away" the bears. They also had amazing equipment. According to Sarah, who has been here for a year, Japanese are all about the equipment. You'll be on the ski slopes and see the most expensive get-up on the Japanese and then they completely suck at skiing. She is very informative and kind. This hike consisted of a round circle trail where we summit two high peaks. The majority of the way was covered by alluring trees and ferns and unique wildlife calls. Then, we finally made it to the first peak. This is called Mount Kodera in which summits out at 1500 meters or 4500 feet ( I think?). When we first arrived to this peak, there were many older Japanese people eating their lunch. They were having a picnic right there on the summit complete with sitting blankets, stoves for each of them and all this other camping equipment. The views at first weren't so noticeeable because there was a cloud cover. But then, the skies cleared and revealed the divine beauty of this particular hike. To one side, was a large valley, just falling and falling into the ground, and straight ahead of us was the next mountain we were going to summit. There was SNOW! yes, snow in crevices between the mountains. It was truly astounding for the first summit.

I don't know if you have ever noticed in movies where they display Japanese scenery and how that scenery has little trails on the mountain. Well, that is exactly how these trails were. You look ahead and you see these little brown footpaths leading you over the top of these mountains along exquisite ridges. It should be mentioned that there were men and women, at least 65 years old completing these trails. Even more noteable is that our "leaders" were both 57 years old in better shape than some of us "followers". These trails were STEEP. Some of it is literally a vertical incline, where your body is like a right triangle trying to balance your way up these protruding pieces of earth. And then you see these old women, doing it, with barely any sweat. I aspire to be like that at their age. I don't want to fail to mention they are carrying packs half the size of them and just smiling and chatting their way together. Heroic.

Below: Group A summiting the first peak at 4500 Feet. The word of the day: DRAGON FLIES! Dragon flies surrounded us everywhere. Suzuki san gave us a n assignment for the day and that was to create a Haiku for the day. Those that are unfamiliar with Haiku's - they are poems that Japanese used to create while hiking from the inspiration earth gave them. They need to be in syllables of
So, the entire day I was trying to figure that one out.

After about another 30 minutes we reached the summit of the second and most highest peak we were going to reach that day. This view again was completely cloud covered when we first arrived. Group A sat down and just relaxed until group B arrived. The second summit is called Mount. Koasahi. This stands for "little Koasahi" I think. The bigger Asahi Mountain was in the distance, but we would not be going there today. Mount Koasahi stands up at 1647 meters (almost 5000 feet). When it finally cleared, the view treated our eyes and souls to even more exquisite views. Truly, my words nor my pictures could capture what I viewed. More importantly, I don't think I could ever make you feel the way I did viewing this. I can only try to relay to you the beauties of this country.Above: The snow "cracks" of the mountain range. I truly wanted a sled to just go WHHHEEE on.

We all had lunch on this peak before breaking up into our groups again. We started the descent here. There was a fork in the road, you could either take the loops to go back to the car park or you could keep on the trail. Unfortunately, the way to keep exploring is a several day hike, so we went the loop way. In the distance, on the next highest mountain, you can see a mountain hut where many people stay for free. I plan on staying in some in my time. It was really incredible to see in the distance . They are supplied by the government for free and has water and shelter and the basic amenities of survival. Cool very cool....
Group shot at the summit
Enjoying lunch with Brian and Sarah
Bottom: Brian has some crazy glasses and shoes, ha

Yes, so proceeding lunch we began our descent of the loop. At first, it wasn't too tolling on the knees, but then it was difficult. I didn't have the proper shoes (I never do, Jon will testify to that) I was slipping and sliding all over. I was pretty nervous I'd fall off the ridge, as was Meghann. I kept repeating the quote from The Dharma Bums by Jack goes something along the lines of "I then realized, I can't fall off a mountain, only down". So, I was repeating this to Meg, not only to encourage her to keep going, but also for my own nerves. We were serenaded by Dom often singing about his "big stick" and other random tunes. Get your mind out of the gutter, his big hiking stick! We witnessed Brian's "dance", understood Meg's fear of poisonous snakes, and learned of the high school teachers and college professer's we found worthy of "relationships." Politics were discusses, authors, friends, stories, etc. The trail was surely interesting. One minute, we're following a stony ridge line that we are scared to fall off of, then we are surrounded by a few open spots, then, there are sandbags, boardwalks, and walking down clay like earth that probably once was a creek. Our conversations were as different as the different trails. My most favorite part of this entire hike was the ropes. We needed to use ropes, how fun! Do see pictures of me roping on down. Eventually group A split into two, Brian and me and then Meg and Dom following up. Brian is a pretty quiet person - at least around me , and to be honest, i havent' opened up too much to anyone here, except maybe Meg. Yet, I haven't really been myself 100%. It was nice because we both kind of watched each other slip and slide around and then make comments on the beauty of certain things we came across. For the most part though, I think we just enjoyed what nature had to offer without worrying about the small talk. Forced conversation can be awkward and ruin things - so I'm glad we weren't trying to do that. We came across some small waterfalls, nothing extraodinary but soothing to listen to the water run. We were losing elevation quickly here. Soon, we were walking alongside a very dry stream. It was still running but not too much water...probably cause it's soooo hot all the time. We got to cross a few manmade bridges and one really scary bridge that was just like a tin plank over a deep crevice with wire - like things to hang on to. I didn't care for it too much. Brian and I made it out first followed by Suzuki - san's friend. We followed the paved road down about 5 minutes expecting to find the car park. When, alas, there was NO parking lot. We look at the "you are here" sign and realize, we missed a turn somewhere. Our car was probably a good 2 hour hike away. It was at this point probably 5pm. We only have about another 1.5 hours of sunlight. We had just hiked for 8 hours and I'm not going to lie, I was tired and sore. Suzuki - san's friend decided to walk the 4.5 KMs to town to try to catch a ride to the car. He told us to stay where we were to inform everyone the deal. Coming up were Dom and Meg, so we informed them. Then, about an hour or 45 minutes later we then explained to the rear, Mandy, Sarah and Suzuki - san what was going on. After splitting up the remaining food and water we had left, we just sat and waited, and waited, and waited. Then, Suzuki - san decided to hitchhike to the car. So, both our leaders at this point had left. Eventually, Suzuki's friend returned and we told him that Suzuki - san had hitchhiked to the car. About 45 minutes after Suzuki left, he returned to our rescue. At this point, it was pitch dark, about 7:30 and we were starving. It was such an adventure.

We're stranded cause we can't read a map. Food, water, anyone????

After that, we went to an onsen. Does anyone know what an onsen is? It is uniquely Japanese and it is literally translated as "hot spring." The water is extracted (according to wikipedia) from natural volcanic hot water. The minerals in this water is believed to have amazing rejuvenating minerals for your skin. It's basically a big hot tub. Sounds great, right? Well, it is. But, how comfortable are you with your body? I hope if you plan to go in one, you are comfortable because you get 100% naked in front of everyone that is in there. So, yes, that's right I got 100% naked in front of other people. You kind of just go and do it. You don't really think about it, I mean everyone is naked, not just you. I was really happy when it turned out just to be the 4 of us westerners in there. It didn't make it so hard walking into this room where you sit down on these little stools and wash your body in front of everyone. Except, thankfully, we were the only ones, so it was just us, who already know eachother. You basically, get naked, put your clothes in a bin, walk into the onsen room, where there are showers. You squat onto those stools, wash your body completely, because it is rude to enter an onsen with all your dirt on your body because then you dirty the volcanic water. Then, you walk over, and go into this extremely, overly hot water. It was really nice after a 12 hour hike. This particular onsen is separated male and female, however, not all are. So yes, I had my first onsen experience and it was lovely. I do think that if there were already people sitting in the water, I would have been more self conscientous about being naked and walking around.

Stomping and Tromping
Through Asahi Mountain Range
My feet never stay still

Pretty pathetic...but it's true =0)

That's my story. I think Saturday was the best day I've had here. I loved it. All new experiences and all wonderful experiences.

Slept for 11 hours. Woke up. Have some sort of rash/mosquite bite/poison ivy thing going on all over my legs. My legs look like I have the chicken pox. It itches, it's gross! Well, who wants to dwell on negative things. Even though I was so sore I could barely move, I had to get out of my house, so onto my bike I went. Of course, right? I saw this mountain in the distance that I thought would be sweet to find. I went onto my bike path and down into the paddies and headed STRAIGHT to the mountain. Barrier #1 - I reached a river. I backtracked and went around the river, over a bridge and to the right. I rode on the street, rode and rode and rode. I saw a few spots that looked like maybe they could be trails. I thought I'd catch them on my way back. I reached...the thruway. I couldnt for the life of me, see that mountain anymore because they were all around me and I couldn't see up to see the one that had a trail. I backtracked again. I checked out the spots that looked like trails. Nothing but clearings and one old rickety bridge that was scary. With a rash all over me, I decided I probably shouldn't tredge through those bushes today since it might be poison ivy or something. Since I was in another town, I tried finding maybe something else to do, but I found nothing. I then went back into town to go into stores that I have no idea what they are. I found a store and looked up how to say mosquite bite and anti itch creme. I got mosquite bite and then imitated the itch on my arm and showed my hideous rash to the cashier. I got some "creme". I'm pretty sure it's just bengay or icy/hot because I can smell the menthol and it only numbs my legs and then continues to itch after some time. I went to the grocery store and bought some ingredients to make mac and cheese and a milkshake. I bought some "inside" shoes and sponges. I really just go to stores to purchase items for the mere interaction I get at the cash register. That's how lonely I am. Pathetic! I went home, called Meg to see if she had this rash, which she does not. I then tried making a milkshake but it surely did not work out for me. Then, I started reading on my couch. I fell asleep for hours. I woke up completely out of it. Made Mac n Cheese and continued to read. I practiced my speech for today and went to bed.


One year ago today, I was nervous because I had to give my first speech as an RA in front of the 30 girls that were now going to be under my supervision. I hated public speaking. I actually was nervous because my RD who I had only known for a week came and listened to mine out of all the RAs she could have gone to hear talk. I was so happy for that to be over. Well, man, today, I had to give a speech in front of the 250 students and all the other teachers and principals in Japanese. Talk about nerve whacking. I actually did pretty well. The principal talked about me a bit saying that my predecessor went back to Australia and that I would be here to stay for some time. I then had a boy come up and say to me in Japanese, welcome to our school, we are very excited to learn English and some other stuff that I forgot. I had someone translating to me while this was going on. So, then it was me and 500 eyeballs staring at I grabbed the microphone, took a deep breathe, put on a smile and did it. I did my one line of Japanese and translated myself into English, I did about 10 lines. I forgot my last two. I'm no dummy - I had my index card up there to save my bum. Either way, I was proud of myself. I did it. My Japanese Teacher of English who has been sick complimented me on how well I have learned Japanese in just the one week that she has not seen me. It definitely helped with my confidence. She told me her daughter told her that she was dreaming of me and wants me to come play with her again. I was touched. The day then went by okay. I spent one hour in Yosco's classroom. She wants me to create an "English Corner" about the USA in her class. She showed me the space I have to work with. I will do that tomorrow. When holidays come around, I want to definitely use that space to educate about our holidays and cultures. I can't wait for Halloween!!!! I have tons of pictures from last Halloween I will print out to hang. It's going to be heaps of fun! I played a memory game with two of her students with the alphabet. I won. hahahaha! I'm so mean; but i literally wasn't trying to. Yosco forgot a lunch so I shared with her half of my left over mac and cheese. She liked it alot. I ate with Mitsue's classroom. They asked me questions like my favorite food, if I have a boyfriend, where I am from, etc. I shared with them my mac and cheese too. The afternoon went by slowly. I actually am not doing any teaching for another week. I can't believe I'm getting paid for this.

Anyways, I'm still confused all the time and things are falling into place really slowly...but it's happening, I'm living out my dream and I am struggling but succeeding with every failure. I hope ya'all enjoy reading this because I spent like 2.5 hour writing it. =0)

Sara Sensei

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Let me bring everything up to speed since I haven't written in a bit. After feeling aggravated on Monday, I decided to go out for a ride on my bike again. I headed the opposite way of the main road and found some more shops – like an office supply store, a book store (awesome! I wonder if they sell any books in English?), some more convenient stores, etc. I really just explored more on my bike and then went back to my house and changed and went out for a run. I got back from my run pretty late and changed back into clothes. After my dinner attempt, I decided screw it, I'm going to a restaurant. I attached a flashlight to my bike and decide I'm going to find somewhere to eat. As I'm pulling out of my driveway, Yosco pulled in and asked where I was going. I explained to her my oven story and she told me to come over to her house and she would make me dinner. That she did! Thank you Yosco.


I was contemplating whether or not to get out bed in the morning since no one came for me yesterday and Yosco had no idea what I should be doing. I made the right decision, I got out of bed and ready. Thank goodness for being responsible because Saijo-san showed up at 9:00. I was dropped off at my base school and there I stayed until 3:00. Of course, I didn't do any real work – I goofed off on the internet and then one of the teacher's purchased me a rice cooker so they showed me how to use it. We made rice and onigiri (rice, vegetables or some filling on the inside covered by seaweed). The women at my school are so kind. They think I'm a baby since I'm 22. It's weird because in some aspects they treat me like I'm strange since I'm 22 and not married and on the other hand, they treat me like I'm 5 and like I don't even know how to tie my shoes. I did need to learn to use the rice cooker simply because I can't read kanji, katakana or hiragana (the 3 japanese reading and writing systems). I invited Brian over for dinner via the internet and I also invited Yosco to come over. I biked to the grocery store after school and picked up a few more ingredients to make another recipe work with the weird foods i purchased the day before.

Now, when I was over at Yoscos for dinner on Monday, she informed me that it was her birthday and not a single person in her family remembered. I don't know if birthdays are a big deal or not in Japan but I figured it must have meant something to her since she brought it up to me. So, I wanted to find a way to celebrate her birthday and also thank her for everything she has done for me. I went from shop to shop trying to find a cake. I couldn't make my own because I don't have an oven. Finally, I stopped in this one store and tried my hardest to ask the cashier woman where i could buy cake. My message got through!!!! Although, she couldn't speak English to explain to me where I could get it, we actually figured it out. She called a few people for me to make sure that where she was telling me actually sold it. She talked slowly so I could look words up in my dictionary and finally I realized she said ride your bike 5 minutes up that way and on your right there will be a woman standing outside in an apron. Of course, the way she communicated this was – point at my bike, point at the direction i need to go, imitation of riding a bike, holding 5 fingers out and sputtering out how you say minutes in Japanese, which i looked up in my dictionary to translate.. Then, I asked her in Japanese “left or right”. She pointed to the right of the street and then said “girl” and then pointed to her apron and then said “outside”. Of course at this point, I wasn't positive I understood what she was trying to communicate to me but I went for it. And there she was, a woman 5 minutes away standing in her apron waving to me. And it wasn't necessarily a cake like you think it is – but slices of really fancy delicatessens. I picked out 3 that looked good. When i got home I put candles on Yosco's piece. This whole process took me at least an hour.

I started chopping my onions and finishing chopping my green peppers when Brian arrived. I informed him of Yosco's birthday and continued to cook. I made this dish that involved, onions, minced garlic, green peppers, corn, tofu, and half dozen spices that you put over rice (the rice i made at school). It wasn't terrific, but it wasn't a total flop either. Both Yosco and Brian said it was good – but they could have just been polite. I think it needed more cayenne spice. I wasn't really sure how to measure because i don't have measuring spoons, so Brian and I kind of just made a guess. After dinner, I told Yosco she had to close her eyes and I put the cake in front of her and I also had picked up flowers for her. I had her open her eyes and told her happy birthday. I put candles in her piece 5 + 1 = 51. Brian and I lit her candles and sang to her happy birthday. She was so happy (or embarrassed?). I think she truly appreciated it though. She left a bit after that and Brian and I just hung out for another hour. It was so nice to have company in this big house I have to myself.

I am pretty sure I am going to ride my bike tomorrow back to the bakery and pick up a piece of cake and give it to the woman who helped me find the bakery in the first place. I have learned the art of giving gifts here. Everyone is so keen in gift giving – and since I can't speak the language to express my gratitude – I am going to try to be as polite as I can and bring gifts! Remember, I'm an ambassador of all Americans – and in my travels I have experienced much hostility being an American. But what if I am the only American some of these Japanese people meet? I can change that view – I can do it with one person at a time. I had a neighbor in Australia, he was from New Zealand. He said his impression of Americans were that they were fat, loud, lazy and arrogant. One of my last days there, we went to go get a kebab together and sit on the beach. He had said that thanks to living next to me for 6 months – he realized he only believed a stereotype and that Americans aren't bad people after all. It made me happy to think that I made some difference in the way we are viewed.

So, this brings me to today. Saijo – san picked me up for some ceremony that I had to go attend in Ishinomaki City. It was the ceremony called the Notice of Issue Certificate Appointment. Now, since Saijo-san and I can't communicate with one another, he gave me this sheet that is in English that I thought was the itinerary. Under “contents” it said self – introduction. It also mentioned that some pretty important people were going to be there. Last night I practiced and memorized my self introduction:

“Mina Sama, Hajimemeshte” - “Nice to meet everyone”

“Watashi wa Sara desu” - My name is Sara

“Watashi wa Amerika no New York Sho kara kemeshte” - I am from New York State in America.

“Watashi wa Nihon hajimete desu” - This is my first time in Japan

“Watashi no shumi wa haikingu desu. Nihon no karate ni kyomi ga arimasu” - My hobby is hiking and while i am in japan i would like to learn karate.

Yoroshiku Onegai Shimasu – I look forward to working with you and hope our relationship is a happy one.

Yea, it doesn't look like much, but it's very hard to pronounce correctly. I also dressed up in a business suit. I get there and the building isn't air conditioned. Basically, this “very important” ceremony consisted of our name being called, saying “hai” aka yes, standing up, walking to a podium, bowing to some people, grabbing my “official notice of issue certificate of appointment” paper and walking back to my seat. The whole ceremony took 20 minutes. I guess it's pretty important because now I am like an official government employee. Afterwards, saijo-san went to go take care of my health insurance (since i still don't have it). I got to go hang out with some of the other ALTs, which is a change for me because I am a lone soul out in the boondocks. They see each other everyday, eat together, living in the same apt. building and what not. So, I'm pretty much like the odd one out. They are all so well informed about things and I'm like eto, nani? Uhhh, what? It's difficult because if I have a question, too bad, cause Saijo-san and I can't communicate. I read the USA today too. I haven't read a newspaper in over a week. Not too much going on – I am happy to see that the courts are ruling Bush's policy of (in my opinion, an infringement on our rights) monitoring people's phone calls post 9/11 as illegal.

After that, I hopped back into Saijo – sans car which is always a treat. It's like mystery ride for me! He says “kuruma” which means car. I go into his car and it's like ohhhh, where am i going now!!!? Yesterday, I ran into a woman on the street who was talking my ear off in Japanese. I understood three words from her “saijo” “san” and “sobo” aka grandmother. I don't know what she was saying; I assumed she was telling me that she was Saijo's grandma. She pointed to a house and I figured that was her house. Today on the way home, I tried communicating to Saijo that I met his grandma. I spent probably 15 minutes explaining that “yesterday street meet your grandma” That was how i put the sentence together, because I don't know any grammar. He had no idea what I was saying. Saijo began talking about “mother, father, saijo, kid, 5 altogether” I think he thought I was asking about his family. I don't really understand if he meant there were 5 people in his immediate family or if he has 5 people in the family if he is married. I dropped the subject after that. Usually, we just sit in the car in silence. I decided to show off because I didn't even need to have that stupid introduction memorized. He tried communicating to me something along the lines that I have to do my self introduction at my Junior High School on Monday. I don't really know if that is what he was trying to say so I just started blabbing on my speech that I showed you earlier. Saijo – san seemed very proud and then started teaching me more things – like “hiragana to katakana benkyo” I am studying hiragana and katakana. “watashi no kozoku wa go-knee desu” There are 5 people in my family. “Watashi wa nihong ni nineng imasu” I want to stay in Japan for two years. I suck at Japanese.

I went back to school after that and had lunch. Mitsue was there; I haven't seen her in over a week. We discussed very slowly in English what we have been doing. She is so kind – I want to be her friend. I helped Hiromi write a speech for a student. I then helped that student today actually speak it. Problem words for Japanese:

Word How they pronounce it

See She

Brought Blought

Experience Some thing way off

thought taught

crane cake ? ( i dont get it)



We worked over and over on those words. I taught brought by explaining in America when we are cold we go brrrrrrrrr and then rub our arms. So, we did bbrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr --- ought. It actually worked!!!!! Can you believe how silly something like that worked? Then i explained saying See like a snake goes ssssssssssssssssssseeeeeeeeeee. That worked too! It was hard doing experience. I broke it down as best as I could and she eventually got it. It felt good to actually do some teaching, especially 1 on 1.

I ran into Kocho Sensei (principal) - I didn't recognize him at first and then i realized after he said hi to me that it was him. I felt like an idiot and then i couldn't speak any Japanese. What an ass I am. I tried making it up to him but blah, kocho-sensei's scare me.

After school, I changed and hopped onto my bike. I rode for hours – probably like 6 miles, maybe more, maybe less. I stopped and took a lot of pictures on that bike path thing i found yesterday. It's not a total bike path because occasionally a car does come down it (in which case, i have to like get off the path and halfway downhill). I reached the end of the path and then saw ahead of me a path that looked like it might lead up to one the hills that protect my village. I had to walk my bike because it wasn't paved just made of stones. The closer I got to the woods, the more dragon flies came out. They scare me because they bite – and they did get pretty bad, swarming me almost. I made it to the my left was a path, to my right was no path. I left my bike and my bandanna (that clearly sticks out, it's tie dye and bright colors, if i ended up missing, they would know it was mine) and headed down the path. Even more dragon flies!!!! I ended up at someones house....boring. I walked back to my bike and was gonna go the other way until BATS! So many NASTY bats were coming at me! EWWWWW! I've never actually seen a bat before. Are bats rabid? For some reason, i thought so...I freaking grabbed my bike and walked fast. Abort plan. I then decided to take another bike path. I came across the bridge that you cross which divides the villages. I've actually always wanted to get to this bridge because it appears there is a walking path that follows the river. I go one ends, I head the other, it ends. Pretty boring. I said “konbonwa” aka good evening to a woman with an inu (dog). She starts rattling off Japanese. I have no idea what she is saying, but i know she's asking me a question because any sentence ending with a “ka” means it's a question. I just started rambling off my self introduction. Changed it a bit of course. Told her my name, where I'm from, and that I'm Eigo sensei in Monou – an english teacher in monou...she then starts asking more and more questions and i dont know what she is saying so i just say “sumimasen, nihongo ga wakarimasen” I'm sorry, I dont understand Japanese. I then tell her Jaa matta – i will see you later. She was adorable. I went down by the river, probably a spot to fish. I was hoping it would be peaceful, but it surely was not. The river was really dirty and you could hear kuruma (cars) all around you. I headed back home. I decided to go to those trails I found behind my Junior High School my first week here to go swinging. I found this beautiful flower and photographed it and then found frogs...little cute frogs. I harassed the one and kept trying to get it to stay on my hand long enough to photograph him/her. After feeling bad for bothering it for so long, I went on the swing, decided it was too rusty, didn't want a tetanus shot and headed home. I got home, had leftovers from last night and here I am.

I loved my bike was so peaceful, so fulfilling, relaxing, etc.

Life's good.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Happy Birthday to Lezlie (it's your birthday in the USA right now). Hope you have a great 22nd, wish I could be there with you! Lots have happened since my last entry. This one will probably be quite lengthy. I had a prefectural (same idea as a state) orientation from Wednesday to Friday afternoon – everyone that is in my prefecture had to attend. It was a good opportunity to meet a lot of new people and see how all the folks I met at the Tokyo orientation were doing. It was basically just a bunch of workshops and information that I will stash away into my closet and then go on a treasure hunt for to find again when i need them. It was okay for the most part. It was held at a government building and it had really horrible rules. Girls and boys were separated by floors – boys were not allowed on the girls floor at all. Then, we had a curfew at 11:00pm. Everyone needed to be in their rooms and not allowed to socialize or go anywhere besides the bathroom. They actually had a guard to make sure that this was followed. We're all at least 21 years old here – as old as 40 – do you think we really need to have a curfew? So bazaar. My first night there I had a little bit too much to drink which made my second day not so enjoyable. The second night, I laid off the booze and watched a Japanese movie called Pulse. It reminded me a bit of the ring, which was originally a Japanese film before Hollywood turned it American. If you are able to find a copy of Pulse, I do recommend seeing it. I didn't fully understand everything but it was a good, creepy movie nonetheless. There are English subtitles - no worries. My last day there was short and then a group of us headed to Sendai City, which is the capital of my prefecture. We paid for a hotel room and roamed around. There were 7 of us in total but we often broke apart and gathered back together. It was nice to be in a city after being so rural and isolated for so long. The 7 of us all are within 40 minutes of one another. We started drinking at our hotel room and then went to get sushi for dinner. It was the best vegetarian sushi I have had since being here – I was thrilled. Proceeding dinner, we started going to the bars – the first one we attempted going to, the bartender would not let us in. As we were leaving, we noticed blood splatters on the floor – it was pretty nasty and creepy. We booked it out of there and ended up at a bar called Eleanor. I had a lot of fun at this bar – it was nice and relaxed – not tourist central, just a little cute bar – but expensive. After that, we went to some restaurant/bar – this one was okay. I was having fun at first, but by the time it we left I was more than ready to get out of there. After that, we went to some dance club – which to me, sucked. I left early and ended up getting lost. I tried finding some English speakers but no one I encountered spoke English- so I started just showing my hotel key to see if they recognized the name – no luck. Finally, I flagged down a taxi and thankfully, he drove me to where I needed to be. This kind man did not even allow me to pay for the ride. Again, a sign of the great Japanese hospitality to foreigners.

In the morning (Saturday), we all went our own ways. Three of us – Brian (22, from Wisconsin, lives about 20 mins from me) and Dave (21 from UK, lives about 40 minutes from me and myself decided to check out this place called Matsushima since it's on the way back to Ishinomaki on the train. Matsushima is the #3 on the list of the best things to see in Japan. To give you an idea – According to my Lonely Planet guide, “Matsushima Bay features around 250 islands covered in pines that have been moulded by wind and rock formations that have been misshapen by the ceaseless slapping of waves, resulting in uncanny monuments to natural forces. This conglomeration is one of Japan's Nihon Sankei (Three Great Sights).”

We arrived in Matsushima and found a place for $2.00 USD to store our bags – which was great. Checked out the map and got ourselves acquainted with the place. The first thing we saw was this beautiful walkway. Along each side of the path were huge cedar trees (which by the way, are my most favorite natural aspect of Japan thus far). There is a famous temple that we paid 7000 Yen ($7.00 USD) to check out. It's name is Zuiganji. Some history on the temple-

“Zuiganji's formal name is Shoto Seiryuzan Zuigan Enpukuzenji and it is a Zen temple. It was founded by Jikaku-Daishi Ennin in the Heian period (828), and was named Enpukuji. It originally belonged to the Tendai sect.

In the middle of the 13th century (Kamakura Period), the feudal lord Hojo Tokiyori had Hoshin Shosai change the Japanese characters of Enpukuji from Tendai Sect Temple to Zen Temple but the pronunciation still remained the same, Enpukuji. The temple prospered during the Kamakura and Muromachi period under the protection of the central government but declined during the feudal wars between 1447 and 1600. At the beginning of the Edo period (early 17th century), Enpukuji was revived by the feudal lord Date Masamune (he is like the staple man of my area).

In 1604, Masamune began restructuring the temple. Quality lumber, such as cedar, was brought in from Mt. Kumano in Wakayama Prefecture and all the best carpenters were gathered from Kyoto and Wakayama. The entrance and corridors of the main building and the Zen kitchen (Kuri) have now been designated as important national cultural assets. In 1636, on his deathbed, Masamune entrusted the famous head monk Ungo – Zenji to take over his work and continue developing the temple. By the middle of the Edo period, more than 30 temples had been built, including Entsu – in , Yotoku -in and Tenrin – in. Matsushima was officially recognized as a “Temple Town”. Of course, after 360 years of wear and tear the walls became very jaded, so in 1985, a 10-year project to restore and preserve them began. This was completed in 1995.

Did I bore you enough? Ha. The temple is absolutely stunning – it is by far the largest temple I have seen (I've only been here for 3 weeks though). There are 10 traditional Japanese rooms. I do have pictures of the outside, which is white, but the inside there were no pictures allowed. Many of the walls were gold background with pictures of humans gathering around trees, animals like peacocks and animated flowers. There was a room that was the mausoleum for Samurai that committed suicide once their leader – Date died. All the rooms really look the same except for their wall paintings. I could never distinguish the difference for what rooms were used for except the signs on the walls informed me. One room was used only for Date clan relatives, another room was considered the “main room” (maybe like a living room, I'm not too sure) and the other room I remember was used exclusively by feudal lords. There is a corridor that was used as a kitchen as well. Then above each room, there were these intense hand carved sculpting's. They are called “transom sculptings.” They are hand carved out of wood and each one was different – each had different significance. The bird sculptures are to symbolize good fortune. Some of these birds are pheasants, cranes, and peacocks.

After the temple, we headed to Seiryuden which is an art museum. The outside was created to represent a sake brewery. The museum contained 30,000 items which are considered national cultural treasures. Most of them are artifacts from Zuiganji's temple. Some items that were in there were paintings, statues, letters, calligraphy, and ancient things like cups. I didn't really know anything that I was looking at because it was not a bilingual museum. Across the way from the museum was a Buddhist altar. It was really nice in there and many Japanese were praying. My first impression was wow, this must be really holy. Then to the right of the altar was this poster of some woman advertising something. I had to laugh and think wow, even temples can't escape the wraths of capitalism.

The whole reason we really wanted to get to Matsushima this weekend was to see another temple named Godai-do. This temple is on one of the islands and is open to be viewed every 33 years – this being the year of viewing. We ran into some people we knew (us westerners stick out like sore thumbs amongst the thousands of Japanese) who had just gone through Godai-do. They didn't highly recommend it. It cost them $20 USD to stand in a line for an hour or more and then get rushed through the temple in 3-5 minutes. To us, we decided that even though we won't get this chance again until we are 55, it just seems ridiculously commercialized to do something like that. As much as it would have been cool to say, I was in Japan and got to see Godai-do, it's not worth it so much. Others may think differently.

After that decision, we walked down the beautiful Cedar tree pathway and saw some caves through the trees. We headed over there and checked em out. These caves were used by Zen priests to go pray in. They were quite high and I don't know if they were natural or if they are man made. We grabbed a quick lunch and then headed up a 25 minute hike to try to get to the “best viewing spot” of those 250 pined islands. We headed up to Saigyo Modoshi No Matsu Park which literally means “the pine tree which compelled Saigyo to depart from Matsushima”. There is this pine tree (that we saw) where a chance meeting between Saigyo and a young Zen monk took place. It evolved into a debate about Zen principles and Saigyo lost that debate. He felt depressed and so he left Matsushima. Interesting history? Ha. Anyways, I blabbered on about the history because that most stunning view that we were hoping for was not there because it was so foggy. We saw 2 of the 250 islands. Bummer. I'll be back there again, don't you worry.

We hiked back down and went to Entsuin aka a Zen garden really. It holds the mausoleum of Date Masamune, a dry landscape garden, rose garden, cemetery, and a pond. If there weren't so many people there, the place would be absolutely tranquil. I want that garden in my backyard. It was amazing – one of my favorite places I've been to. Entsuin was built in 1646 by part of the Date clan. It is also considered a national cultural asset.

That was the end of our tour of Matsushima because we were all really tired from our night before in Sendai and the weather wasn't particularly wonderful. There were a few things that I didn't do that I would like to do later. You can go out on some of the islands, or take a boat to go between all the islands, or see a Japanese tea house, or check out other museums/aquariums, an observation tower, more shrines, etc. If you come visit me, it's pretty much guaranteed I will take you here. It's so close, beautiful and culturally significant.

It felt good to get home after being gone for 3-4 days. Saturday, my house actually started to feel like home. What a great feeling that is. I wanted to do laundry since I haven't done any since getting here. I tried figuring it out but it just would not work. I knocked on a neighbors door and asked for help. Since we couldn't understand each other it took about 40 minutes until we got it figured out. My laundry machine is ghetto and I think it broke my hot water. I have to turn the water on for each 3 stages of the cycle that involve filling my machine. Otherwise, it leaks all over my floor. How nice. It actually really sucks because I can't just throw laundry in and leave. I have to be here to turn my water on and off. When I realized this, I did 4 loads of laundry since I knew I wasn't going to be going anywhere.


Brian and I agreed on a time to meet at my post office so we could explore together since I still don't have a car, phone, or Internet. It ended up being one of my best days here. He took me to try to get a cell phone – but I couldn't because my temporary Gaijin papers weren't good enough. He showed me around Ishinomaki since I still haven't really been there except to the Board of Education. We decided to check out the “green spot” on his road map. We found what is called “Hiyoriyama Park”. We parked and walked around a bit trying to find a good view. We eventually found one by climbing to the top of a playground. I took pictures of Ishinomaki, but again, the haze didn't make for great pictures. We didn't stay long – but once I have my car and am confident enough to drive up a hill that steep of a grade in manual then I would like to check out what else it has to offer. I saw a few other trails that turned that maybe leads to water or something.

After that we headed out to Wakuya to see remnants of an old castle. I'm not sure if we actually found the castle – but we think we may have. We definitely found the museum and so we paid the $2.00 and went in. Again, it wasn't bilingual so I am not too sure what we were looking at. On the way out, the man offered us pickles. Pickles here are much more different than pickles at home. They are sooooooo salty. They are not pickled with vinegar, but maybe salt water. We walked around a bit more around the castle/museum and took pictures. After that, we went to Homac – Wal*Mart like store. I picked up a few household items I needed. Then, we headed back to Monou – we had spent much of the day just driving and seeing our area. We parked at my house and went for a walk to this shrine that we saw while driving me home. We don't know if it is still open but it was really cute. After that, we stopped at the liquor store where I bought some Yellow Tail wine. Mmmmmm. Brian stayed for a bit and then left. I spent the evening trying to figure out my hot water thing because it's broken. It's still broken.

Now, it's Monday and no one has given me a schedule so I have no idea if i am supposed to be at work. I wrote this thinking that maybe someone would stop by my house to let me know. I got up early to get ready in case someone stopped by to pick me up for work. It's nice that I don't have to be at work, but it still sucks because i can't leave because I don't know what the heck I'm supposed to be doing right now. Oh, there are so many unanswered questions still. Today is payday though – I got paid to do absolutely nothing so far. Haha! Classes start in a week. I am nervous!

I feel completely defeated. No one stopped by today to let me know what is going on. I don't know if i am supposed to be at the BOE or if I'm supposed to be at my Junior High School. It is the most beautiful day I have seen since Tokyo, the sun is actually shining and since I didn't want to leave my house because I wanted to wait until someone stopped by to let me know what is going on; I decided to place a lawn chair outside and sit in the sun. I also feel guilty that I am getting paid for doing nothing, so I brought out my Team Teaching Handbook and read the entire thing. I took notes, bookmarked pages that had great ideas and hilited suggestions. After that, I got out the new ALT(alternative language teacher) handbook and read some more suggestions and things you can do in the classroom. After sitting outside reading these books, getting an awesome tan, I decided well today has been productive, maybe I'll make a really good dinner. I went through my “How to remain vegetarian in Japan guidebook” and picked a meal that didn't look too difficult to make. I also planned on inviting Brian over for dinner to thank him for taking me around for 8 hours yesterday in his car and saving me from my solitude. I hop on Basuketto-san and navigate the back roads to my overpriced grocery store (the main road is suicide on a bike). I spend over an hour finding the ingredients. Spending 10 minutes trying to find how to read Paprika in Japanese before realizing that the spice bottles have subtitles in English. So, I pick out my half dozen spices, find the cheapest ones, grab a few other things I need, low fat yoghurt now replaces milk for my cereal because they only sell whole milk here (gag), my 6 slices of white bread, because they don't sell more than that nor can I get any other type of bread (which is convincing me to buy a breadmaker soon maybe), my 6 brown eggs that they keep unrefrigerated, my overpriced vegetables, spaghetti noodles which cost me $3.00, some can that i think could be spaghetti sauce, olive oil, tofu, onions, garlic, and that was probably it. All the while being stared at – when i make eye contact with these people, instead of smiling at me, they turn away quickly. I couldn't find black olives or raisins (the recipe called for it). So, I spend $30.00 on my groceries which consists of dinner for tonight, breakfast for the next few days and hopefully enough bread for lunch for the next 3 days. I get home feeling pretty good, excited that my trip was successful and that I figured out most of the back roads. I try to figure out how I am going to call Brian (since I have no phone still) and then look and realize, I have no oven. I'd say at least $20 of my grocery store visit was to make this oven recipe. What I purchased is so insignificant to be used in other ways. It's this corn and tofu casserole with a bunch of spices and eggs. I'm so aggravated. The only way I can release my feelings is through writing this and hoping that someone reads it. It's not even 4:00 so I'm sure something more will happen today – i'm still hoping someone will stop by so that I know what the hell my schedule is. I'm so annoyed – everyone else has their car on the road, a cell phone or a land line, cable TV, internet, etc. I don't know why it's taking so long for everything to be settled for me. I just want a routine.

Tuesday August 15, 2006

Happy Birthday Mrs. Veratti!

Yosco picked me up around 9:30 am today and we went into Sendai to a museum. It was featuring the Pompeii exhibit was really cool. She really liked it, but I liked the regular exhibit even better – that was the exhibit of Japanese history. We were there until about 2:00pm. It was very nice of her to take me there. Afterwards, we went grocery shopping for dinner. I picked up a few things I needed too. Then, we went back to her house. She let me use her internet while she cooked dinner. I was sooooo grateful. I've felt so isolated lately with no contact with the outside world. Thank you everyone for sending e-mails! Even though I can't respond to them right away – I appreciate it and will as soon as I get the internet (which i will have if you are actually reading this).

Yosco took me to another street festival in her town, but there were not a lot of people there because it has been raining a lot from some Typhoon that hit recently. Not like I know what is going on – i can't understand my tv, a newspaper and I don't have the internet. I knew what was going on up until Saturday, but not after that. Hiromi often gives me her old newspapers that are written in English but not lately. The festival was much smaller than the one she took me to the other day. There was a karaoke stage and i saw quite a bit of karaoke. I was asked to perform but i politely declined. If I'm doing karaoke, you need to get like 6 beers in me. I did this one goldfish game and won two goldfish. Well, I actually only one once but I think since I'm a gaijin, I got two. I have them chilling in one of my cooking bowls until I can get to the store to get some stuff for them to live in. I hope they survive while I am gone in Sendai for the next 3 days. I put bread into their bowl for food – they didn't eat it. Hopefully, they become hungry enough that they eat it and don't die. I want fish for companionship. Other than that, it was just a bunch of food booths.

There is another ALT about a 20 minute drive from me. I have been wishing I could contact him so we could hang out but again, I have no phone, internet or anything. Today, when I checked my email at Yoscos – he sent me an email saying he'd like to get together and gave me his phone number. I called him and it was so good to talk to someone that i could speak normal speed with and could understand what I was saying. Then, my phone died. I was so upset. I will meet him tomorrow at my orientation, maybe we can set up something to hang out. I get to see all the ALTs tomorrow. I am really excited. I want to get drunk – really drunk and be loud and talk and be stupid and be 22 again.

I'll be in Sendai the next few days doing more workshops and crap that like. Blah. Okay, I'm sick of writing. I hope people are actually reading this!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Yesterday I celebrated the Bon holiday with Hiromi's family. According to my dictionary, Bon is the Buddhist Feast of Lanterns. I'm not too sure why it states that. My Japanese friends told me that it is the Buddhist belief of when past ancestors come back in ghost form and so the living family members need to honor them. Mitsue told me that people don't actually believe that ghosts come back but it is said to be that way. I see a pretty close tie between this and the Confucius ways. I learned in my women in east asian history class that Confucians eldest son must honor their ancestors. That is how it works with Buddhism today, too. Hiromi first picked me up and then we went to an Italian restaurant for lunch. (Japanese-Italian,really). It wasn't too bad, nothing spectacular but hey atleast i wasn't trying to stuff fish down my throat and pretending like I am enjoying it. After lunch, we went to Hiromi's mother in law's since her husband is the eldest son. To honor his deceased father, they put his picture up on an altar inside their home. It is decorated with fruit – probably hundreds of dollars worth of fruit, heaps of flowers, candles, some light things, Buddha statues, presents on the side and it is a few tiers high. Hiromi and her family then take turns throughout the evening honoring him. They light an incense or two and then stick it in this incense burning thing. They hit some thing that makes a gong like noise twice (and for some reasons their kids hit it three times) and then they kneel down and pray for about 30 seconds.

In the evening, we had a huge feast. The feast included salads, Miso soup (which i dont' like and then spilled it all over, very embarrasing), soy beans (which I think is my favorite Japanese food), vegetables that are fried in some type of bread or dough, white rice, avacodos (not traditionally Japanese, but they bought because i mentioned i love them), and then they had fish. For dessert, i have a seaweed flavored jell-o. Everything here has a different consistency, so jell-o isn't the typical jell-o as we know it. It was actually kind of hard to keep down. Then for even more dessert, we had fruit, tons of fruit. Baba (AKA grandmother) gave us each our own little vine of grapes. Grapes here are different too – they are much smaller and sweeter. Japanese people don't eat the skins of grapes. Kokoro and So were laughing at me because I was eating the skins of my grapes. Hiromi explained that Japanese also don't eat the skins of their apples or pears or any fruit that we typically eat. I told her that all the nutrients and good vitamins are in the skins and that is why we eat them in America. She said that there are enough vitamins on the inside of the fruit that it is okay that they do not eat them. Contrary to popular belief, I find the Japanese diet extremely unhealthy. They eat a lot of fried food and an insane amount of salt and sugar is in everything. Their drinks are all sugar and caffeinated as well. It is true that they do not eat as much fast food as Americans, but I find myself trying to have healthy alternatives when eating with my Japanese hosts, but there are not too many options.

There is just a lack of awareness in this country for safety issues as well. My house does not even have a smoke detector. That is one thing I am going to attempt to find when i have my car and can read the Katakana. I also am going to try to find a Carbon Monoxide detector since everything in my house is used with Kerosene. From my hot water for my shower, to my stove, to my air conditioning and even for my heat in the winter. It makes me really nervous to have all this kerosene and not even a detector for Carbon Monoxide. Any Japanese person over the age of 18 has really gross teeth. This is not an exaggeration. I met a boy the other day who was 24 years old, his teeth looked like he was 80. Again, it's simply because they use sugar – based toothpaste. Sugar causes cavities, this is not a huge secret, why do they use sugar-based toothpaste? I don't get it. I'm going to go ahead and make an assumption that 9/10 men smoke here. Everywhere you go, men are smoking. I see so many logical things for me and i just want to start this awareness campaign about seat belts, smoking, fire safety, child safety, toothpaste, etc. There are so many times my stomach churns when I see Hiromi's children about to run in the street or run off in the grocery store for 15 minutes or she just lets them run off near the ocean without keeping an eye on them. As mentioned before, she has a 4 year degree, she's not a stupid person, but these acts make me really nervous. I really just don't get it! Japan is the leading technology country, but they have no common sense about other things.

Ok, back to my story and off about my rant of Japanese culture that i need to learn to accept. The next morning, after an interesting breakfast, we went up to the grave of their family to do their prayers. This is how the Bon praying goes – eldest son and family goes to grave, bring hot green tea, food, water and incense. The grave already has flowers from some other family member – eldest son empties old water and puts the green tea in the flowers. Uses clean water to wash down gravestone. Pours from the top and lets it drip down all over the grave. Then, each family member takes incense, and puts them into this little cave in the gravestone specifically for incense burning. Each family member takes their turn praying for deceased ancestor. The end. The whole process probably took 20 minutes at most.

After that, we all got ready and went to some beach. We spent maybe an hour or two at the beach. Then, we all went home. For lunch, we stopped on the way home and i got a bagel sandwich. I know i'm here for the culture, but sometimes being able to eat something that i typically love makes me really happy. Seeing these other smaller cities really makes me jealous of the people that get to teach there. It makes me realize just how rural i am. These people have a bagel shop and bookstores and cafe's to go to, and actual community. I have...a post office.

After Hiromi dropped me off, Yosco picked me up about an hour later. I then went to her families grave to pray with her. Her shrine was absolutely stunning. You first walk through this long trail to the shrine. On each side of the sidewalk there are absolutely humongous cedar trees and in between each tree is a Buddha statue. I didn't take pictures because some things i feel are rude to take pictures of – aka – people's shrines. She took me inside her shrine and it was just amazing. We then hiked up a small hill (for some reason all cemetaries here are set up on a hill) and her ceremony was much less formal than Hiromi's. She basically lit her incense and was on her way. Succeeding our graveyard visit, we went to her parents house. On the way, we stopped and she showed me some sights along the way. A typhoon hit here and killed people years ago, so one city donated statues to the other one. She showed me the matching statues which made the cities “Sister cities”. Yosco is a pretty cool lady – she is insanely forgetful (early signs of Alzheimer i think) – but i think if there was a Japanese hippy, she'd have been one. Yea, we stopped at some people's houses but didn't stay long at either place. When we were done with all the Bon festivities, we went back to her house for some dinner. I had more seaweed wrapped rice stuff. I love it. Her husband drinks a lot of whiskey and he was pretty drunk. He is the first person to really make me full heartedly laugh since i've left home. It felt good – his English is poor, but who needs English when you've drank half a bottle of Canadian club whiskey and can play charades? Hahaha.