Sunday, March 22, 2009


Okay, so I'm going to ask a favor which is slightly out of character for me. Tomorrow my parents and two of their friends hop on a fourteen hour flight to Japan, and I am being a worrier, so...

If you guys could spare some thoughts, prayers, well wishes, good karma, or what have you, I would really appreciate it.

May they all have a safe trip!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I did approximately nothing at all on Friday and Saturday, apart from sleep and chill out, but Sunday! Sunday was...


I don't know how to describe it. The majesty of hefty men in loincloths shoving each other out of a wrestling defies verbalization.

A largish group of us met in Osaka and, after grabbing okonomiyaki for lunch, arrived at the venue just in time for the afternoon sumo matches to begin. It was the first day of the Osaka tournament, so all of the wrestlers were still qualified. Most bouts took less than a minute, with each wrestler fighting in only one that day. Watching the fights, which were short, sudden bursts of activity, was actually really interesting. Some bouts were just concentrated shoving, some involved more head slapping than a catfight between teenage girls, and one even employed an surprisingly agile sidestep maneuver that showed why sumo is the root of jujitsu.

There were a lot of incomprehensible announcements and strange mini-ceremonies in between bouts, but somehow we didn't get bored. Between figuring out exactly what was going on (and by the end of the afternoon, we were fairly well-informed) and spouting semi-baseless speculations about upcoming matches, we actually kept ourselves well entertained.

We chose favorites from match to match, largely based on frivolous reasons, like "That guy's picture in the program looks nice" (Joanna), or, "He's way smaller than the other guy" (me), or, "He weighs over 540 pounds" (everyone in our group), or, "He's from Osaka!!!" (everyone in the arena). We all had a good laugh that the biggest wrestler, that of the aforementioned 540 pounds, was dubbed "Yamamotoyama" -- funny because "yama" means mountain, and it was appropriately in his name not once, but twice. (Though probably not because of his size, as we liked to think.)

I was particularly eager for the last match of the day, because it involved the only sumo wrestler I actually know anything about -- the notorious Asashoryu. Originally from Mongolia, Asashoryu is one of only two sumo wrestlers to currently hold the highest rank of yokozuna, which is the only title that cannot be revoked. That said, he is constantly getting into trouble with the JSA (Japan Sumo Association) or with critics, for stuff like wearing street clothes in public (against traditional rules), or for skipping tournaments citing an injury, only to be caught on tape playing in a charity soccer match in Mongolia. But besides holding an irrevocable rank, he's the most popular wrestler in the league, and a giant money maker, so they can't do much but occasionally suspend him for bad behavior. I for one haven't decided yet whether I think he's a punk or awesome.

...That said, I may or may not have bought a rockin' Asashoryu t-shirt for a souvenir. It was just so cool!

The very next day (a.k.a. yesterday), I press-ganged my supervisor into buying another round of sumo tickets for my parents and their friends. Because really, you have to see it to believe it.

In other news, 7 days until my parents arrive!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


So, after Joanna and I had our evening of moderately successful cooking attempts and the Nodame Cantabile specials on Friday, the whole weekend was busy with sightseeing. I am scoping out a few more places to take my parents, and trying to plot how to get everywhere effectively.

On Saturday, Fig and I went to two temples called Nanzenji and Eikando, both of which I'll take my parents to if we have the time. Then on Sunday, after waking up early and doing trash duty at my apartment complex, I met Fig in town again for explorations at Tofukuji and Sanjuusangendo. I'll probably skip Tofukuji with the folks, because while pretty, it's not exceptional. But we will certainly go to Sanjuusangendo, which has really cool statues...alas, I cannot say more than that now, because I don't want to spoil the surprise for them before they arrive! (Mom, don't you dare google any of this!)

This week my high schoolers are all stuck in exams, so we've only had junior high classes. Yesterday we were cooking in JH English club, which meant that we had to go grocery shopping after fifth period, and also stay at school an hour and a half after our day officially ended. Kristin and I were both pretty tired and ready to go home, but there was only enough time to grab dinner before we had to meet again for tea ceremony lessons at Sumiko's house. At least that's fun, though!

Today I got to watch the JH second-years perform these funny little plays in English, about a girl who meets some talking puppets. Four groups each did the same play, but the performances were actually pretty distinct. I liked the all-boy group, who had drawn signs with pictures of their characters, and cleverly changed their lines to make the only overtly female character (Chris) into a male (Christopher).

And today, I am officially beginning the countdown.

12 days until my parents arrive!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

“It is very delicious and eat you, please.”

Or, if you prefer, here is a gem from a debate on the merits of living in Japan vs. living abroad:

“They can eat Japanese food.”
“But they can eat America too.”

I knew Japan's competitive eaters were good, but that is taking it to the limit!

So, on February 27th we had graduation. You see, in Japan, the school year begins in April, and ends in March. But the third-year students graduate about three weeks before the end of term, hence the end of February.

The ceremony was pretty nice, though the gym was kind of cold. There were some touching speeches, not to mention some tears from both students and teachers. When the students marched out, I'd say about 75% of class 3-5 was crying, which made me tear up, too, even though I barely knew the third-years. I only knew two of them by name, in fact, but they were both 3-5 students, and bright and cheerful and good English speakers, besides. Shiho and Michiko, we'll miss you!

That night we had an enkai (staff party) to celebrate graduation, but it may have been one of the least enjoyable so far. There were long (and in Eriko's case, again tearful) speeches that I could only moderately understand, and I ended up sitting with teachers I didn't know and who didn't talk to me much. Towards the end of the night, Hosoi-sensei and Kaneshiro-sensei (the adorable music teacher) came to visit me for a bit, but there wasn't much time before we all had to leave. Alas!

Saturday the 28th I tried to do some shopping in town, though all I actually succeeded in buying was an English copy of "Kafka on the Shore" by Murakami Haruki, probably the most famous contemporary writer in Japan. I've just finished his book "Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World," which is fairly trippy and occasionally difficult to understand, but a marvelous piece of literature overall. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested!

That evening, I somehow got roped into returning to Arabian Rock, for more fun and shenanigans. They performed "Beauty and the Beast" again, which only lost its puzzling charm in terms of the element of surprise.

On Sunday I and my neighbors went to Kameoka for kaitenzushi (conveyor-belt sushi). The kids are a merry handful, but we had a nice time. Later that day I met Joanna for a little while, and we got dinner at a coffee shop we like. Their drinks and desserts are great, but honestly, their savory food leaves something to be desired.

This week at school has been a little crazy, up to and including my epic fall (see yesterday's post). It's the end of term, so everyone is rushing about doing exams and finishing projects. Yesterday I was finishing interview tests from 3rd period all through lunch, so I had to eat an entire sandwich in approximately thirty seconds before running off to my next class for more interview tests. When things finally began to calm down around 2 o'clock, I felt as though I'd been tossed around by a tornado all morning.

My walk home yesterday was also a little out of the ordinary. I think perhaps it was Appreciate Your Foreigner Day in Sonobe or something, because literally every group of people I passed on my way home spoke to me. First, an old man (who I'd never spoken to before, mind you) stopped me and asked in Japanese, "Do you eat daikon radishes?" I must have looked pretty confused, because he tried to mime it out. So I said yes, and he proceeded to give me three giant, sweet potato sized radishes, all freshly pulled and still covered with dirt.

At that point I must have looked pretty funny, a foreigner in nice work clothes, with a skinned knee and carrying three huge dirty radishes. Next, a group of girls (I think from Tim's junior high) called hello in English, at which point I tried to answer dropped one of my radishes. As they walked away, I could hear them asking each other, "Why was she carrying daikon?" I was sort of wondering the same thing. Then I walked past three kindergarteners who said hello (again in English), and freaked out when I answered. As I walked away, they shouted "Hello! Nice to meet you!" in a constant loop for about two minutes. Then came the group of junior high boys on bicycles, who said "Hello! See you again!" and the mob elementary schoolers by my apartment complex, who also said hello.

I don't know, maybe radishes and a skinned knee make me look really approachable.

Now I'm just wondering: what am I going to do with three daikon the size of my forearm?

Well, Joanna's coming over to dinner tonight. I hope she likes radishes.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Anna vs. concrete

Concrete - 1, Anna - 0.

Yesterday, I was on my way to first period, and I was crossing this outdoor walkway on the second floor, arms absolutely laden with a stack of papers, 30 student folders, and a basket containing my dictionary, my pencil case, and about eight sets of crayons. Asking for trouble, right?

Well, I missed the last step, and had the most epic fall of perhaps my entire life. I stumbled frantically forward for a few paces before giving up the ghost and flopping sideways like a beached whale, scattering folders and papers. I landed on my entire left side, busting my elbow and scraping my knee like I haven't done since probably elementary school.

On the upside, I don't think many people saw me, and I remarkably didn't hurt myself that much. I was shaky for the first half or so of first period, but it was more out of nerves than anything else. And besides, those tights already had a hole at the toe, so I was replacing them anyway.

When they noticed my wound this morning (barely covered by a conspicuously too-small bandaid), some kids in 2-4 asked what had happened. I told them I got in a fight.

With a lion.