Revisiting Ukai

June 18th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

This second year has been filled with lots of new and exciting things, but it has also been filled with revisiting a lot of old favorites from last year.

This past weekend we took Ewan and went to ukai again. I love this tradition in Gifu. It is such a simple and beautiful spectacle that they have preserved.

I didn’t get a chance to see much this year. Ewan wanted to nurse during the time when the fishing was taking place, so I mostly got to see the evenings events through the eyes of Aaron. who was photographer for the evening.

Future Fisher

Posing Beforehand


Watching, Waiting

Bringing it In

The Catch

A Bit O Random

June 16th, 2009 Posted in Food | No Comments »

The Mister Donut here constantly revamps its offerings. It is nice because each time you go in you can find something new, but frustrating when you find something you love, it isn’t there anymore. Oh how I miss you, honey glazed.

I was pleasantly surprised when I found these on the shelf when I visited today.

Really, how can one resist a miniature hamburger and fry donut set. I haven’t eaten it yet, I have just been looking at it with admiration, but when I do, I will let you know how it is.

Garage Sale

June 10th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

It’s really happening. The fact that we are leaving Japan is slowly becoming a reality. With a mere 57 days left, we have started preparing. We have one suitcase packed and others that will be soon.

The hardest part, logistically, about leaving Japan is getting rid of all of our stuff. When we came we replaced two different JETs that had households worth of stuff. Both their households got moved into ours. At first it was overwhelming, too much stuff for a small space, so we worked to downsize. But now we really need to downsize.

This year the JET Program in Gifu took a bit of a hit. Starting in August, all high school ALTs will be teaching at two schools, instead of just one. As a result, there are far fewer new ALTs coming to Gifu this year. Both the ALTs that will be replacing us at our schools already live here and, as a result, do not need or want any of our stuff. So, we must get rid of it all.

It is notoriously difficult, and expensive, to throw things away in Japan. So, we are trying to give away all of our belongings. Dishes, pots and pans, laundry baskets, a genuine green pleather sofa, everything. So this past weekend we held our first in-home garage sale.

I wasn’t expecting to get rid of much, but I was pleasantly surprised. A number of people came through and took a bunch of stuff off our hands. All our bookcases are gone, the tv, tv stand, a few pans and baking dishes. And many people spoke for other items. It is great and such a relief to see things slowly move out, even if it is painful and sad at the same time.

The weird thing about this is that this has become home. I have grown to love everything about this place (except the kitchen, I never will get used to a kitchen this small) and I am sad to see it go. I have loved the simplicity of our lives. I have loved how we have spent our money and resources on seeing things and going places, rather than filling our house with nice stuff. As much as I initially hated my return back to dorm-ness, I feel that it was a good departure for me. One that helped me realize, again, what is really important in life.

As we transition away from Japan, we must transition towards the States. I hope that we can hold onto what we’ve learned, what we’ve loved, and what we’ve realized we want and need from life. If we can combine all those lessons while living in MUCH closer proximity to the family and friends that we have missed for the past two years, I feel that we will be truly lucky.

Kamikochi National Park

June 4th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

With only a few months left to spend in Japan, we finally made it to our first national park. Despite my new nursing mama breakdown about whether or not they would have food for sale at the park (I didn’t have any snacks in my bag) we made the trek. The answer was yes, of course, they had food for sale. How could I have doubted that any touristy type place in Japan wouldn’t have food, well, at least soft cream.

Anyways, I am glad we made the trek. It was a beautiful day, it was a beautiful spot, and I really enjoyed getting out and walking around in Japan’s beautiful natures. Take a look for yourself!

Along the little boardwalk frogs were plentiful, as were their eggs. I had never seen frog eggs before, so I was rather intrigued and now we have a lot of pictures of frog eggs.

Haiku Posting

May 29th, 2009 Posted in Haiku Posting, School Life, Takayama | No Comments »

I have not posted.
Summer heat brings an idea,
Haiku Posting!

Read the rest of this entry »


May 28th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

After being here for almost two years, very little surprises or impresses me anymore. As a result, there is often little to blog about. There aren’t anymore crises in the grocery store or unfortunate experiences with a squatty potty. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t still loving Japan, in fact it is quite the opposite. We love Japan so much and have settled here so completely that our life is seamless and easy here. And that leaves very little to write about.

However, there are times when I am absolutely stunned and impressed with the way things work here. Sometimes I take notice of those moments and want, desperately, to write about them. But then I forget them. Sometimes I remember the moment and write it down in my handy little notebook, but still forget to write about it and by the time I look at my little notebook all the details that made the event or experience so poignant have left my mind. Luckily this isn’t the case with an experience I had just a few days ago.

I went for a brief outing to the post office with Ewan. We mailed out four packages to various family and friends back home (watch your mailboxes! it might be you!) which had languished in our apartment for many months as time had just escaped us. As we walked home afterwards, we were joined by masses of elementary school students since the neighborhood school had just let out for the day.

Just a quick sidenote before the story continues. Most elementary and junior high school students go to their neighborhood schools in Japan. These schools, for the most part, are within walking distance (the concept of walking distance is quite liberal here, anything under 30-45 minutes is safely considered walking distance) and students are expected to make their way, on their own. Some schools even have rules about how students can go to school, often times they are not allowed to be driven in cars or ride their bikes.

In the morning, elementary students gather at various areas of the neighborhood and walk together in groups. Each group has older students (carrying a little flag) and younger students with highly visible bright yellow backpacks. The older students are in charge and expected to help the younger students get to school safely. The reverse is true in the afternoon. There aren’t any parents walking with them, there aren’t lines of cars outside the school gates dropping off and picking up kids. Just a bunch of kids walking together. Keep in mind that we aren’t living in a small idyllic town here, our city is over 300,000 people which is about the same size as Milwaukee, WI.

Well, on this particular afternoon when I was walking with and watching the students, they were particularly energetic. It was a beautiful, sunny early summer day. The students were running and playing as they walked home, but always remembering (or being reminded by older students) to stop and look both ways at driveways and intersections. One group of boys were being particularly rambunctious and they were playing a game of tag as they made their way home. One boy in an effort to stay away from the boy that was “it” ended up tripping over his own feet. Before anyone could help him he was on the ground, with scraped knees, elbows and a nice sized cut on his face.

As can be expected of a young child he immediately started to cry, and the kids gathered around him to offer help and support. They responded so quickly and sensitively, but they also realized that helping him was beyond their abilities. And this is what impressed me. The older students instantly assessed the situation, realized it was too much for them to handle, and two of them ran to the nearest shop (a tiny stationary shop) and went inside. Just a few seconds later, the students and the stationary shop employee came out to the students aid.

You may be wondering what was so impressive about this? Well, there were a few things that stood out to me. First, the older students (probably 3rd or 4th grade – 8 to 10 years old) had the ability to assess the situation quickly and know that it was beyond their capabilities and that they needed help. This sort of responsiveness and responsibility is not an easy thing to learn, so I commend the parents and teachers here for teaching these students how to stay calm and respond in a crisis, even if it is just a little one.

Second, the students knew who to go ask for help. Unlike in America where students are so inundated with the message of “stranger danger” that they don’t always know which adults they can trust and which ones might scoop them up and take them away (even though this type of crime is very rare), these students knew instantly to go into a neighborhood shop and ask for help. There wasn’t any hesitation, the students sprung into action when the need arose.

Third, and perhaps most surprising, the stationary store employee left the store where she was the only one working to go about a block away and help the students out. She didn’t hesitate or lock the door, despite the fact that in this cash-based society there was likely a register filled with bills. Her willingness to help the students, her ability to trust that the shop would be fine even without anyone watching out for it was, to this American, truly surprising.

All this may not seem that amazing, but I really do think, especially coming from an American perspective that it is. I think it is incredible and refreshing that students here still walk to school ALONE. In America I feel like this is becoming more and more rare as parents are all to ready to load their kids into the car and drive them, even if it is truly a walkable distance. Also, as I mentioned earlier there doesn’t seem to be the fear of strangers and the impression that unknown adults should be considered dangerous. The students knew that they could trust an adult, even one that they didn’t know.

Now, I’m not sure on the actual numbers here, and crime rates against children might be lower here than in the U.S., but I, along with many others, do think that the “stranger danger” hype is overblown. Sure, the crime rate may be higher (I don’t even know this for sure) but those strangers that aren’t dangerous vastly outnumber those that are. Teaching children to fear adults they don’t know as a blanket rule does a disservice to everyone. Surely, it would have been a great disservice if the Japanese students in this story felt that way. The poor boy with the scraped knees and elbows would have cried, lying in the middle of the sidewalk, with only other children trying, rather unsuccessfully, to help him. Somehow, the help offered by a pack of elementary school students isn’t as good as a caring adult (even one that is a stranger), giving you the once over, helping you back to your feet and calmly reassuring you that, despite the blood, you will be okay. That’s what the stationary store employee did, a simple act, but a powerful one nonetheless.

Exit Strategy

May 20th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

It was official when we didn’t sign contracts for next year, but now that we have flight itineraries approved it seems even more official. We are, really and truly, coming back to the United States. And we will be there, all three of us, on August 6th!

I remember this time, just two years ago, when we were counting down the days until we went to Japan. It was exciting and scary and we were filled with anticipation about what our life would be like here. Now the reverse is true, our days in Japan are numbered (77 days, for anyone that is counting) but we feel as though we are returning to something so familiar and easy. While this familiarity is welcome, it is also a little scary as well.

Truth be told, we have really enjoyed the excitement and adventure of living here, navigating through a new culture, learning new jobs and a new language, meeting new people, traveling TONS, and generally having a good time. We have enjoyed the new spirit that we embraced when we arrived here and are a little sad and scared that it will disappear.

We are scared that once we are back in Chicago things will go back to being precisely the way they were when we left. Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood, it wasn’t as if our life was terrible when we were there two years ago. In fact it was quite the opposite. We had a good life. We had good jobs, decent salaries, a nice apartment, good friends (so many of whom we met shortly before we left for Japan and are looking forward to reconnecting with), but nothing really exciting happened.

Weekends were mostly filled with lazing about, maybe going out to a bar or a movie or a restaurant that we had, likely, been a million times before. Vacations were, largely, filled with visiting our large (and ever expanding) family. Here it has been the opposite. Weekends are often filled with going to or seeing things that are wonderfully exciting and new. Vacations have been, just that. Trips to interesting and, often, faraway places. It’s been a wonderful two years and I feel like I’ve seen and done so many things, and yet there is so much more that I want to see and do. So much that I want to show my new son.

Now I know that Chicago specifically, and the United States generally, has a lot to offer. It is just a matter of seeking it out. So, now that our return is definite, I have started scoping out some of what there is. As I have poked around the internet I have been amazed at how much Chicago has changed in the two years since we were there (there is an REI in the city now!!). But also I have been amazed at how much there is to do in Chicago and the surrounding areas. I know a lot of this was probably there when we were but we didn’t seek it out.

I am hoping that when we return we will continue to embrace the spirit of adventure that we have developed here and start truly taking advantage of what Chicago has to offer. If we do that, I think our return will be filled with a similar type of excitement and intrigue that our time in Japan has, just without the language barrier.

While we are apprehensive about our return and all the changes that go along with an international move, we are truly excited to be reunited with the friends and family that we have missed so dearly while we have been here. Some of the relationships with friends and family we have sort of let slide for the past few years. Not that I am making excuses but it is so much more difficult and time-consuming to maintain a strong relationship from halfway around the world with a 14-hour time difference. As our return nears, I have been feeling compelled to reconnect. After all, it is just 77 days until we will get to see you all again. We can’t wait!

The Littlest ALT

May 13th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Yesterday was Ewan and I’s first day back at work. His first day team-teaching with me at Gifu Kita high school. For the remainder of my contract I have a highly modified schedule but one that still gives me some face time with the students. Also, my purpose is slightly different as well. Since I can’t quite be as integral of a member of the English staff as I was before, I have been asked to focus on cultural issues and differences in regards to childrearing between America and Japan. I’m not quite sure how to do that yet, but I’m sure, as the rest of this Japan experience has been, it will be an adventure.

For the first class Ewan was fast asleep, it was easy as pie. During the second class he woke up and I had to do a bit more bouncing and dancing to keep him comfortable and happy.

The students thought it was pretty funny when he got the hiccups and they got to learn that word.

I’m not sure that they learned much English yesterday, but they certainly did enjoy the novelty of having a little and big ALT for the day.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

May 6th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

We have three more months in Japan and, as a result, we are starting to work through our lists of places to go, foods to eat and things to see. One of the things I really wanted to do before leaving was visit Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.

On Sunday we hopped on a train, with Aaron’s parents in tow, and made our way to Kyoto for our first day trip with Ewan.

We planned to keep the day light, it being our first with our babe and Aaron’s mom was a bit under the weather, so we wanted to hit up Fushimi Inari Shrine and Arashiyama. Fushimi Inari is famous for the hundreds of orange torii gates that line the pathways up the mountain. The torii gates are stunning and what most people go to see.

Some of them are quite tall.

Others were quite short.

Inari is the god of business. Each of the torii gates has been donated by a different Japanese business, so the backside of each one is inscribed with the name of the business hoping to get good fortune by their donation.

(Check out the lovely burp cloth that Aaron is sporting on his shoulder. This parenting thing is all brand new to us and makes us do very strange things!)

The shrine is also adorned with a number of foxes, which are known for being messengers. At this particular shrine the Ema (votive tablets) were in the shapes of foxes and those that purchased them and left their messages were free to draw their own fox face onto the tablet. I thought a lot of the faces were pretty fun to look at.

It was a good day, and a nice trip. I am not sure if we will get back to Kyoto again, I hope that we will. But if we don’t, I do feel that I have seen a lot of the city and I will always have very fond memories of my time there.

Fuji Matsuri

May 1st, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

This Wednesday, on a glorious middle-of-the-week national holiday, we made a little trek to Hashima (a small town nearby) to join in the Wisteria Festival (Fuji matsuri). It was a small temple and a small festival and we were definitely the only foreigners there, but it was a good time regardless.

Each year the temple hosts a festival to celebrate the Wisteria tree that is more than 300 years old. The tree was amazingly large, the flowers were in full bloom and the smell was just glorious.

In addition to sitting and admiring the tree, we were able to listen to a children’s taiko group. They were actually quite good and the were oh-so-cute. After that we went for a small tea ceremony put on by a group of local women. Aaron sat with Ewan during most of it and the little old ladies just couldn’t get enough of him! Ewan, that is.