Christmas Japanese Style

It was a very Japanese Christmas here in the Asby-Sitterson household. We started out the festivities on Christmas Eve by consuming what we later found out was a typical dinner for the night before Christmas: pizza. We also had a Christmas cake. It wasn't your typical fruitcake recycled from last year's pile of unwanted gifts. The Japanese make cute little cakes with Christmas decorations and loads of icing and charge you $30 to share it with your sweetie. Luckily, we waited until the last minute to buy one for ourselves and got a cheap one half-off at the grocery store minus all of the frills and extra icing. It was still a tasty end to our traditional Japanese Christmas Eve feast. One of my Japanese coworkers was surprised to hear that Americans don't have these cakes on Christmas Eve. When I explained that pumpkin or pecan pie was more common, she looked confused and said, "Your culture is so different." Yes, it is indeed often different than the Japanized version so popular here.

Our evening continued with some Christmas Carol Karaoke. The plan was to sing only Christmas songs all night long to ring in the holiday, but we eventually ran out of Christmas themed tunes and had to throw in a few cheesy non-Christmas songs. We started out the night strong with Mariah Carey's classic "All I Want for Christmas is You." A bunch of uber-Christmasy songs such as "Jingle Bells," "Winter Wonderland," and "Silent Night" followed. We then introduced Dustin to some Christmas tunes new to him. He pointed out that "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid is quite a downer on such a joyous occasion. "Last Christmas" by WHAM! and "Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys and "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon made appearances on the playlist. The funniest moment of our blessed Christmas Eve singing came when the version of "O Come All Ye Faithful" that we chose turned out to be a rendition by City High. Imagine this church hymn sprinkled with "Baby" and "City High up in here!" Quite humorous.

Dustin instructed me to let him sleep until 11:00 on Christmas morning, so the coffee was waiting at 11:01. We opened the gifts that we miraculously kept unopened for about a month; they lived under our tiny tree in the Christmas corner, constantly tempting us. As per Christmas tradition, we made our presents useful immediately. Dustin spent most of the day playing his new Wii game, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed while I read David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice and flipped through Lonely Planet Japan. I was highly disappointed (though not surprised) to discover that Nagaoka wasn't mentioned in the 868 page book even once. What was said about our rural prefecture, Niigata, failed to surprise as well. The famous rice and sake was mentioned beside the ski resorts and onsen. I had long since come to terms with the fact that I live in the boonies, but I hoped, for a brief second, that once I got my hands on the extensive Lonely Planet Japan guidebook, certainly something I hadn't yet discovered would be brought to my attention. Luckily, the rest of Japan is just a short train ride away. And all of the staples of Japan can be found in our tiny little town.

Once dinnertime rolled around, we pulled ourselves from our new toys and headed out on an adventure to partake in another traditional holiday meal in Japan. The Japanese eat a hearty meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas night. We hoped that we'd be able to squeeze our way into our local KFC for a nice meal. When we walked out the door dressed warmly (It was 3° C!), we were assaulted by big drops of rain. We opened our umbrellas and set out on our mission to meet The Colonel. About two minutes into our journey, the rain turned into little pellets of hail. Yes, folks. We braved a hail storm just to get some fried chicken and corn. Eventually, we made it. Turns out, the Japanese order buckets of chicken for Christmas in advance; they just come in, pick it up, and eat it at home with their families. Most of these people drove up in their cars, scampered in to retrieve one of the bags lining the counters and open table-tops, and returned to their warm houses by car. Since we arrived on foot, we decided to dine in. We had the entire restaurant to ourselves. Dustin had a chicken sandwich, whose name included both teriyaki and fire, some fries, and a biscuit with maple syrup. I had some cold corn and furi furi potato. Furi furi potato are basically french fries in a take out bag with your choice of flavor packets. You dump in your packet of flavor, shake, and enjoy. I chose yakisoba flavor, which is a type of Japanese noodle dish. It was the second oddest holiday meal I've had yet. (The oddest being the Christmas Eve dinner I shared with my dad and sister at Hooters on the year that my mom had to work the graveyard shift. Not much was open on that Christmas Eve in North Kansas City...)

Our Christmas ended in the wee hours of the morning. After KFC, we braved what had turned into a snow storm to get to 7-11 to call Dustin's family, who hadn't heard from us in a while. I had my new gloves to keep my hands warm and my rainboots to keep my feet dry, but it was the coldest phone call I've ever made. We got smart once the phone card we had ran out and hurried back home to make the remainder of our calls on Skype in the comfort of our own home. Speaking of Skype... It's a free and easy way to "talk on the phone" via your computer. All we have to do is set up a time when we'll both be at our computers and it's like I'm within reach, only 15 hours in the future. What I'm saying is, call me please, but let me know when, so I can answer. Just a reminder, my Skype name is danasitterson. We still have about $8 of Skype credit, so if you don't have the internet, you might be able to bribe me to call you on an actual phone for a rather short conversation. 

From now on, we'll be putting links to full photo albums on the blog. You may have noticed a new addition to the sidebar directly to your right called "Captured on Film." Currently, you'll see the names of five different albums. Clicking each link will take you straight to the albums of photos I post on facebook, so all of you who have decided not to waste time on facebook can see the pictures without having to sign up for your own account. Enjoy! 

I'll get back to you next year. Have fun during the rest of '08. 



As the year comes to a close, I've been hearing and reading various people's hope that 2009 will be a year much better than 2008. Undoubtedly, it has been a rocky year in the economic sense; however, I can't help but feel that 2008 has been such an extraordinary year as well. For the first time since I've been a voting citizen, our country has decided to elect someone who has a plan to right so many of the wrongs that have happened in recent years. And personally, it's been such an exciting year! I started off this year jumping into the job market and was so blessed to have experience working with fabulous teachers that I greatly admire before having my very own classroom, brief though it was. My engagement was a very happy surprise in May. Now, I am here in Japan taking advantage of this wonderful job opportunity.

When I first arrived in Japan, adapting was more difficult than I anticipated. Adjusting to the decreased working hours and increased Dustin hours was surprisingly trying at first. If you ever question whether or not your current mate is "the one," try moving to a foreign country, living in a 10 x 12 room, and starting a new job that you share with that person. I can happily say that we've made it through the bad times and are on to the good times. Obviously, I don't expect smooth sailing for the rest of our life together, but I know that we'll be able to handle what comes our way. I can now say that I'm enjoying Japan and life here is much less difficult than I initially found it.

I've only been here for three months, but it's been a period of great growth. I started out the year working during most of my waking time. I came home exhausted each evening and never found enough time for myself. I didn't have time to develop any interests much less pursue them. Now that I have all the time in the world, I've discovered interests I didn't even know I had. Besides the occasional holiday-related festival or performance, Nagaoka doesn't offer much in the cultural sense. Alas, I've been expanding my world through the internet's many wonders. I've found time and again that I don't appreciate all of the things America has to offer until I've left it. Don't get me wrong, I love singing my heart out at karaoke, I appreciate the cute little mascots that adorn every sign and building that I see, I eat my fair share of sushi, and I recently wasted $15 and 20 minutes at the pachinko parlor. I engage in Japanese culture on a daily basis, but I've been discovering and/or reconnecting with so many great things that aren't particularly Japanese. These are the things that currently fill my free time (It's a long list, because I have so very much of it.):
1. podcasts (This American Life, The Hidden Universe, All Songs Considered, New Yorker Fiction)
2. bicycle riding (out of necessity daily and for pleasure occasionally)
3. news (The Daily Beast website, Anderson Cooper, BBC)
4. reading (fiction, non-fiction, blogs, magazines)
5. movies/ T.V. (The Daily Show, Mad Men, Twin Peaks)
6. writing (right here, in my journal, in letters)
7. photography (taking, posing in, viewing)
8. yoga and meditating
9. video games (Wii, DS, at the arcade)
10. studying Japanese (slowly and not so devotedly)

I like our life here in Japan. Our jobs are so easy and usually fun. We live quite comfortably while being able to pay back school loans easily. There's at least one surprise in nearly every day. Today's surprise: baking brownies in a toaster oven. They had to be stirred every 30 seconds and still turned out a bit burned on the top, but they were done in half the time! Interacting with Japanese people is often full of hilarity. When I first got to Japan, I had very little success with chopsticks. Despite this fact, I was told by three different women (all strangers) on three different occasions that I was "very good with chopsticks." My last such encounter happened with a cute little old lady who waited to accost me with this compliment until Dustin had left the table to use the restroom. While he was gone, she interrogated me in Japanese and I repeated "eggo" or "English" over and over. She kept holding up 3 fingers, so I said that I had been in Japan for nearly 3 months, wondering how she would have known this. She quickly said goodbye and left the table when she spied Dustin approaching.  And if you haven't guessed by now, I'm quite enjoying all of this free time. 

2008 has been a great year and I know that 2009 will be even better!


Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Japan just doesn't want to believe the fact that winter does not officially begin until December 21. I tried to convince my students that it was in fact still technically Fall, but they refused to concede defeat. After yesterday's erratic weather (which included torrential rain, sunny skies, hail, and the biggest snowflakes I've ever seen, all within twelve hours' time), I started to question whether or not to join the "Winter is now." camp.  Admittedly, the snow-covered rooftops add a bit of holiday atmosphere that was previously missing; however, trudging through the streets bundled in countless layers of clothing while trying to pull my boots out of heaps of slushy half-melted snow mounds did not particularly bring to mind sleigh bells, glistening snow, or doing anything the Eskimo way. Once I blasted Christmas tunes through my headphones, I did feel slightly merrier, but I'm still missing the bike-worthy weather.

November passed by oh so quickly. I'm getting adjusted to my classes. I have many more junior high school classes than I anticipated or desired. I don't think I've been called to work with the preteen to teenager demographic. I'm too fragile and sensitive. I can't handle the rude comments and ugly portraits directed towards me. Luckily, I only have one school full of junior high students. The rest of the month, I teach younger kids with only a sprinkling of teenagers through out. 

We FINALLY got cellphones and paychecks. Both have greatly improved our social lives. Now we can actually be informed when a happening occurs. In Japan, some people text, but most people use phone e-mail. That means, you can send me an e-mail from your computer and I can receive it basically as a text. My phone e-mail is dsitterson@i.softbank.jp. 

Dustin's already adorned his phone with quite a few dingly-danglies. My phone doesn't have a designated place to hang the oh-so-popular phone jewelry, so, I'm not as cool. I did feel like a rockstar at the Softbank store while we were signing up for phone service. While we were waiting for something or another, we were served piping hot green tea. After we paid for the phones, our arms were filled with "gifts." Most of them were Softbank promotional items like a box of tissue, a roll of toilet paper reminding us of our phone plans' benefits, Softbank folders, Softbank pens, Softbank sticky notes, and (my favorite) a Softbank plush dog mascot phone jewelry that spouts off Softbank ads when you press his tummy. I hooked him onto my bike and he now sounds very scary after spending a few nights outside in the rain. Some random things were included in our prize bags, like a notebook wearing a tiny hooded sweatshirt and a plethora of coupons to some unknown eatery. It was quite a loot.

We took part in a Thanksgiving potluck with some of our fellow Nagaokan-Americans. It was quite a spread. I was sadly disappointed in the sweet potato dish I've made so many times in America with success. Apparently, toaster ovens just don't do the same job as a large oven. Everyone else made some wonderful food. Tonight is an Italian-themed potluck! Hopefully, my toaster oven can handle garlic bread. Dustin's dad and stepmom sent him a lovely birthday package with some of your staple Thanksgiving food that we'd missed during the potluck, so we got to have a second Thanksgiving meal (Thank you!!!). Thanksgiving also happened to be Dustin's birthday this year. We both worked on Thursday, so we postponed his celebration to Sunday.

On Sunday, we travelled to the big city of Niigata to celebrate Dustin's 26th. A few new friends joined us for lovely Indian food and Round 1, a place that very well may have been made specifically with Dustin in mind. It's a huge 5 story building. Inside, there is karaoke, bowling, batting cages, skating rinks, a "relax lounge" filled with row after row of massage chairs and manga, basketball, tennis, ball pits, a mechanical bull, countless UFO games (crane games for you non-Japanese), more medals games than I've ever seen, and of course, VIDEO GAMES!

"What are medals games?" you ask. In America, these are the quarter games where a mechanical platforms moves back and forth pushing quarters towards the edge as you drop in your own quarters hoping to gain more than you put in. In Japan, you pay for medals that aren't worth anything. You feed these in the machine endlessly hoping to win more medals that you can't turn back in for the money you originally paid for them. Instead, you just rack up more medals credits at this particular institution and you can play with more medals the next time you come in. It's like gambling without any possibility of winning. Basically, it's a way to kill an hour for $5. We got some free medals with the 3 hour block of play time we bought and I must admit, that it was indeed entertaining to play medals. I may even pay for an hour of medals entertainment some boring day.

I had a blast at Round 1. Dustin had such fun that he's back there as I type, only one week after our first visit. I was surprised by the amount of cooperative video games. There were so many where you and a partner had to work together to win. I also enjoyed a game where you killed the bad guys by typing their names on a computer keyboard. I had fun and practiced numbers in Japanese by beating up on a big sumo guy. I played video games for a good hour, before needing a karaoke break. Jessica, our newest Nagaokan, joined me in a round of Christmas karaoke. I lost track of time in the karaoke room. The massage chair and the Christmas tunes were intoxicating. The realization that our 3 hours of play had finished dashed my hopes of partaking in any of the sports related fun at Round 1. I vow to play some sports when we visit again during our holiday vacation.

Dustin and I tried our luck at the UFO games and went home 1600 yen poorer for it. Our friend Scott won seven separate items from the UFO games, so we thought we could do it, too. Scott gave me a great tip. If you call the UFO attendant over and point to the item you want, he will make it easier for you to get it AND he'll show you how to do it. Still, somehow, we couldn't free that cute little hamster dressed up like a cow from his glass cage. Scott has had over a year of practice at this, so maybe in time, I will be able to win useless stuffed animals from UFO machines. I know it's possible, because I saw many little Japanese teens leaving with bags overflowing with stuffed prizes. 
*UPDATE: Dustin just walked through the door, back from his second venture to Round 1, carrying the coveted hamster/cow AND a melon dog. He has learned the ways of the UFO.

We did leave with plenty of purikura. I heart purikura. To obtain a bit of purikura, you first go into a completely green photo booth. You choose a back ground, use the monitor to set yourself up to be perfectly positioned within the background, and do a silly pose. This continues for 5 or 6 backgrounds. After you're posed out, you head into the editing booth where you can use a photoshop-like program to glam up your pictures. You can add pre-made icons, phrases, and filters OR you can use the pencil to do just about anything to your photo. Usually, you only have about four minutes to edit and then choose your favorites, but our editing booth got stuck on 39 seconds, so we had all the time in the world to perfect our purikura.  Here's some purikura Dustin and I did a while back that now decorates my phone and the beauties from last weekend. 

Thank you to everyone trying their hardest to keep in touch. I love hearing from you all even if it's a short little paragraph once in a great while. I've got lots of letters fully written and waiting for stamps. Hopefully, I'll have some in my mailbox soon, too! *hint hint hint* 



Superheroes and Presidents

Quite often, when I meet a new class, they ask where I'm from. Usually they do this by randomly calling out the names of a few English-speaking countries, so that I prompt them to ask, "Where are you from?" Yesterday, when I replied, "I'm from America," all of the boys in the class immediately began singing, "La la la la O-ba-ma. La la la la O-ba-ma. La la la la la la la la O-ba-ma. Obama is beautiful world." I might have been confused had my good friend Katie not alerted me to the town in Japan called Obama, which the Japanese have used to support our new president in an undeniably Japanese way. Here is the music video for Any Brother's Band's "Obama is Beautiful World." Quite nice.

I recently set up my Japanese bank account. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't learned nearly enough Japanese to accomplish this task on my own, so I went to the International Affairs Center at the Civic Center where there are loads of helpful people who speak English and Japanese. They called the bank and warned them that a blonde girl who won't understand them was coming. I was armed with a post-it note that I was told said (in Japanese), "I want to open a bank account." It was a strange moment. I felt like a small child completing a task she didn't really understand. The people at the bank were kind and patient, especially when it came to putting the sounds of my name into Japanese characters. My bank card reads "Dahna Shitersen," but it'll do. My bank has a superhero mascot, Mighty Atom. I even got a cute little packet of tissues to carry around to remind me that my money is being protected by a small child wearing only underwear and rocket boots. 


Welcome to Nagaoka

The past two and a half weeks have whizzed by. We spent the first week wandering around aimlessly, trying to find somewhere within our two apartments to shove all of our junk (Thus far, we've been unsuccessful.), attending a regional training seminar where we met all of our coworkers (whom we haven't seen since that first weekend), and catching up on sleep we were denied in training.

Since then, I've spent one week at my school in Niigata and one week at my school in Nishitsubame. I love my Niigata school. My classes were enthusiastic and attentive and actually learned a smidgen of English. My school at Nishitsubame is a different story. The 45 minute walk to the school on the edge of a busy road with no sidewalk (which has been in the rain each time) dampens my mood from the beginning, but all of my classes so far at this school has contained at least one child that is arguably difficult. In my class of two year-olds, I have three that love to climb on the tables and jump off. So far, I've already had one injury at this school and it's only my first week there! I take comfort in knowing that I only have to see these crazy kids once a month for an hour.

We just recently got ONE bike between the two of us, so we haven't been able to do as much exploring as we'd like to, but our goal for this weekend is to find a second. I must say that I'm impressed with the standard Japanese bicycle. Most of them come with a nice front basket, a back rack, a guard over the back wheel (so your pant leg doesn't get stuck inside of it), the most ingenious lock that is permanently installed surreptitiously around the back wheel, a front headlight that's powered by your pedalling, and a very lightweight frame. Plus, it's a beauty. I love this bike!

Nagaoka is okay. As I said, we haven't seen a lot. We've been to what I call Kappa Sushi, because I don't know how to read its true name and it has a picture of a Kappa (cucumber loving swamp creature) on the sign outside its building. It's a kaiten sushi restaurant, which means the sushi comes to you via a conveyor belt. Or you can order a specific dish from a little computer and it comes to you on a little Shinkansen. I love it. 

We also visited a very local izekaiya. The outside of this establishment is a crowded mess of tree stumps and furs and Japanese lanterns. The inside is filled with even more junk. There were Noh masks on the walls, bottles of sake shaped like animals, taxidermied blowfish covered in spiderwebs hanging from the ceiling, and a huge bear skin right above my head. We weren't sure it was an izekaiya at first, because we walked in to find an old man laying on tatami mats watching the news and an old woman in a dark room bent over a writing table. Dustin timidly said, "Izekaiya?" The old woman emerged from the darkness and said, "Hai," so we came in to the crowded room devoid of people and took a seat. She served us glasses of sake we assumed were water, because they were served in drinking glasses filled to the brim. Then she preceded to served us various dishes she cooked up in the little kitchen area 6 feet away. We had a surprisingly fabulous meal of daikon with spicy mustard, salted popcorn, edible flowers with soy sauce, and savory mochi (Mochi is like a huge bowl of rice packed down into a deck of cards). We spent the time during our meal trying to communicate with them and occassionally succeeding. They called each other Otosan and Okaasan, Father and Mother, and implored us to do the same. It's the cooleset place in Nagaoka and I don't think it even has a name.


It's been a while

Hi guys, sorry its been so long since I've talked to any of you. When we landed in Japan I found out that Helio was completely wrong about my phone working in Japan. It's not even the right technology. So now I have to pay for a brick until January. We've had internet access in our hotel, but its the same room as the lobby/cafeteria/front desk, so not the best place to use Skype.

Before I forget to mention it, we don't know how long it will be until we can get online again. We should be online by November, but it could take until December. I'm fairly confident we can find somewhere with free wi-fi or if nothing else an internet café, but either way it will be a temporary or emergency solution.

I suppose I'll tell you about our trip so far. First we stayed in a smallish neighbourhood on the outskirts of Nagoya, called Hongō. In Japan what could be called a neighbourhood is named after the closest train station. This custom makes the trains both easy to find and convenient to use.

The toilet was perhaps the first surprise I discovered. I had heared about Japanese toilets before, but it is truely something that has to be experienced to be understood. Without going into too much detail I will try to convey the event.

First the positive side. The seat was prewarmed. They also save a lot of water. One way is that the flush handle can be turned one direction for #1 and another direction for #2. The other smart feature, and I really like this one, is that the tank has a sink atop it. So, when you flush, clean water comes out a faucet which runs straight into the tank. This is especially smart because the toilet is a separate room from the washroom/laundry room.

And the dreaded negative. There's really only one, and I knew what it was, but I had to try it anyway. Japanese toilets include a bidet. While startling, it was pretty much what I expected. The true problem came when trying to turn it off. Our toilet in particular had 12 buttons. Several seemed to be for adjusting some sort of settings, so they were obviously not "Off." In my haste, I didn't realize the button I thought might have been "Off" actually said "Move." I'll let your imagination work that one out. Luckily my next attempt proved successful. Before leaving the subject once and for all I also want to point out the drastic difference between a personal and public toilet. Please note the pictures below.

Saturday morning we found out how expensive internet cafés are. Dana emailed her parents and I emailed the guy whose place I'm taking. That cost about $7. On the plus side we're getting a sofa, lounge chair, two tables, two lamps, clothes racks, a Japanese PS2, 17" computer monitor, computer speakers, and various kitchen supplies from the guy for about $140.

After that we both tried our first Japanese curry. I really recommend that you try it if you ever have the opportunity. There are tens of thousands of possible combinations. My okra, tofu, and spinach combo was quite good. Later we discovered the ¥99 store. You'd be surprised what you can find in Japan for about a dollar.

On Sunday, we packed as much of Nagoya into one day as we could. We started at Jingu Nishi where we spent a number of hours in a traditional Japanese garden. The Shirotori Garden has a vast sinuating pond fed by a stream which includes several, perhaps five, waist-high waterfalls. I saw at least a hundred koi in the pond and there were undoubtedly more than that elsewhere. They were also the largest and most vibrantly coloured carp I have ever seen. Some really look like they were painted.

Obviously the landscapes were great to look at, but it was also unexpectedly great to listen to. The garden was a quiet break inside a busy city. I think that having a large park and some museams surrounding the garden created a buffer from the urban noise. The coolest thing I experienced all day was called a suikinkutsu. It's basically a spring overflowing into a bell buried underground which you listen to with a long bamboo stick pointed at a hole in the ground. This suikinkutsu had three chambers each flowing into the next. Each chamber had a different sized bell and pit, and so made different sounds. Follow this link to wikipedia to hear a recording of a suikinkutsu.

After the garden we went to the Osu Kannon Temple. Kannon is the bodhisattva of compassion in Buddhism. Two days every month there is a bazaar in the main open areas of the temple complex and we happened to go on one of those days. So, while the place was really big, it was pretty packed. We then went to the nearby shinto shrine called Wakamiya-Hachiman. It was interesting to see the vast difference between a touristy religious site and a neighbourhood one. Here are some photos from the temple.

At the temple a Buddhist would toss a coin into a slotted box, swing a rope to hit a gong, close his eyes, and clap his hands in prayer. He can also purchase and burn incense or buy a random blessing, read it, then tie it to a tree branch in the temple. Besides washing his hands and mouth before entering and tossing a coin into one of the many slotted offering boxes I'm not sure what a Shintoist actually does at a shrine. The few people we saw there were just strolling through it as if it were a park. Here are some shots of the shrine.

As Dana said we went to Parco next. There's not a lot to say about it though. It's expesive to be trendy in Japan. Luckily depaato always have a cheap shop on the basement floor which we didn't take too long to find. Since then it's just been training, training, training. We've had two weekends of freetime. Last weekend consisted of izakaya, karaoke, and sleeping. This one of karaoke, sleeping, and moving. Aparently the hardest part is over now. For the most part the kids are sweet and I think Nagaoka is going to be fun.

I'll have plenty more to talk about later.



We've been in Japan for a little over a week now, and we've already seen so much! We spent the first few days in Nagoya, the third largest city in Japan. We had a few days to unwind and de-jet lag. There's quite a bit to see in Nagoya, but we only had a short time to do it, so we picked a few sights to see. My favorite was the Shirotori Gardens, a Japanese stroll garden with a lovely pond full of carp. The best part of the day was spent sitting at the steps leading to the pond watching the carp glide over each other to get to the food pellets we'd throw into the water.
There are a plethora of shrines and temples in Japan and Nagoya itself, so we picked one of each to see. The craziest part of the day was spent in PARCO, a depaato ("department store"). This is a three building mega-mall. Needless to say, it was overwhelming. One unexpected sight we saw was a massive protest. There was a horde of people taking up an entire lane of traffic, holding signs and chanting, "We want pure love." A Japanese news reporter and her cameraman approached us as we were gazing at the crowd. Apparently, they asked us what we thought of pure love. Since we didn't know what pure love is, and she couldn't tell us in English, we couldn't answer. We've asked around, but no one seems to know what this movement is all about.
We've been in Takasaki since last Tuesday night. It's not as big as Nagoya, but we've managed to have a bit of fun. We went to our first izakaya, the traditional Japanese bar and tapas-like restaurant. We also tried karaoke with a few of the other trainees. Last night, we found a genuine noodle shop full of locals. Though there wasn't a word of English or a picture of the food (which I normally rely on) in the building, we managed to convey our orders and had a wonderful meal. I've been struggling to find vegetarian food since just about everything in Japan has beef extract if not meat itself in it. It was nice to have some authentic Japanese food that was truly vegetarian.

We also had the chance to go to Isesaki, Springfield's Sister City. We spent Saturday in training there since our trainer, Yukiko, has lived there for eight years and Peppy Kids Club has a classroom there. It's a nice little city. We tried to find similarities between it and Springfield, but the closest we came was comparing the industrial side of the town to JQH Tower and the surrounding buildings near downtown. The best parts of Isesaki in my opinion were the Indian restaurant Yukiko took us to and the construction barriers in the shape of frogs.
Training has been intense. They're throwing a vast amount of information at us in a series of long days. Before our days off on Sunday and Monday, we'd had pretty much zero free time. Our first day of teaching was Friday. We each taught one class. Dustin had a rough class, but my group was pretty good. My hope that Japanese children would be better behaved was dashed. They're pretty genki (wild, rambunctious, ect.). We have three more teaching days and two more training days until training is over. I've been told that life gets easier once you're through with training. I can't wait!


We're Leaving on a Jet Plane!

We have just one more complete day left in the states.  We leave on Thursday and have sixteen hours of traveling plus the thirteen hour time difference.  That makes for more than a full day of our lives crammed into tiny little plane seats.

We'll probably be training in Nagoya, but we could find out on day two that we'll be rushed off to Osaka for our two weeks of training.  Apparently, our apartments in Nagaoka aren't going to be ready for us in a timely manner, so we'll be in our training city for an extra week. We're told we could be doing any number of odd office jobs or acting as substitutes for that week.  Then again, the literature we've received from Peppy Kids says that they could change all of our plans once we get there. Unless those changes include finding couple housing for us, we're hoping things go according to the original plan.

Everything is suddenly beginning to feel very real.  I think the first few days in Japan will be full of quiet moments as I haven't learned a whole lot of Japanese.  This last month, which was supposed to be full of intense study sessions, has slipped away from me and I find myself with very little knowledge of the Japanese language.  I'm putting my faith in my past experience that learning the language comes easy to me when I'm inundated with it all day long for many many many days on end.  I am going to attempt to exercise self-control around Dustin and practice Japanese with him whenever we're conversing (once I've gained the ability to converse that is). The fact that I'll be teaching English will make it hard to avoid my native tongue all the time.

Starting Thursday, you can text Dustin on his phone, but he won't be able to receive calls and I will be phoneless.  We don't really know when we'll have internet access, but once we're settled we'll try to keep Skype active whenever we're home, so we can receive "calls" that way.  Be mindful of the 14 hour time difference from Missouri and let us know if you'd like to coordinate a specific time to call, so we can free up our schedules and sit anxiously by the computer!


How to use Skype

Click here to download Skype for free.

Install following the on-screen instructions.

Once Skype is opened add us by clicking "Add a Contact," which looks like +. Then search for one of us. When the name comes up click it, then click "Add contact."

To make a call just double click a name, or click the name then click the big green phone button.
To end a call click the big red phone button.
To start your video camera click the blue button with the video camera silhouette.