Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jack in the Box 2010

On the 27th, I went to one of the greatest J-Rock lives in the world (at least that's my opinion). JACK IN THE BOX is an annual concert held by the Maverick DC Group, and features bands that are members of the group. Some of the bands in the group include L'Arc~en~Ciel, girugamesh, SID, and MUCC.

2010 is the second time that I've attended; my first was in 2008 while I was studying abroad. (If you'd like to read my report on that live, go here.)

I got ready in my tiny little room at Aizuya Inn (where I was staying from the 23rd until checking out this morning on the 29th). I had a punk outfit planned, but after some shopping in Harajuku I put together an all black, gothic lolita-like outfit (pictures will be up later).

I got to the Nippon Budokan by train in about 30 minutes, arriving at around 11:30 am. The doors didn't open until 1:00 and the live didn't start until 2:00, but the goods line started at 11:00, and I remember when I got there around noon or so in 2008, I had to wait a really long time. This time the line went pretty smoothly, so it only took about 30 minutes to get in and out. I bought a JITB 2010 T-shirt, some JITB stickers, and muffler towels from the SID and girugamesh booths. I was a little disappointed that it seemed tetsuya (the bassist and leader of L'Arc~en~Ciel, formerly known as tetsu), wasn't going to be performing this year.

Getting into the venue as soon as the doors opened, I looked for my seat in the NW section of the venue. Having been there before, I knew my seat probably wasn't a very good one, as I was sitting in a section behind the stage. I was complaining to myself about it before, but once I found the row I was supposed to be in (Row D, seat 21), I found out that it was actually a LOT closer to where I had been in 2008, which was all the way at the top in the stands. I figured that, no matter where I was sitting, as long as I was there, and could see and hear something, I would be happy.

What usually happened at JITB is an alternation between bands and 'sessions,' which are mixed groups of band members from different bands. At the end would be the Maverick DC ALL STARS, where just about everyone would be on stage and perform.

I was surprised to see that this year, they had four sessions in a row, and then went on to the bands, with two more sessions in between.

The sessions, as always, were awesome. My favorite ones were Session B and Session D. During the MC for Session B, girugamesh drummer Яyo said that the theme for attire was for everyone to shine (minna wa kirakira). Satochi from MUCC certainly did shine. Even though he's the drummer of MUCC, he came out singing with Ken of L'Arc~en~Ciel, and was rather...well, let's just say that Session B was like a drunken night of karaoke, which made it absolutely hilarious. One of the funny parts was when Yukke (bassist of MUCC) sang the opening part of L'Arc's "Lies and Truth," but since he couldn't hit the high notes at the end he switched to the lower octave, prompting an applause from the audience. Satochi really owned the stage though, dancing around in his short shorts and thrusting his hips like a fool. At the end of "winter fall" he got on one knee next to Shinji (SID guitarist) and started caressing him, while Shinji just continued playing like nothing was going on.

Session D was truly great. The report speaks for itself: Ken sang a remixed version of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and "Telephone," which was completely unexpected for me. I loved hearing Miya (MUCC guitarist) and Aki (SID bassist) sing the backup parts. By the end of that session I was probably the happiest music fan in the world. Hearing hyde (vocalist of L'Arc~en~Ciel) sing "Electric Eye" by Judas Priest during Session F was also very awesome.

I have to say that, if I had any complaints, it's that I didn't agree with the order of performances. They put the really great sessions at the beginning, and by the time MUCC came out it was pretty great, but then the last band to play was 44 Magnum, a veteran band of J-Rock. Seeing that they're the oldest band, it kind of makes sense to make them the last band, but judging from the crowd, most of the people were younger and therefore fans of the newer bands. When it was announced that the All Stars session was the last act after 44 Magnum, EVERYONE went "Ehhhhhh?!" in surprise, because we all thought it was too early. We tried to demand and encore, but to no avail. I was disappointed that, despite all members of SID being there, they didn't even perform together as a group (much like L'Arc~en~Ciel in 2008). Hopefully they'll go back to the regular order next year.

That being said, I'm still very happy I was there. I'll put up some pictures later; right now I'm in between checking in and out of hostels, and sitting in an internet cafe where my time is almost up. I also have pictures of some things I bought on my shopping spree, so those will be up as well!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Birthday, Year-end parties, and Tokyo

I've been so busy that I haven't had time to update my blog in quite awhile. It's been hectic day after day since last week.

In case you haven't been watching my videos on YouTube, my birthday was on December 16th. It's during one of the busiest times of the year, with classes ending and the holidays approaching. I actually found out the week before that the school that I would visit on my birthday and the next day weren't going to have English classes that entire week, so I spent that day at work doing pretty much nothing.

One thing brightened my day though:

This delicious-looking cake was waiting for me after I came back from eating lunch with the 5th graders. Apparently the 6th graders made the cake in cooking class and shared it with the teachers, but the fact that it was on my birthday made me feel really happy.

The next day I had a bounenkai (year-end party) at Kishi. This was my second enkai with them, and the first one was really fun so I was looking forward to this one, and it exceeded my expectations. The seats were chosen by lottery, and I ended up sitting next to the music teacher, who had given me a ride to the restaurant. Despite being separated into two groups, a lot of the teachers moved around, so I was able to talk to the teachers from the other side as well. One of the 4th grade teachers, who is a first-year, is really outgoing and always tries to speak what little English he can to me, mainly because he knows I'm entertained by it. At one point he was looking at me from the other side of the room and started making faces at me, and when the other teachers saw me laughing they turned around and he pretended like he wasn't doing anything, lol.

After we finished eating the main course, one of the teachers explained that since the students all had to take tests at the end of the semester, she was going to give us one to test our knowledge. Needless to say, I hardly knew any of the answers other than the English-related questions, but it was fun watching the other teachers scratch their heads at some of the questions.

A few of us (the younger teachers, except for the 5th grade teacher who's twice my age but really cool) went to karaoke after dinner, which was the highlight of my night. The teachers at Kishi are a lot of fun to hang out with, even though I can't say or understand all of what they say.

The 18th was the big marathon at Ichiba. I was asked to run with the first graders and so I did, but when it came time for the fifth graders to run, some of the girls begged me to run with them. At first I said no, but changed my mind because I was happy that they actually wanted me to. It was really tiring, but near the end the students cheered for me and a lot of the teachers praised and thanked me for running more than I had to.

On Monday I was supposed to have a day off, but I was invited by the principal at Kishi to sing two Christmas songs for the school during their morning assembly. I was a bit nervous because I didn't have much time to prepare, but I think I did a pretty good job. I'll link to the videos once I upload them.

The enkai with Ichiba wasn't quite as enjoyable; I ended up sitting with a lot of teachers I usually don't talk to and no one really moved around because we were sitting at tables instead of on the floor like at a traditional Japanese restaurant. And since the enkai was on a Tuesday night, that meant no afterparty, which was a letdown. Fortunately my next-door neighbors were having a game night, so afterwards I headed to their place to hang out.

After my last day of work before the break, I was busy running around trying to clean and pack. Things were a little more stuffed in my small suitcase than I expected they would be, but my large suitcase that I brought from the states would have been too big for me to want to deal with. Of course I'll probably be bringing back a lot of stuff, so I'm thinking of buying a slightly bigger suitcase and sending some stuff to Ono by takkyuubin near the end of my trip.

Since I'm in my hostel right now, I don't feel the excitement of Tokyo just quite yet, but I will tomorrow when I go to visit some familiar places that I've missed so much.

Lastly, Here's the Christmas tree I decorated before I left:

In the U.S., I've only seen two kinds of fake Christmas trees: green ones and white ones. In Japan, trees are not limited to those two colors, and as one would expect, they are a lot smaller than the ones in America. The Daiso in Sannomiya carries mini trees from about 60cm to 120cm tall,  in not only green but sky blue, white, pink, and even black. Anyone that knows me knows that 1) I like to be non-traditional whenever I can, and 2) I like to punk everything up with chains when possible. So I decided to buy a black tree and decorate it with red, white and silver, and make a garland out of chains. Unfortunately, the chains I bought were two heavy for the trees, so I tediously separated the chain into pieces to hang on the branches. I had done the same with this gorgeous purple crystal garland that I found at Tokyu Hands, thus adding purple to my color scheme. I bought a few random ornaments from Loft and Tokyu Hands, and since I couldn't find a star that I liked I just used two of the ornaments and set them on top. I was expecting to find some really nice (and expensive) stars to choose from, but neither store had any that I could find, and instead had cheap and simple plastic stars. Even though I won't be back until January, I think I'll shop around for a star while I'm in Tokyo. In fact, I like my tree so much that I think I'll leave it up for a while and keep adding decorations to it.

Note: the Xmas tree is actually only 90cm, though it might look bigger in the photos.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Shopping Update

My new backpack which I now use to carry my stuff to take to work. Now I don't have to shove stuff into my bicycle basket when I'm trying to leave for work! The pin on the top flap actually came from an accessory shop. (Algonquins, 7,900 yen)

I fell in love with this piece when I first saw it at the Kera Shop Maria in Sannomiya, and decided to buy it even though I couldn't afford the dress that it was paired with on the dressform. I won't tell you exactly how much it cost; I'll only say that it's the now the single most expensive piece of clothing that I own. (Cutie Flash)

A polyester motorcycle jacket from the same shop in Sannomiya where I bought my long vest and jacket. At 2,100 yen, it was a pretty good deal.

Rings from Marche in Sannomiya, 315 yen each.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Introducing New English Activities, Part 2: Drawing Shapes

Sometimes I get nervous about introducing a brand new activity to a class because I'm concerned that they won't understand my explanation. That concern grows as the grade levels get lower, so when I decided to go ahead and introduce this activity to the 2nd graders, I really wondered if they would get it...and if they didn't, I had a backup game for them just in case.

I figured out that the 1st and 2nd graders actually know a lot more than I anticipated, so instead of doing an activity with fruits and vegetables with the 2nd graders as the elementary sample curriculum suggests, I decided to teach them the directions up, down, left, and right. “Up” and “down” was no problem for them, but some of the kids mixed up “left” and “right,” which was expected. They picked up the vocabulary very quickly, which made my next activity a lot easier for them to learn.

In this drawing activity (which I haven't given a name yet), a number of students go up to the blackboard and each have a piece of chalk. The number of students can be determined in any way; for my class I chose one student from each table (we were all grouped into tables in elementary school, right? I know I was), to make six.

The shape that these six students have to draw is determined by me. Before class, I drew out several different abnormal shapes on sheets of paper to be done by the students, kind of like the ones shown below:

I choose one shape and show it to the rest of the class, but NOT to the students at the board. I choose a place on the shape to start and show the class which direction we will go.

Once I say “Go!” or “Start!” The class say in unison either “up,” “down,” “left,” or “right,” depending on which direction I designated from the start. The class watches as I trace my finger along the shape, and meanwhile the students at the board start drawing in the specified direction at their own pace. When I reach a corner on the shape, the class specifies the new direction and the kids at the board follow. If they make a mistake while drawing, it's okay; it just makes the game more amusing.

When my tracing finger reaches the beginning point, the class says “Stop!” and the students stop drawing and move aside to show the class their drawings, and we compare to see which pictures most resemble the chosen shape. The class gets a pretty good laugh when they see that the drawings look completely different from the shape, and the students who drew them get a laugh when I reveal the shape to them.

After each student got a turn to draw, I told the students that I was going to draw next, but with a blindfold on. Even though I'm the one who drew the shapes, I let the homeroom teacher choose any one without me seeing it. So this time, I'm being given directions, but not only do I not know which shape it is, I can't even see what I'm drawing! Before class ended we had just enough time to let the homeroom teacher draw a shape while blindfolded.

In the end the game was a big success; the teacher and the class had a lot of fun and at the same time they were able to learn each of the directions both by listening and by reciting them out loud. The teacher and I both noticed that some work needs to be done on clarifying the pronunciation difference between “left” and “right,” because with Japanese pronunciation they sound very similar (“refto” and “raito”). But the most important thing is that they know the difference between the two. It's just hard to hear when they say it all at once.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to do this activity again since I only teach the 2nd graders once a month, but I want to add a few more variations and introduce it to the other classes. Since the 5th graders just learned “Turn right” and “Turn left” and know how to navigate on a 2D map, I want to do this shape-drawing for them as well. As long as the shapes have no curves, the teacher can make as many different pictures as they want and as complicated as they want.

I hope the directions aren't too complicated to understand. I might make a video to demonstrate just in case.

Late Halloween Photos

I know I'm really late with these pictures. Things have finally settled down a bit, so I had some time to get these photos off my phone.

It's nothing special, just some minor decorations and my witch outfit that the kids really liked :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Update: Potential Offensive Hangman

So a friend made me aware after I asked about Hangman that as recently as July, an English teacher (who is American) received criticism for playing Hangman with his class at a middle school where a student committed suicide two years before...by hanging himself.

I went to look up the article, and found it here: http://www.eltnews.com/news/archives/2010/07/english_teacher_3.html. The source is from The Mainichi Daily News, but suspiciously the article doesn't exist anymore on the original site.

I find the details of the story very one-sided. First of all, was this same English teacher at this school in 2008 when the student killed himself? The article says that the teacher used the game "regardless," making it seem as if he was there when it happened or was at least aware that it happened, and that he didn't give a crap and decided to play it anyway. If this is true, then I understand. It does say that the student's friend pointed out the resemblance between the drawings in the student's notebook and the drawings by the teacher in class, so the teacher was likely there.

But I also have an issue with another point: A Japanese psychologist says that if such instruction such as games like Hangman are going on in the classroom, "it shows great carelessness" and that, for the students, it is "similar to power harrassment," even if the teacher meant no harm.

I beg to differ with those choices of strong words. See, there's this thing called 'culture.' And there are different kinds of culture. And the vast majority of us grew up only knowing one culture.

And then there's a phrase called "intercultural miscommunication." It acknowledges that people who aren't familiar with another culture may make mistakes. It's not because they don't care; it's because they don't know. I can't speak for the English teacher at that middle school, but I can say for myself that I didn't know it was going to be a problem.

Is it really that much like "power harassment"? Making it sound as if a teacher is forcing ideas into students' heads? Harassment is aggressive. I'm not sure this English teacher was being aggressive, unless the kids were saying, "No, we can't play Hangman! It's bad!" and the teacher did it anyway. I don't think a teacher would force students to do something that the students truly insist is a bad thing to do.

In addition: Was the homeroom teacher present? IF the homeroom teacher was present, he or she should have stopped the teacher. If the homeroom teacher WASN'T present, the students should have stopped the teacher.

And this point makes me question whether Japanese students have a right to speak out in class. I've always heard of Japanese education as being one where the students are expected to sit and listen while the teacher rambles on. When I took classes at Rikkyo that were mixed with Japanese and exchange students, whenever the teacher asked for someone to answer a question the people raising their hands were ALWAYS the international students. The Japanese students remained silent.

I don't see this happening at my elementary schools; whenever I ask a question there is always at least one person who raises their hand willingly.  And if I do something strange or make a mistake, the students are quick to correct me. It's exactly the same as when I was in elementary school. What is it that happens between elementary and middle school that makes the kids stop speaking out?

Going back to Hangman, I did a few more Google searches on the game in Japanese. Guess what I found? A Japanese site of English activities...featuring Hangman.


I think the problem in this case is not necessarily the game, but the time at which this teacher decided to use the game in his class. If a teacher used Hangman at a school in ANY country where a student hanged themselves, there would be just as much outrage.

Generally speaking, I don't have a problem with this game, but I understand why someone else would. The question is, what can we do to make more people aware that this game can potentially be offensive? And why do some consider it so offensive while others see nothing in it?

One thing I do know is that the 5th graders I taught in class today were way more focused on "_ o o _  S t o r e" than on the limbless body hanging next to it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Introducing New English Activities, Part 1: Potentially Offensive Hangman

Today I had classes with the 5th graders and the 2nd graders. As usual, I planned my lessons at the last minute (I always try to do it early but they never really get finished until right before class).

With the 5th graders, our lesson was on giving directions, as well as places to go. They got down the "Turn left," "Turn right," "Go straight" parts easily so it was no problem navigating through a map of Ono.

We went on to review places to go like "post office," "hotel," "restaurant," etc., and they got those down easily as well. So I moved on to a word scramble, and that was pretty easy for them as well.

So I had another idea: Hangman. I'm pretty sure that most people, at least in the United States where I'm from, knows this game. It's a great way for students in ESL classes to learn how to spell words of any category. I explained the game to them in English and Japanese, and they eventually got the rules. We only had enough time to do one place name, but they managed to solve it.

After class though, the teacher (he's one of my favorites for being so enthusiastic and kind) came up to me and calmly said that the hangman picture was ダメ (not good). I immediately understood what he meant by that. On one hand, I felt really stupid for not creating a substitute even when I had slight doubts, but at the same time, I tried to find information on the Internet about "hangman being offensive," and found nothing. Even the Japanese Wikipedia has an entry on Hangman. All my years as a kid in school, when we played Hangman in class, no one--the students nor the teachers--ever had a problem with it.

To introduce the game to a class who didn't know it was a simple mistake on my part, though the kids didn't react to it at all; I think they were just focused on the game. Nonetheless, I plan to change the picture and, since I couldn't find any information on what I was looking for, I decided to make this blog entry on it so that anyone who plans on using Hangman for an overseas ESL class (or even one within the country) will be aware. All you have to do is take a simple drawing and change it (just don't pick a swastika or something). If you choose to keep the line-drawing as a way to tally missed guesses, be sure to keep the drawing simple to an appropriate number of lines. I've actually considered using Kanji stroke-counting as a way to keep score.

You can also choose any other alternatives, such as drawing ten objects and crossing one out with every miss, or starting from a number and counting down to zero. Be creative with it...just don't use the drawing of a lynching. I still wonder why I never came across this issue when I was younger...

Part 2 of this blog will focus on the new activity I introduced to the 2nd graders, which turned out to be a great success and made me feel better after my 5th grade class.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


A lot of things have passed by that I haven't been able to talk about. I have so many things to do that I can't bring myself to sit down and blog.

Today is Monday here in Japan, and I have no classes to teach today. I still have things to do though. On Thursday and Friday I have to attend a mid-year seminar for ALTs. The head topic is supposed to be team-teaching, and I have to present a lesson plan that was "effective in having students experience a lot of language activities."

I find it difficult to present something in terms of team-teaching because I haven't done a lot of it. Unlike in junior high and high school, elementary schools don't have a special "Japanese Teacher of English," but rather a teacher who is in charge of helping prepare lessons for the ALT. I think the reason the majority of my teachers and I don't do team-teaching is because I don't ask them to help. Once in a while we might do a role-play, but it's nothing really special or highly effective. The students have been learning and enjoying class a lot even without their homeroom teacher's help. The most the JTEs do is translate my instructions when we don't think the students fully understand.

However, I can identify one thing that DOESN'T help students learn English: Translating word-for-word. One 3rd grade teacher at one of my schools has a much better grasp of English comprehension (but not necessarily speaking ability) compared to the other teachers, so when I explain something in English, he can quite easily explain in Japanese. This is great for when I'm introducing a new game and have a hard time getting them to understand, but this constant translation has become something the kids are used to. Thus, last week when the teacher wasn't there, I asked the class the same basic questions that I ask them every week ("How are you?" "What day is it today?" "What's the date?" "How's the weather?") and they couldn't understand any of it. It was just as I expected, because every time I say something, the teacher is quick to translate. And so I wonder if the children in that class even listen to me anymore.

But I can't introduce a lesson plan on that. Fortunately, the supervisor at my other school is a 4th grade teacher and writes up the lesson plans for her class, and it's the only class where I feel I really am the "Assistant" Language Teacher, and not the main English teacher. I'll probably choose one of her lessons and modify it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Refresher: About Host Clubs

Just the other day, a reader left a comment on an old blog post that I wrote about host clubs. I realized that I haven't mentioned hosts or host clubs in quite a long time, so I decided to write my comment response in the form of a new blog post.

Chantelle asks:

"Why would you advise against going alone? And what sort of stuff do they do to make you believe they’re in love with you? And how do they get you to spend so much money??"

Let's break it down to one question at a time.

Q: Why would you advise against going alone?

I advise against going alone (especially for the first time) because I believe that most people (myself included) typically have less self-control than they think they do. Most of us set certain limits for ourselves, saying, "Okay, just one," or, "I'm going to stop now," and we end up not following up on our word. In some cases it's pretty harmless, in other cases it's dangerous--like ballooning in weight because you ate four hot dogs instead of two like you said you would, or getting completely wasted one night because you couldn't stop drinking bottle after bottle of beer. With host clubs, it's no different. A first-time goer might hear all kinds of things and set a certain expectation of how things will be and how much money they'll spend, but they'll never know for sure until it happens. They might end up having more fun than they expected and want to stay at the club longer, or they remember that they brought more than how much they decided to spend and ends up spending more, or they end up meeting a host that they really REALLY like, and it drives them to go further than they imagined.

Because of that, it's best to go with a friend whenever possible. Talk about how much each of you are going to spend and keep each other in check while you are there. And do proper calculations! Host clubs are required by law to add a very high tax to whatever is charged, so a 3000 yen entrance fee + 1000 yen host designate fee + 1000 yen for a pitcher of melon soda is not going to equal 5000 yen; it's going to be even higher than that. Also discuss how much time you're going to spend at a club. Unfortunately, one or two hours can go by very quickly when you're having fun, so it can be tempting to request an extra hour. Friends can remind and encourage each other to stay within their limits. Make a promise to leave together, and within the discussed amount of time.

Q: What sort of stuff do they do to make you believe they’re in love with you?

Please know that not all hosts do this. The hosts that I've met with more than once have never done anything to make me think that they had feelings for me. Our conversations were pretty friendly and normal. Occasionally there was a little flirting and the cute act of feeding each other when food was there, but there was no confession of feelings or suggestive physical contact. Behavior varies from host to host--some will talk to you like a friend, and others will talk to you like they're interested in you romantically. But one thing that customers are expected to know about is the "unspoken agreement" that the host-customer relationship is strictly a relationship of "host" and "customer," and nothing more. Women know that a host club is not a place to get a boyfriend. And although it does happen that a customer may end up dating a host, the relationship is likely to be unstable, either due to jealousy because the host has to talk to other women (as it is his job to do so) or because the host can have very tough work hours, working from around 5pm to do "catch" (recruiting new customers) all the way to 1 or 2 in the morning cleaning up after the shop closes (and if they miss the last train, then it's hanging around until 6am when the trains start running again).

Even if a host does flirt or say things suggesting that he likes a customer, it's still up to the customer to accept it as true or false. Some customers don't even get those signals and still end up falling for their host because they're too hopeful and make the biggest deal out of the most subtle things. If a host says he likes you, but says that the only way you two can date is if you come to the shop, I wouldn't consider him very trustworthy; it would be much more convincing if he actually quit his job as a host to prove that he means what he says.

Q: How do they get you to spend so much money??

I can't speak from experience, as I've never had a host convince me to spend more money. Of course, this might be because the hosts knew I was a college student with no job and thus didn't have a lot to spend. The other issue is making sure that a customer has the money to pay. There can be trouble if a customer ends up spending way more than they can afford. A documentary in English called The Great Happiness Space features several female customers of a host club in Osaka who actually turn out to be sex workers in the red-light district, because it pays enough money to reduce debt. But these jobs can be so stressful and terrible that these women just end up going back again and again to the host club to get away from harsh reality and into a fun fantasy.

In the case of customers that visit regularly and always order bottles of champagne, they might be pushed to spend more for a variety of reasons. Whenever any drink is ordered, it's not just for the customer to drink, but for the host as well. Because of this, drinks tend to run out more quickly. A bottle of champagne can be emptied out if multiple hosts get glasses for a champagne call, or more often when a customer is encouraged to down their glass (or bottle) as they're cheered on by the hosts around them.

But the hosts won't outright tell you to order more drinks or stay for extra hours. It's more like encouragement, and with certain customers it doesn't take a lot of encouragement for them to spend more money. In The Great Happiness Space, some customers were even encouraged not to have any more, because they were already too drunk.

As host clubs push further and further into mainstream Japanese society, I imagine that it's not as necessary to get customers to spend more as it may have been in the past, since more women from the middle class are visiting. With the young single women still living with and being taken care of by their parents, they might feel no pressure at all to spend more money, knowing that they can just get more from Daddy's wallet. So from what I know, I can say that it's not so much what the hosts do but rather a customer's own circumstances and willpower that determine whether they'll spend more.

So I hope this answers your questions! Sorry it's kind of long, but I just wanted to make sure I was being as detailed as I possibly can. I don't have any upcoming plans to visit any host clubs anytime soon, but I do want to visit a few in Osaka, to compare them to the ones I visited in Kabukicho last year. Whenever that happens I'll surely update.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wednesday Night Headbang

I just came back from a Nightmare concert.

My head hurts.
My neck hurts.
My back hurts.
I need to take off all of my jewelry.
I need to clean off all of my makeup.
I have to take a nice, warm shower.
I need to go to sleep.

Because I have work tomorrow.

But the concert was great. I made a video about it but I don't have time to upload it and all that stuff. Add it to my tab of things I need to blog about and upload this weekend (like Halloween, good grief!).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Shopping Update #2

I ended up letting my purchases accumulate again. I've been so extremely tired and busy, juggling work and errands on weekdays and then either cleaning the apartment or going out to Kobe on the weekends.

Here's a few of my latest items:

A cool sweater I found at the used clothing store at Saty. It's pretty big so I suspect it might be a men's sweater. I bought this a while ago but I think this sweater was around 900 yen.

More freebies from women's magazines: a Paul & Joe Sister tote and pouch, and a Coach furoshiki.

At one of the anime goods shops in Sannomiya, I was surprised to find a capsule machine carrying keychains from Star Ocean EX, an anime based on the Star Ocean 2 RPG. I bought enough to complete two sets of 6 with some extras left over. They were 200 yen each.

Cute glass coasters I found at Daiso. 100 yen for a set of 2.

I was at Sofmap in Sannomiya and found these sticker machines selling NANA stickers. The sheets are actually pretty big, and cost 200 yen each.

I finally found a lunchbox right up my alley! This was in the clearance bin at the Loft department store, and cost about 1100 yen.

These purple and grey rose earrings are gorgeous! I discovered yet another accessory shop in Sannomiya called Marche. The tag says "Paris Kids," which is the name of a store in Harajuku that I visited frequently when I lived in Tokyo. The earrings were only 315 yen, which is a great deal!

Here's a collection of "Princess" hair care items that all came from Daiso. All of the items were 100 yen each, except for the large mirror the collapsible brush, and the regular brush, which were 210 yen each.

I wandered into the calendar section at Loft and came across this beautiful one by an artist name Kaori Wakamatsu. Each page is of a beautifully drawn character, and I fell in love with the collection instantly. The 12 pages come in a cardboard tube, and are A2 paper size (594 x 420 mm). The calendar was pretty pricey, at 2940 yen.

The old flats that I wore to Japan are in horrible shape and need to be thrown away, so I replaced them with this set of silver wedge pumps from Saty, which are pretty comfy and flexible. While I was there I also found a pair of dark silver mary jane pumps. Each pair was only 1000 yen, probably because they were on clearance.

I decided to try Tsubaki's line of Head Spa products, since they were on sale at the grocery store. A set of shampoo, conditioner, and hair mask treatment cost 1180 yen, and the extra cleansing clarifying shampoo cost 580 yen. Considering the regular price of a bottle of Tsubaki at 780-ish, 1760 yen for four products is a really good deal ^_^

I'll have more stuff coming up, whenever I have time. I've just been so exhausted lately...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Hiatus

Kind of late for this, but I won't be updating anything until after Halloween (or at least after Friday). I might be overdoing it, but I'm preparing some stuff to do for my last pre-Halloween day of work.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Class Observation

I'm sure many people remember a time when their teacher told the class that a visitor was coming to the classroom (and therefore everyone should be on their best behavior).

At Kishi on Wednesday, my class with the 5th graders was rescheduled for later that day because of an exhibition that was happening during their regular English class time. It was during 2nd period that I was told to visit one of the two 4th grade classes, whose teacher was doing a math activity with the students.

When I was in school, having someone observe the class meant that one person was going to observe, and it was usually not a teacher but a person from outside of school.

I was expecting to be one of perhaps two or three teachers visiting this 4th grade class, but it turned out that ALL of the teachers were there. The class activity was to figure out and explain multiple ways to find the area of an abnormal shape, similar to this:

The measurements of all sides were given, so it was possible to find the area using several methods. The students had 20 minutes to figure out as many ways as possible to find the area.

A number of things crossed my mind while I was observing the class. First, I was wondering if any of the students felt pressured that nearly the entire school staff was watching over their shoulders while they worked. I also noticed that the students' progress varied. One student had practically breezed through 4 different worksheets and was working on a 5th way to calculate the polygon's area. Meanwhile, some students were still struggling with the first method. I actually don't even remember what grade I learned how to do the work they were doing, but I'm sure there are probably people my age who probably wouldn't be able to figure out anything like that. It's amazing to see what you've forgotten after having not seen it for a long time.

In other news, I will have some pictures of some recent items I bought coming this weekend. Lately I've been really busy so I haven't had time to blog a lot.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Natto: I'd Rather Eat Raw Chicken.

I checked today's school lunch menu to see what I should be looking forward to later in the day. Going down the list, I came across one dreaded item: なっとう (natto).

I had to read it over again to make sure I had gotten it right. Natto? THAT natto? Maybe they mean something else? Is it really written on here? Are kids actually going to eat it? How can I avoid eating it?

In case you don't know what natto is, let me give you a description: It's a disgusting brown mess of expired baked beans mixed with snot that's been sitting next to a garbage dumpster for a week. At least that's what it looks, smells, and tastes like. You know the phrase, "Never judge a book by its cover"? Well, natto tastes just as bad as it looks.

Now let me tell you what natto actually is: Fermented soybeans. It's notorious for its terrible smell, as well as the extremely sticky, slimy residue that resembles a mixture of glue and mucus, and when stretched it leaves these spider-web like strands that stick to anything they touch. Don't think that this is some weird thing that only Japanese people eat; there are even Japanese people who hate natto, and there are foreigners who like it.

The first time I tried natto was five years ago, when I was staying with a host family for a week and they took me to a kaiten zushi (the place that serves sushi on conveyor belts). One of the things they had me try was a roll with a little bit of natto in it. I put it in my mouth and started chewing, thinking, "Well, this isn't bad--" and then the taste came. It was so strong and gross that I vowed never to eat natto again. If it was THAT bad with rice, how bad could it be without it?

I know people who hated natto at first and then became used to it. It's an acquired taste, though I'm not sure why anyone would willingly acquire it, besides the fact that it's healthy. Guess what else is healthy? Edamame, tofu, lima beans, eggplant, carrots...

I saw that the paper cup the natto came in said "においひかえめ," or that the smell was removed. Well, that makes it a little more tolerable, I thought. I was originally planning to not eat it at all, but since the smell was taken out I decided I could focus more on the taste and decide once and for all if I could eat it.

Inside the paper cup, there was a mound of natto covered by a plastic film, and on top of that were packets of soy sauce and mustard. I put the soy sauce in it and started mixing with my chopsticks, and cringed at the sight of the slime activating. After I finished I took my chopsticks out and the slime stretched and clung to my chopsticks, leaving strands of sticky grossness that I had to clean off with a tissue.

I was eating with the 3rd grade class, and one of the boys asked if I liked natto. "I hate it," I answered. "Me too," he said. The girl sitting next to me said she liked it. When the teacher heard, she told me that it was absolutely fine if I don't eat it. Still, I tried a single fermented bean and kept it at the tip of my tongue as I chewed. It wasn't as bad as I remembered, but it was still a very strong flavor. I think the soy sauce made it more tolerable. Nonetheless, I gave up on it and threw it away.

As much as I hate natto, if you haven't tried it, I recommend that you do, just as an experience. It's one of those foods that most people either love or hate. Try looking for a kind of natto that has the smell removed from it, to make it easier.

If you have tried natto and you think I'm some immature little child for saying how gross it is, I really don't care. I also don't like sashimi (sliced raw fish), root beer, or cheesecake. But I do love Spanish olives straight from the jar, as well as cauliflower and tofu that ISN'T transformed into some kind of false meat. To each his own...and you can't deny that natto slime DOES look like mucus.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rest in Peace, Shota Tsutsumi

After work and some cold remedy shopping yesterday, I came home and turned on the TV to a heartbreaking news story. Shota Tsutsumi, a 16-year old high school student, was stabbed to death just two days ago on October 4th.

To summarize, Shota and his 15-year old girlfriend were standing by a couple of vending machines and talking, when a man in his 20s to 30s approached them with a knife in his hand. Shota told the girl to run, and as the girl fled he was approached by the man and stabbed. Shota died just after midnight on October 5th.

While the crime rate in the U.S. is pretty high, I've noticed that these heinous crimes are occurring more often in Japan, specifically in the Kansai area. Months ago a single mother left her two small children to die in her abandoned apartment, citing that she wanted time to herself. On October 3rd, a 9-year old boy in Osaka called an ambulance to report that his 3-year old sister was stabbed to death by their mother, a divorced 41-year old woman with three kids.

I don't understand what it is that drives people to kill children. It's really heartbreaking and it makes me so angry. After Shota died, the grandmother of his girlfriend visited the site where he was last standing and thanked him for saving her life. Why Shota didn't run away right after the girl is unknown to me, but if I could guess I'd say that he stayed put to serve as a distraction so that she could flee unharmed. It was a brave act that cost him his life. I hope they catch this coward of a murderer soon.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

About Innocence

As nice as my co-workers are, sometimes I can't help but wonder if it's just a facade from some of them. It's expected in a workplace located in a foreign country where the people around you all speak a different language.

Sometimes I witness whispering, giggling, and gossiping in the staff room at both of my schools. Sometimes I know it's about someone else, but sometimes I suspect it's about me. Today I had a staff meeting at one of my schools that lasted until 5:00, which is an hour after I usually go home. It was my first meeting after the new school term started, so the procedure was a little new to me. I thought the meeting might have lasted until 4:00, but I was prepared to stay longer and didn't mind doing so.

No one told me it was okay to leave at my usual time. Since I was expected to attend, I figured that I was supposed to stay for the entire meeting. When the meeting finished around 4:50, we returned from the conference room and I got some last minute work done and got ready to go. I said my usual farewell, but heard giggles from some people as I was leaving. This happened before when I said "itte kimasu" (I'll be back) when leaving after the sports festival, since I had to ride my bike back home and wait for a ride. When I heard the giggles, I wondered if I had done or said something strange. All I said today was "Otsukaresama desu, osaki ni shitsurei shimasu" (roughly translated as "good work, please excuse me for leaving ahead of you"), like I do everyday. I don't know if the giggling was about something else or directed at my remark, but I smiled and kept walking.

As I was about to leave, one of the teachers ran after me and explained to me that the meeting lasted until five, but that it was okay for me to leave at four. Well it's no use telling me that AFTER the meeting has ended! I was going to explain that I decided to stay until the end regardless of the time, but she ran off again. I walked out of the building frustrated and annoyed, wondering if I was right about the giggling.

It's things like this that make me question who's being sincere to me and who isn't. It's so frustrating when one day I'm having a good time with them, and then the next day I feel like I'm being ridiculed. But that's what encourages me to focus more on the students.

The children (at least the majority of them) like me no matter what. Even though I can't understand what they're saying, even though my skin is darker than theirs, even though my hair is sometimes wild and curly, they still like me, and there's no question about it. Some students will call my name as if they have something to say, and when I say "Yes?" they just look at me and smile. They like to hug me and hold my hand and talk to me, and even the simplest things I say fascinate them.

Unfortunately, it only lasts for a short time until they grow up and get exposed to the wonderful mess that we call "the media," that dictates to them what's desirable, what they should look like, and what they should be looking for when it comes to beauty and acceptance. Curiosity and fascination about people from other countries becomes a matter of "us versus them." And it seems only natural to gossip, of which many if not all of us are guilty. Sure, there's the occasional bullying and the naive declarations of the "strangeness" about a person, but they don't know any better, and so we correct them.

So I tell myself that no matter how much I may embarrass myself in front of the teachers, or what I may misunderstand, I won't give up because it's not about them. It's about the kids. In a country that's constantly glorifying white skin, blond hair and non-brown eyes in the media, the world of Japanese children is one of non-discrimination and acceptance.

Maybe I'm making too much out of something that may not be such a big deal, but I may never know.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Substitute Teachers

Today I found out that one of the classes was going to be looked after by a substitute teacher. It just so happened to be one of the fourth grade classes ...the talkative one.

Of course, anyone who went to school would remember the feeling of having a substitute teacher. Regardless of whether your regular homeroom teacher was mean or nice, there was always a feeling of excitement and curiosity among some students about who the substitute teacher would be, if they're a new substitute or one with a reputation, a man or a woman, young or old, etc.

I don't know how Class 4-2 acted earlier in the day, but when it came time for me to make my classroom visit for English, I was wondering what would happen. Their homeroom teacher is a nice and outgoing guy but, for lack of better words, he can't control his class. He's a first-year so I guess I can understand.

So could it be any worse with a substitute teacher there? Honestly, no. I don't think it would have made a difference at all. The substitute was a young woman, probably around my age and about an inch shorter than me. I was expecting the kids to be having a field day climbing on desks and yelling or something, but it was only as hectic as it is when their regular teacher is there. As I expected, the lesson plan that goes so smoothly in Class 4-1 couldn't even be finished in Class 4-2.

By the end of class, the substitute bowed to me and said "Sorry," because she knew how difficult it was to get the kids to pay attention. I was about to say that it always happens, but instead I just said "It's okay," and smiled.

Despite how hectic everything was, one student particularly enjoyed the lesson. "English class was really fun today!" she told me in Japanese, which made me feel much better.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Apartment Video Uploaded!

I finally made a short clip of my apartment. I actually uploaded it on Thursday, but I had to wait for the video to process before I could pick some background music. I had commentary but realized that I could make the video much shorter if I just recorded without it. It's pretty straightforward, but if you have any questions about it or the neighborhood feel free to ask!

Daily Life as a Gaijin, Episode 7: My Apartment

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Big Shopping Blog Post

I've been meaning to post photos of what I buy in Japan since I got here, but haven't gotten around to it. I figured it would be better to post these now or else I'll have hundreds of photos waiting on my hard drive.

Let's start with food and drinks.

If you can't read Japanese, it says, "It's Ramune." Ramune is basically soda, like Sprite. I found this 6-pack at the drug store and thought it was pretty cute.

It's amazing what you can find at a discounted price just because it's one day older than everything else on the shelf. With three slices at an original price of 298 yen (about $3.50), this is actually a good deal because cakes like this in Japan can be pretty expensive.

Do you know what Chu-Hi is? Think of it as alcoholic soda, with low alcohol content (usually around 3 to 6 percent). I'm not a fan of beer, so Chu-Hi is what I usually buy at the grocery store. They come in all kinds of flavors like apple, peach, grape, and lemon. This one happens to be Ramune Chu-Hi, which I'm sure my ramune-loving friends would like.

Next are some house items:

My new 2-way hair iron (flat + curling) bought from Sofmap in Kobe at 4,980 yen. I had a choice between pink and white...of course I got the pink one!

An artbook for the manga 'X' (or X/1999) by CLAMP. The manga was never completed for a variety of reasons. I hope they finish one day because it was a really interesting story. I bought this for 105 yen (no joke) at BOOK-OFF.

Glass picture frames with a beautiful black and red design. They were 100 yen each at Daiso.

On the left is a figure of Lady Oscar from one of my favorite manga/anime, The Rose of Versailles (a classic girls'/women's series from the '70s). Next to it is a silk flower arrangement that I want to be the base for my interior decorating. In front is a picture frame that matches the ones from before, carrying a picture of my family :)

Now onto clothing and accessories:

A sleeveless long vest (front and back) and a blazer bought from a shop in Sannomiya for about 1500 yen each. The vest is a little big around the waist so I plan to fix it whenever I get the chance (probably not anytime soon; sewing machines are really expensive here).

Lots of tights (ranging from 300 to 520 yen). The second picture is of possibly the most awesome pair of tights I've ever bought.

I bought these from an accessory shop at Saty a few weeks ago. I don't remember exactly how much each item cost, but the total was a little under 2000 yen (about $24), I think.

Some more major items. The bag (by annji, 3,980 yen) is from Saty. It came out as part of the Autumn 2010 collection soon after I arrived in Japan. I had been looking at this bag every time I visited Saty for about 3 weeks, and I finally decided to buy it yesterday after failing to find a bag that I liked more. The bag charm (left; by d'Angelo, 2,990 yen) and train pass case (right; by d'Angelo, 1,990 yen) were purchased in Sannomiya at an upscale department store called Marui.

These two Daisy by Marc Jacobs pouches actually came as a gift with a Japanese magazine called InRed. In Japan there are all kinds of women's magazines that come with free items (which I imagine keeps them in business, because I sure don't read the magazine). I found out after I bought the magazine that InRed is actually targeted towards women in their 30s...doesn't matter to me, I just wanted the pouches. The magazine costs 750 yen, which is a little on the higher end of magazine prices. I use the larger pouch to hold my hanko (name stamp used the same way we write a signature) and account book for my bank account. The smaller one I use for holding wrapped candy.

My collection of flower hair clips/brooches. All of them were bought in Japan but four of them were bought during my previous stay in Tokyo. The prices range from 100 yen to 840 yen.

A keychain from Claire's, 540 yen before a 50% discount. I haven't figured out what I'll do with it yet.

A collection of charms for my camera. the one furthest on the left was 399 yen. The others (excluding the heart and the long chain, those were random items I already had) were 100 yen each.

The three from the left are recent items. The strap (shown in a previous picture) was 315 yen. The cross actually came from a necklace I bought in Sannomiya for 899 yen. The third one was 70% off from around 300 yen at Claire's in Kobe. The fourth I bought about two years ago from a concert, for about 1800 yen.

Last but not least, a cell phone charm I ordered from Rakuten for 1500 yen, which just came in today.

I can't believe how long it took me to write up this post...maybe two hours? But I was watching TV at the same time so that distracted me. I'll post pictures sooner next time.

The apartment video has been re-recorded and will be up soon. I actually have tomorrow (Thursday) off because of another holiday, so I'll use that time to put the clips together.