Monday, July 23, 2012

The End of an Era

Well.. Here I am, my last day at work in little Tsuruta, Japan. So far I've cleaned out my desk, organized the files sitting ON my desk, copied a few DVDs for the Town Office, and emptied out my locker downstairs. It's another sweaty day in Japan, no sun in sight and a smattering of rain all day, just enough to get me wet but not enough to pull the humidity out of the air, real Asian monsoon weather 94% humidity. Good thing I wasn't planning on riding my bike anywhere. I've had overall a great time in Japan, Living here was definitely better than Working here. Thanks to everyone I met, who helped me out, who hung out with me, this was an amazing 2 years and 8 months. I wish I could say something more sagely but I haven't written for a while, so my vocabulary is starting to slip (a good reason to read the hell out of my Nook, I already finished 2 Joe Haldeman SF novels, now I'm inching through David Cross's  I Drink For a Reason, trying to decide whether to read Starship Titanic or something else next. Man it feels great to feed my SF jones, I COULD also RE-READ ALL THE HEINLEIN, but I might have to pass.
Starting this evening: FREEDOM!  (starting soon: BEACH MONTH!!!)

Next up: Back to Oregon in a month.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


testing NetworkedBlogs reposting ability, please ignore!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Paris syndrome, Culture shock, and CIRing

Why am I here?  What am I doing here?

No, this isn't some silly existential angsty post. Rather, I want to know WHY am I in Japan. I'm a CIR, a coordinator of International relations. My job is private but my contract and duties are modeled after my co-worker CIR who has her job through JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. If you have heard about JET at all, you know that our jobs are mostly teaching, but the program is ostensibly about international exchange, making Japan more "internationalized".

I recently read about "Paris Syndrome", where a tourist comes to Paris and has a mental crisis; they were led to believe how beautiful it was, and are overcome when they find out how rude the locals are, or how dirty it actually is. It appears that the biggest cause of this is the mass media in that tourist's home country portraying Paris as an ideal city, not showing the less pleasant side.
According to the article linked below, 'Paris Syndrome' strikes Japanese (I would love to tear apart this person's style of reporting, is "a dozen or so" out of the "about a million Japanese that travel to France every year" really count as "striking Japan"?) is "especially prevalent" among Japanese tourists is due to the idealized image of Paris in Japanese movies /advertising, so therefore they have extreme culture shock, not only because it was so different from their home culture, but because they were expecting something completely opposite of what they found.

When I came to Japan I didn't ever feel like I experienced culture shock. Maybe it  was the fact I heard about the area from my predecessors, or we can blame it on my Buddhist studies where everything is not only connected, but existence is 100% interdependent.  I understand that our cultures/manners/customs are different, but I'm the sort of person that focuses more on similarities. I'm here specifically for my hometown's sister city program, so part of my job is to be a representative for Hood River, teach people about my home, in other words to simply be a product of my environment.

I've noticed that a lot of people here give very simplified, idealized explanations of their home countries to Japanese people, even those with high Japanese ability. Outside of work, I won't hesitate to start up a conversation about things I dislike or don't make sense in the US ( or in Japan), but of course within the limits of your job, it's better for me not to trash the US Federal Government; not only would people not likely understand, but if someone asks me a straighforward question about something in Oregonian culture, I give them a straightforward answer. I know speaking without reservation like that is NOT a Japanese thing to do, but that's precisely why all us CIRs and ALTs are here. Because we are NOT Japanese. I've also noticed some people saying "I want to act as Japanese as possible". Sure, that may make your life easier, but you are here to expose the locals to other cultures and ways of behavior. Obviously there are some things you should pick up, basic manners and greetings, but you shouldn't let your personality be that influenced simply by living in a new situation.

I think that my role here is to effectively reflect who I am, and teach people about my country without sugarcoating and excessive complaints, to ride the middle way so the locals can see (hopefully understand as well) the way I think; we don't get that idealized Japan, I am right in the middle of countryside Japan, and I think we owe it to our hosts to show them the same courtesy when they ask about our country.
If you are a CIR/ALT and all you teach them is the Disneyland version of your country, you aren't doing your job. You're spreading misinformation (such as the example with Paris Syndrome), not making Japan more internationalized. Sure, they might have that sugar-sweet description of yours memorized by heart, but if it doesn't reflect on reality then they are learning about a country that doesnt exist. They might as well be reading a science fiction novel. At least that way they understand they are reading a fictional story about a fictional place, not taking an idealized account at face value without ever having a chance to realize the truth until they get there and see it for themselves.

Why are you here?

Inspired by THIS article, ran across it recently somehow.

Monday, June 6, 2011

"Advice for my successor"

Stolen / excerpted from Just Another Day In Japan

  • Don't be afraid to admit your mistakes and make the necessary corrections. Who do you respect more - someone who thinks they're always right, or someone who is humble enough to admit when they're wrong? Very true. 
  • Study Japanese. Not only does being able to read and communicate make life easier, but it's also a confidence boost. And it will help you with your job. 
  • Even if your Japanese isn't that great, don't be afraid to go into interesting-looking restaurants. If you hesitate, you may finally go in months or years later and realize you've been missing out all that time. There are a few restaurants in Tsuruta that I still haven't been to. I also found a lot of cool places in Hirosaki or Aomori
  • Explore. Even small little nothing streets sometimes hide cool shops or restaurants
  • Try new foods. Except shirako (白子). Don't try that one. 100% agreement
  • There's a whole bunch of bulky stuff in the closets that I've never used before, and most likely neither will you. But since it's such a pain to dispose of, it's become a game of hot potato, and the loser will be the ALT who's living here when the school decides to find a new place for its ALTs to live (or stops hiring or housing ALTs).
  • There are some pretty cool JETs, but don't get caught in a clique. You're in Japan, so hang out with some Japanese, too! I definitely feel like I've seen this. Groups of JETs who don't hang out with other JETs, or with Japanese people. 
  • If you go to the Indian place in town or the one near the station often enough, they will give you free stuff on occasion. No matter how often you go to the ramen shop down the street, they'll never give you anything on the house.
  • That food isn't what you think it is.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Goin' Goin, Back Back to ....

After a year and  a half of Japan, I am finally indulging myself and will be returning to Oregon from June 30th to July 14th. Of course I want to see my family and friends, but I blame the new Airblaster DVD. It was filled with awesome scenes of Oregon summers, biking around PDX, forests, and most of all swimming and camping in the woods. There's no way I can stay away from that! I get to see the Fourth of July fireworks over the Columbia River, go trek up Oneonta Gorge, possibly camp at Lost Lake, and maybe even hit up the Oregon Country Fair!! 
Comment on here if you want to hang out,  I'll keep in touch. Trying to figure out my phone situation for when I'm there, so I'll give you a call!  I'm down for doing all the Oregon things!

  • Hood River Taqueria
  • Lampoei's
  • Pirate's Cove
  • Cliff Jumping
  • HR Skate Park
  • Nicholas Restaurant (Lebanese restaurant in PDX)
  • Kaze Sushi (I have a feeling Kenji makes better, more authentic cuisine than Okalani)
  • Maybe bring my DJ controller with me so i can spin on the 4th
That's all for now!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Where I've been

A month after the tsunami, the general feeling among Japanese citizens is distrust and dissatisfaction with their government, especially with the amount of time it took for relief efforts to reach affected areas. The government’s reaction reminds me of Hurricane Katrina, it took almost a week for the Japanese Self Defense Force to get deployed, and now they are completely overwhelmed with the amount of work that awaits them. Prime Minister Naoto Kan was scheduled to visit a shelter in Miyagi Prefecture but he canceled his visit at the last minute. His reason? It was raining. Right now the US Military is using Misawa Air Base in eastern Aomori Prefecture as a starting point for distribution of supplies to shelters, but their reach is limited as they aren’t allowed to go south of Miyako City in Miyagi prefecture, even on their free time.
At the moment, volunteers and charity organizations are the biggest help to the victims, my friends in Aomori City have started collecting donations and bringing them down to Minamisanriku, a town of about 17,000 that was completely devastated by the tsunami, over half the town is deceased or missing, it is one of the three towns that are on the news in Japan the most. A family I know runs an English school called Ortiz Global Academy, and their relief efforts are known as OGA for Aid; they are renting several 2-ton trucks and doing trips down and back constantly. First they brought clothes and daily supplies like toothbrushes and soap, but now food and water are the highest priority. The Ortizes are an amazing group of people and it doesn’t surprise me one bit how quickly they jumped into action, what does surprise me is the outpouring of support from the local community. One hotel donated an entire truckload of bedding and blankets, and another person promised 10 tons of fresh vegetables. Our biggest benefactor may turn out to be the US Military, Erwin Ortiz has a friend in Misawa City who knows many of the top brass at the base, and we have received over 12,000 liters of bottled water from them, there is still an entire warehouse full that we can take down. We also managed to connect with Misawa Helps, a group of volunteers from the base.
I was in  Aomori City Tuesday night dropping off donations from my co-workers and I heard that they needed drivers and volunteers for their mission the next day; I came to work for an hour, took care of a few e-mails and then brought it up with my supervisor Eriko Kudo who graciously allowed me to use a few days of my yearly vacation time, and I left immediately for Aomori City. We loaded up a small refrigerated truck with vegetables, then they took off ahead of us towards Minami Sanriku while I went with the larger 2-ton trucks to pick up water at Misawa Air Base. We were delayed with loading the trucks so we had to spend the night in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture. On Thursday, we took off at around 5 AM and reached our destination at 8 AM. OGA For Aid has been using the Hotel Kanyou as a base for local distribution, we dropped off a few hundred liters of water there and continued on to reach several other shelters, most of which were simply large houses where people could assemble and receive supplies. I still have a hard time putting my feelings about the disaster into words, everyone has seen pictures of destroyed houses, but it’s quite another thing to drive around the area and realize that the destruction covers almost 600 km of the coastline. There are things I never thought I would see, boats on top of buildings, a collapsed railroad bridge with the tracks falling off the side, countless cars smashed beyond repair. In the words of Angela Ortiz, “Every village has its own individual mix of buildings and rubble, but they are all heartbreaking in their own way”.
The most incredible thing was not the destruction, but how much they have started to recover. The Japanese Self Defense Force has been clearing the roads, rebuilding small bridges, and laying power lines to reach the affected areas. However, there is much left to do; as of now there are still some houses where the roads are blocked, people can only walk down from the hill through the forest or by climbing over rubble, due to house insurance and liability issues we can’t clean up unless we are specifically asked to by a homeowner. The tsunami also destroyed most of their agriculture near the coast, I saw rice fields covered in several inches of sand and some of the bamboo is dying or dead from exposure to salt water. The people still manage to smile through all of this, I will never forget the looks on their faces when we opened the back of the trucks.
People still have hope in the affected areas but the news is starting to move on from the disaster, and I am worried that large-scale support will diminish as the world’s attention continues elsewhere. If anything, Japan’s relief efforts need to increase in scale, most of the families in Minami Sanriku are surviving off one shared liter of water a day, and we want to increase that to 4 or 5 liters, especially as summer approaches. The Japanese way of thinking about supplies is very day-by-day, in normal times people go grocery shopping every night, only buying what’s needed at the moment; this mindset makes it hard to assess exactly what their needs are, if they say “We have vegetables, we don’t need them anymore” it more than likely means “We have enough vegetables for today”, so Angela Ortiz has been staying down there, going to the different shelters in order to take inventory and see for herself what exactly they need.
OGA for Aid’s biggest problem right now is logistics, we have an unbelievable level of support from the Aomori community but are running short of people who can take time off work to drive the trucks, one person has been down 5 times! The big earthquake the other day also presented new problems, it damaged the Tohoku Expressway, the lifeline for supplies and food from Tokyo for everyone in this area as it’s the only road with a speed limit higher than 50 km/hr (about 35 mph). Also, due to the nuclear accident in Fukushima, all roads heading into the prefecture have been closed, including the southern leg of the Tohoku Expressway.  Money is also an issue for their efforts, they have been having problems accepting donations through Paypal; the account was shut down for receiving too much money, Paypal considered it “suspicious activity” but the situation was soon remedied by creating a new account. OGA needs as much as they can get as they are currently renting their delivery trucks at a cost of $400 a day. All we can do now is go forward, looking for help anywhere we can get it. OGA for Aid has done so much thanks to so many people, they have received boxes of donations from as far away as England.
I have to use my vacation days in order to volunteer on weekdays, and Elementary School classes are starting so it will be harder for me to help, but I am willing to do as much as I can to help this country recover. There are many reasons for my desire to assist; first I am here as a cultural ambassador and representative of the USA and wish to show them the love in our hearts; I am also a quarter Japanese so I feel a bond with the people here, many times I see elderly women in Tsuruta and they remind me of my grandmother Amy, kids remind me of pictures of my cousins; finally, I have a fun, rewarding job in an amazing area as well as a place to live and I feel I owe it to Japanese society to repay them however I can. I want to send love and hope to every person affected by the tsunami; OGA for Aid may be a local group helping one town, but my dream is that we inspire countless numbers of people within Japan and around the world to do whatever they can to contribute to the rebuilding of the coastline.
You can find more information about OGA at their website, or on the OGA for Aid Facebook page,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Go see the world while you're young!

I was lucky to have early exposure to other cultures. In 4th grade, my parents took me out of school for 4 months so we could go on a road trip through Baja California, Mexico (Don't worry, my mom did a great job homeschooling me during that time). I had taken a few months of a community education Spanish class, and ended up being the translator for my parents quite often. Very strange to be poorly translating for an 18-year old soldier at a border checkpoint holding a M-16 (although I hear that nowadays the military gives them unloaded rifles as they don't have money to spare on ammunition, but you still don't want to play the risk). I saw many awesome things; waterfalls in the middle of the desert, amazing snorkeling, fishing and sea harvesting (there was one beach where you swam out for 3 minutes, then kicked upright with your flippers for a few seconds which blows away the silt, exposing possibly a hundred clams which are apparently the largest West Coast bivalve, and definitely one of the tastiest), touching whales, seeing a dilapidated Mexican zoo, not to mention the awesomeness of all the food available. I've been down there several more times, the last of which was in college with my friend Brendan, and I turned him into a Baja addict by exposing him to windsurfing and kiteboarding, along with the laid-back lifestyle of a beach bum.

Last week, all of the English teachers in Tsuruta and I taught a crash course for Tsuruta's middle school students who are going to Hood River on Friday. I thought it went very well, their average English level is far better than last year ("Sorry!" to my friend in the BoE whose daughter went last year), and they aren't afraid to ask questions about English, or goof around despite their low level (I got into a discussion with one student about siblings, and he mentioned he had a sister the same age as me, I asked another student next to me if he thought the sister was cute, he said "oh yes very cute", I shot back with "Cute? Not if she looks anything like you" and all of them got it, bursting into laughter). As always, a week of 2 hours extra work every day is a little stressful, but definitely fun. I wish I could say I had all the names matched to the faces, but with 18 students and only 10 hours of class time total it's a little tough. As I read their host family information, I see how Hood River might be a similarly eye-opening experience for them.  One student is staying with a Mexican-American family,  one at a Mormon family who has 6 kids, one host sister who has a million hobbies (cooking, rock climbing, reading etc.), and one whose parents own a coffee roasting and distribution company (he will never be able to drink the coffee in Japan after his week in HR!).
I am completely certain these kids will have a positive, life-enriching experience in my hometown, they even get to visit Meadows (Maybe the #1 reason I wish I could go back home with them.. Just kidding Mom, I love you!)  I really do wish I could head back with the kids though, it would be nice to have someone who could really be a good tour guide in both English and Japanese. This year the school is sending the Music teacher, who can understand spoken English but isn't that great at communications. Also, the Vice Mayor is going, and he speaks next to none.  I will probably end up printing pictures this year (last year the English teacher who accompanied them asked me to print off over 400 pictures, I ran out of ink in the printer and photo paper countless times in 2 days), so I'll be able to see what they thought was interesting enough to capture.

I'd love to travel again and visit somewhere else, but I'm not sure where I want to go.