Monday, December 27, 2010

Last () of the year.

Christmas finally came, as did the snow! I spent a nice night at Naqua Shirakami's hotel for free, definitely made getting the season pass worth it. Speaking of the season pass, I have been up riding 3 times already and am loving the conditions here. Naqua is a little bit of a bunny mountain but still some good powpow up there.  I'm diggin the gondola, nice long ride down, hopefully the park will be dope too. Getting ready for my DJ set on Friday, gotta clean house for people who are going to crash @ the pad.
Awesome Christmas presents! Leila portable hookah, Timeless DVD Set (1 of 4000 but Missing the Verocai DVD MOM) RIP 2 J Dilla, always was waiting to see this, had the EP for a while. iPod for all my music in the car, sweet! finally gives me a reason to properly tag all my music, and then wait for it all to copy over. Awesome cookies and caramel corn from my grandma, along with some Kona Coffee, love you Amy! Looking forward to a new year filled with spring riding, more DJing, and tons of fun

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ambitions of a Rider / White Powder and Lines

First off...
Finally the ski resort is open!!!!! 

The bonenkai was ridiculous, lots of drinking and a few things happened that are unspeakable (of course this is to be expected)! Decent food, my first time onsen-ing at 2 AM with a drink in my hand, then one in the morning to wake up.

This last weekend I ate way too much, 2 christmas parties and snowboarding on sunday. So much delicious western food, and I got a bag of chips at the white elephant party saturday night. I also brought some home-brewed kombucha, it sat around ignored for a few hours until someone noticed me drinking from the container, and asked what it was... soon after I was passing out samples, explaining how to make it. I think I might be starting a trend here, getcha brew on!

Went to the Tsuruta High School's English Day event, made chicken and eggnogg with the kids.. Man they have no idea how to cook, one student had just finished rubbing the bird down with this butter/herb mixture, then tried to wash his hands with really cold water, he freaked out "why are my hands all white?????" Even one of the teachers in charge didn't know how to cook the recipes even though we did the same ones last year.. The gravy never turned smooth, and afterwards I remembered why - When it says "add 4 cups of chicken broth" she read it as "add 4 cups worth of chicken broth CUBES", so it was only oil and flour, no wonder none of the kids wanted to try it! I did see the students at my table putting the Japanese-style gravy on their cake, I must have been at the weird kid's table.

Getting ready to DJ for New Year's Eve, got my playlist built but still need to assign cue points, give me a few hours and it'll all be good.
Thinking I need to take a "mental health day" in 10, bounce to the slopes and lay down some carves... heads I go, tails I go....

Friday, December 10, 2010

One year!

Off to bounenkai (end of the year work party) number two! Update coming soon.
On another note, I need to take more pictures, I just feel like I've ewhausted my immediate area of its potential〓
Time to go on a photography drive before everything is blanketed in snow〓

Monday, November 29, 2010

Roll with the changes

Life is slowing down in Tsuruta, first decent snowfall of Winter. Looks like it might be gone in a few days but its nice to have a little practice with my scoobie, its a much more solid drive than the Ford Explorer I used to drive in Oregon. Took a little excursion last night, went and bought dinner from MOS Burger; then drove out on an orchard access road, first time driving on snow-over-gravel, but wasn't worried at any time. Then took the B4 on some donuts in the parking lot; now I understand what my friend was saying about how they are a good way to learn snow driving, you really get a feel for what your car can and can't handle in terms of lateral G's, torque, and so on.  Upgraded the car stereo so now it can control my iPod, great purchase although with all the extras needed it ended up being more expensive than I thought. Time to take the camera out tonight and get some good snow photography if it doesnt start raining like the forecast.
I'm gonna be here for another year! Definitely excited, hoping I can get all the Oregon Ducks in Japan together for some Neputa festival-ing in August (that's how much I love it, already making plans!). It didn't take me much thought to sign the contract, I have family and friends I love in the USA but most of my closest friends are all scattered out, and the job situation still doesn't look great, so the plan is lay low in Aomori, pay off my loans and snowboard all winter long.

I have been DJing lately, really getting into it; building sets in my free time etc.. Coming across some good Japanese music, dancehall-ish reggae, electronica, jazz. DJed at the halloween party, was fun but was screwed over by Japanese DJs.
Bunkasai was good too, made slow-cooked chili verde pork and applesauce on the side, all with donated apples! The Japanese locals didn't know what to think of it, but said "delicious".


Sunday, October 17, 2010

"bread so big you can't forget - Tsuruta!"

Long break of no posting again! I don't know what came over me. A LOT has happened since July, so let me try to summarize the major points

  • My buddy Josh coming out during Nebuta Festival season, so I took some time off work and we drove all around the countryside. 
    • He brought out two skateboards! One was my beloved Sector 9 supercruiser, the other was a Zip Zagger.. that little beast is fun!
  • Around the same time: Said goodbye to many JETs with whom I had made many great memories. 
    • Hello to the newbies!
    • Met more awesome people from the NW!
  • The weather finally cooled down enough for me to start jogging!
  • Getting a group together to buy season passes.. SO EXCITED FOR THE WINTER!
  • Crazy Aomori scavenger hunt.. and camping event
  • A Hip Hop club opened up in the town next to me.. unfortunately its only open for special events but I want to push the owner to get a freestyle open mic event going on... 
    • P.S. the title of this entry comes from a cypher that me and some Japanese guys had going on outside in the street.. this was what some homie said about my town!
  • I volunteered to DJ for a halloween party and got caught up in Everest of Apples,  a charity group in Aomori. Looking forward to working with you guys and accomplishing many things! Their non-FB website is here but the information is a little outdated, that will be my next task for these guys!
    • Also: Finally picked up a USB/Audio breakout dongle, and it makes DJing with my VCI-100 absolutely a blast!
  • I went to an awesome International Foods Festival in Ajigasawa, and ate a few things I had never tried before
What's coming up for me
  • Tsuruta's Bunkasai - Culture festival. 
  • Halloween party for EofA!
    • oh no that means I need a costume.. I always struggle with this part. 
  • Hopefully lots more trips into Hirosaki
  • Another event coming up at the cluuub
  • Possible trip to Maui??

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer Heat

Oh man it's been hot lately. Temperatures are in the 20's (celsius) and humidity is high, sometimes 95%! Not very helpful when all your laundry has to hang dry. I figured out how to get to the beach (still not quite 100% sure I can drive by myself and get there), and I've been snorkeling LOTS. By that I mean saturday and sunday last weekend, the weekend before that, and Wednesday this week. The highlight of my experiences was finding an abalone which I immediately grilled (delicious!) and then another day finding a working fishing pole at the bottom of the ocean! The Japan Sea is nice, it seems saltier than the other places I've swam but it's fairly warm, somewhere between the Columbia and the Pacific Ocean, so you can just keep swimming all day.
The one thing I do miss is being able to swim in fresh water. All the rivers / lakes (really irrigation reservoirs) are too dirty to go in, I would LOVE to be relaxing at Lost Lake.
Most of the English teachers around here are making their preparations to leave, but I'm still here for another year. I'm sad to see everyone leave, I didn't get to become as close of friends as I could have, but I'm excited for the new batch coming in a few weeks.
Always looking forward to change!
--Alex out

Saturday, June 5, 2010

6 months!

The new leaves are starting to show in Tsuruta! The cherry blossoms have come and went, and I am nearing the 6-month mark for my time in Japan. Many things here are new to me, in winter everyone turns off their house's water and drains the pipes completely. Houses older than 30 years generally don't have insulation so pipes freeze overnight if there's water still in them, something I've experienced a few times. One of my best experiences here was giving an english crash course to a group of 17 middle school students headed towards Oregon. All the English teachers banded together and taught the students phrases and gestures that might be helpful during travel; we also played quite a few games letting them practice their new vocabulary. I would have liked to go back to Hood River with them, but their smiling faces and pictures showed that they didn't need me to guide them around Hood River, their host families helped them out a lot! One of the hardest parts of this job is the range of students, I teach from preschool up to 6th grade, sometimes on the same day! So I go from teaching the names of colors, food, etc to teaching phrases, meanings, and reading/writing in the course of a few hours. Also, I teach at 6 different elementary schools, the largest has about 58 students in each grade, while the smallest has about 50 students total! Along with the range, it's hard to remember everyone's names. At the elementary level, I work with 43 different teachers, and over 800 students! Factor in the considerably small number of sounds in the Japanese language, and it's easy to see why names can be a headache for any foreigner, regardless of experience with Japanese!
The change in lifestyle hasn't been as great as I expected; I came to Japan only a few months after graduating at University of Oregon, so I went from a life focused on classes and learning to one focusing on teaching. This is my first full-time job, so it's a little strange to be sitting at a desk 35 hours a week. The only break is one hour off at noon for lunch, but it seems like cigarette smokers can go to the smoking area (that's right, inside the building!) whenever they want. Also, there's no overtime pay. Luckily, workers in the Town Office have an even better system, known as "daikyuu": Instead of being paid more for working more, you are awarded time off that you can use whenever you want, at a 1-to-1 basis. For example, all the English teachers in town have a weekly conversation class for the area's adults, and we get one hour of daikyuu for this, so we could go home at 3 instead of at 4 on Fridays, or sleep in and come to work an hour late. The office atmosphere is also a new experience for me, in the mornings almost everyone is serious and focused only on work, but by the end of the day things start to feel more relaxed, people greet me with smiles, and start cracking jokes in the high-speed Tsugaru dialect that's near incomprehensible even to other native Japanese speakers, let alone me with my 3 and a half years of study in College. Every day I learn new things, and in my free time I am dedicating myself to learning in order to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Right now, according to my online study site, i know almost 1,000 characters, which puts me at the level of a middle schooler. Kind of frustrating, seeing that I just celebrated my 23rd birthday, but not bad for approximately 4 years of study!
I'm lucky in that I have a nisei (American-born child of Japanese emigrants) grandmother and I majored in Japanese at University of Oregon, so I've been prepared and warned in advance about many of the common cultural faux pas that first-time visitors encounter. Often in my classes, we would look at essays about Japanese customs for reading practice, so I came well versed in the manners and rituals regarding chopsticks, exchanging business cards, and greeting people (Japanese has several sets of verbs and words to address people, depending on your relative social/business standing). I've passed the gaijin charenji (foreigner challenge) with food, having grown up eating sushi and all sorts of Japanese food, learned a few Japanese recipes during my college years, and have grown accustomed to starting my day with a bowl of white rice topped with natto, fermented soybeans whose odor can be described as somewhere between "footy" and "ammonia", but I think the flavor is nutty, a little salty, and goes great with the little packets of soy sauce and mustard that usually come in the packaging! One of my favorite breakfast meals is natto sauteed with some chopped garlic, and then combined with scrambled eggs and cheese to make a cross-cultural breakfast sandwich!
Outside of work I have plenty of opportunity to relax, now that it's warming up I am starting to go for runs and work off some of this winter weight. My mom came to Japan for two weeks, so I went down to Tokyo for the weekend to meet her, which was a huge change from the slow-paced farmland life up north here. After that, we traveled around Aomori Prefecture; we saw the Japan Sea (between Japan and Korea), saw the cherry blossoms in Hirosaki (the most popular spot in all of Japan), visited Lake Towada (the largest caldera lake in Japan, three times the size of Crater Lake). She went back to Oregon on the 8th of May, and it seems like the sunny weather left with her. Now the constant gray skies, a common sight in both Oregon and Tsuruta, have returned.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

No offense meant

This may be the most gay (homoerotic) ad I've ever seen. I'm really glad it's for cigarettes.
Note the shaved legs and booty shorts

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A new experience

Friday night I ate living fish〓

Sunday, April 11, 2010


"Bring the beauty of nature to life!" - Our theme for Earth Day this year.
The snow has all but disappeared, and now the drab, grey skies remind me of Oregon; thankfully there's a LOT less rain. This weekend I went out to Kanayama-yaki, a pottery gallery and restaurant, where me and a friend made pizza by hand, then they were baked and brought to our table! So delicious. I also witnessed the Japanese Tradition of the job transfer - once a year, the head of the organization (in this case the Mayor) decides to shuffle people around, so my former driver / maintenance man at the Office is now working at the Middle School; the same thing happens to teachers (but I think this is decided at a prefectural level), so some may get sent to neighboring towns, or even as far away as Aomori (45 minutes by car!). Of course they have no say in all of this, and the Japanese system of Lifetime Employment guarantees that they won't complain, since work experience is usually non-transferrable (that's right, if they worked at a bank for 10 years and became a senior officer, quit and tried to work at a different bank, they'd have to start from the bottom again, but that's a different story), so they follow along and start anew, in a job they may have no experience in. In the yakuba hardly anyone changed, but a friend of mine moved from the Daily Life section to the Agriculture section; the changes can be far worse in an actual company, people could be moved around the country into departments they have no prior relation with. If the bosses actually took notice of people's various skillsets, strengths, and weaknesses, this system has the potential to be a great benefit, but overall I think it's fairly inefficient; the company isn't hiring new people but still has to spend time training employees for tasks they might only be doing for a year. I think only maybe 3 or 4 people changed positions here, which isn't that bad.
So now I have no assigned driver, and on some days I might even be driving myself!
And now, Pizza!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Waiting for the Spring

Originally uploaded by flashywordz
It's March, and still snow is falling. The weather has been getting a little milder, no harsh winds and blizzards, and the temperature is usually over freezing during the day. I've also managed to get out and around the ken, down to Hirosaki once for a cool "Raibu" (the garaigo term for a concert). I found an awesome car, owning a Subaru makes me feel like an Oregonian, although this particular car was never made in America :D
AWD and Twin Turbo makes for a very nice ride. I already managed to get it stuck in the snow, trying to drive down an orchard road for a "shortcut" to another road. Hilariously enough there was no snow on any of the asphalt roads that day, so I could have saved time by driving the long way to where I was going. Instead, me and my "Driving Instructor" had to walk maybe a half mile through the snow and down some train tracks, and then call a taxi to take us back to his house, where we grabbed shovels, gloves, and our winter gear. When we got back to my car, we had to dig for maybe a half hour, the snow was deep enough that it lifted the body of my car off the ground, no contact with the wheels.
I also had the fun experience of my mac breaking down, but now I have a shiny new MacBook with a Japanese keyboard, and I can finally play Counterstrike again. I even went so far as to install the Starcraft II Beta (I have waited SO LONG for this!)
Overall it's been a good winter, not TOO bonechilling cold (but there were times where I wore my down jacket inside!).
I am patiently waiting for the sun.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Start every verse with something to quote"

"Those who try to repair what's natural in themselves by conforming to society are simply learning about the customs of others in an attempt to reconnect with what was already in themselves to begin with."
"Correct oneself and that's all. The happiness of being whole is called achieving one's own will.
In the past, what they meant when they referred to those who had achieved their own will wasn't referring to those who had chariots and wore crowns, but to those who had no use for such benefits, but were happy nonetheless."
Zhuangzi Chapter 17
Sorry everyone, I have been neglecting my blog.
What's new in my world? This week, along with all the other English teachers, I have been teaching an English crash course for a group of Middle Schoolers headed to Hood River. This class is outside regular work hours, so I've been having 11 hour work days lately. It's definitely a lot of fun though, the kids have lots of energy but are old enough to apply that energy as enthusiasm towards learning. Sometimes I feel a little drained, but it's nice to be doing work that directly relates to International Relations. The temperatures have finally risen above freezing, I can see the asphalt in all the streets now!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Just had my first Hulk. Delicious!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Out Of The Inaka

Alright, I finally made it away from Tsuruta-machi for a weekend. I got in touch with another Oregonian, who works for an eikaiwa school in Aomori City (about 300,000 people), and I took the train on Saturday night. I went to a cool little izakaya called Matchan, and then barhopped all night. The next day we went to eat at an italian restaurant with decent pizza! After that I came back home, and got caught up in my new favorite PS2 game, God Hand. Its a beat-em-up with a difficulty level I describe as Contra meets Demon's Souls. It's also got a great soundtrack and sense of humor in the plotline and dialogue, reminds me of Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo.

I finished three novels in the past few weeks; Natsume Soseki's Botchan was pretty good, it's about a college graduate who has no jobs available in Tokyo, takes a position as a math teacher in a remote area of Japan, and has all sorts of troubles trying to fit in. The kids tease him horribly, some teachers ostracize him. I feel a little like Botchan at times, but I am definitely sure I do better at my job than he. I also read Yasunari Kawabata's short novel "Snow Country", about a Tokyo businessman and his relationship with a geisha in a remote ski/onsen resort town. I thought the plot was OK but the characters annoying, but Kawabata's prose is amazing. I finished up with an oregon classic, One Flew Over the Cuckoo`s Nest, which reminded me of all the crazy people walking the streets of Eugene. I've seen the movie but this was my first time reading the book. The Chief's memories of the Columbia River before the dam made me sad that I was born too late to see Celilo Falls.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tsuruta nightlife

Ken Kesey and a beer by candlelight.

In my igloo!

スパー礼賛 (In Praise of the Japanese Supermarket) The First

Nike and Converse running shoes, but no Chucks? Heresy!
The only American brand of clothing I could find in the Superstore was Grateful Dead branded sweatshirts.. homesick for Eugene.
Whale Bacon? at $11 for maybe 30 grams, I think I will wait until I can find some at a restaurant, or at least until I find some that's not fake pink (however, the fake pink is a delicious necessity in kamaboko).
Tarako EVERYTHING: Mayonnaise, salad dressing, furikake (rice topping) pasta sauce.
Only white bread. And the same sized pack (half a loaf?) is sold as 6, 5 or 3 ENORMOUS slices.
Camo do-rag? Yes, please! I need something to wear with my huge down jacket and boots (bubblegoose and Tims)
Mario Kart arcade cabinet! Also, students telling me "I saw you playing Mario Kart last weekend". I feel like Botchan at the dango or soba shops.
Fresh-made Takoyaki any time I want. That's all that needs to be said.
A hundred kinds of beer/shochu/nihonshu(sake) that all taste the same.
$1.50 for 3 stalks of asparagus, but a bundle of 3 24-inch long, 1/2 inch wide negi (spring onions) for $1.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A New Year

Well, it's finally settling in that I will be here for 20 more months. Wow, this will be the longest I have ever spent at a single job, no pesky school and moving to get in my way. I am looking forward to it, I head that the longer you stay here, the more rewarding the job gets! Not to say that I don't like it now, it's a lot of fun, but I still sometimes feel a little lost; for example if things go wrong usually I am good at improvising a fix but I don't really know what to do. The other day I tried to show the Sesame Street DVD but their player didn't like my disc, and I hadn't brought any materials as backup, so I panicked for a little bit before I finally came up with something.
My teacher-neighbors are back, so I have people to hang out with again! Still struggling to meet the locals though. My co-worker tells me that the adults my age just hang out at each other's houses and don't go out to spend money. Totally different mindset from the US, people are out emptying their wallets in order to have a good time, and then wondering why they have no money left for rent or food. In the US, we even have something called a "Credit card",where people can spend money they don't even have yet!
In other news, I have put my earrings back in! The preschoolers are fascinated by them, I don't know if they have ever seen a guy wearing earrings around here. I am being careful to only wear the solid ones, no tunnels/eyelets.. I want to make it less obvious that my ears are stretched. Hopefully no one at the office complains!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Can You Tell Me How to Get, How to Get to Sesame Street?

Today I showed Tsuruta "Infant School" the Sesame Street DVD "Imagine That!". I bought it from Amazon, so I vaguely remember that it was older, and I watched it for the first time with the kids. I could definitely tell that it was made before I was born, so when I got back to the office, I looked it up, and WOW it was made in 1969, only one year after the first season aired.. No wonder Ernie, the Grouch, and Elmo weren't major stars yet, Big Bird didn't even appear at all! I decided to sit down and read the LONG Wikipedia article on Sesame Street, and I thought I'd share with you some of the more interesting tidbits about Sesame Street

  • As of 2009, the series has received 118 Emmy Awards, more than any other television series

  • An estimated 77 million Americans watched the series as children. (That's almost a quarter of our nation.. CTW had a lot of power in its hands..)

  • It premiered on November 10, 1969, and is the longest running children's program on US television.

  • As author Malcolm Gladwell has stated, "Sesame Street was built around a single, breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them". Sesame Street was the first children's show that structured each episode and made "small but critical adjustments" to each segment to capture children's attention long enough to teach them something

  • It was decided, by recommendation of child psychologists, that the Street scenes, which CTW researcher Edward Palmer called "the glue" that "pulled the show together", would never feature the human actors and Muppets together because they were concerned it would confuse and mislead young children.

  • The producers went back and reshot the Street segments; Henson and his team created Muppets that could interact with the human actors, specifically "two of Sesame Street's most enduring Muppets: Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird". These test episodes were directly responsible for what writer Malcolm Gladwell calls "the essence of Sesame Street--the artful blend of fluffy monsters and earnest adults".

  • The producers of Sesame Street used laboratory-oriented research to test if what they were producing held children's attention. The researchers involved with the show found that preschoolers are more sophisticated television viewers than originally thought.

  • Fifteen writers a year worked on the show's scripts, but very few lasted longer than one season. Norman Stiles, head writer in 1987, reported that most writers "burn out" after writing about a dozen scripts

  • Entertainment Weekly reported that by 1991, Sesame Street had been honored with eight Grammys.

  • Although the series had been on the air for less than a year, Time Magazine featured Big Bird, who had received more fan mail than any of the show's human hosts, on its cover and declared, " ...It is not only the best children's show in TV history, it is one of the best parents' shows as well"

  • Sesame Street was not without detractors, however. In May 1970, a state commission in Mississippi voted to ban Sesame Street. A member of the commission leaked the vote to the New York Times, stating that "Mississippi was not yet ready" for the show's integrated cast.

  • In 2003, one of Sesame Street's international co-productions, Takalani Sesame, caused some controversy in the US when the first HIV-positive Muppet, Kami, was created in response to South Africa's AIDS epidemic.

  • I don't know why I can't find info about this, but on Imagine That, there was a clay stop-motion short starring "Arnold", later of Hey Arnold! on Nickelodon.

  • Behind the scenes video of Sesame Street was never allowed until 2000 when PBS affiliate WLVT in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, aired, for the very first time, footage of the cast and crew as they rehearsed and recorded an episode

  • On November 10, 2009, Sesame Street celebrated its 40th anniversary that included a segment with First Lady Michelle Obama interacting with the Muppets.

  • Research[citation needed] by Sesame Workshop in 1989 discovered that "many preschool children failed to recognize that Kermit felt happy about being green by the end of "Bein' Green".

  • In 2002, CTW introduced Kami on the South African co-production Takalani Sesame. Kami was the world's first HIV-positive character on a children's show! Despite outcry from US politicians (since CTW is partially funded by the US Government), Kami has been named a UNICEF ambassador for children and has appeared in Takalani segments alongside Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, among others.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

This is it!


Originally uploaded by flashywordz
I haven't updated in two weeks! Things are going well here, I ate a delicious cake for Christmas, and appreciated the presents I got. Over winter break I mostly relaxed at home, watching movies/TV (20th Century Boys, Venture Brothers, Dollhouse, Gurren Lagann), and reading books (The Attention Revolution and Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way). On New Year's Eve my supervisor took me to her aunt's house where I ate some amazing food, got drunk on gold-flake sake, and harassed her children relatives (Souta, who is 7 and in one of my classes, is very wild outside of the classroom. I think he liked that I had so much energy too). I also introduced the children to the American tradition of fireworks on New Year's eve, but for some reason none of the bottle rockets actually shot into the sky, they all just exploded right on the ground. Maybe the wind was too strong?
The next morning I nursed my hangover while watching a live stream of Times Square.. So glad that whoever was running the music had some class, John Lennon's "Imagine" was the last song playing before the ball dropped. Sad that more people haven't taken the song to heart.
The next morning I watched the Ducks try their hardest against OSU. Here's to another amazing season for U of O. It's strange but i found that becoming an Alumni made me an even bigger Ducks fan. Maybe hot having football tickets readily available is a part of it ahah!

Happy New Year to everyone out there, may you find whatever you're looking for!