Archive for October, 2007

Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater

Saturday, October 27th, 2007 by Steph

Last Monday I arrived at my high school to discover with dismay that I was at the wrong school. It’s not so surprising actually. With 15 schools to visit, it’s a wonder I don’t make this mistake all the time. With one hour to regroup, I went home and began my planning for elementary school lessons. Raw ingredients for the day’s lessons included:

  • my

    smallest school, with only 10 kids in the entire student body

  • my voice, hoarse and almost inaudible, from a long and insistent cold

I racked my brain: with an hour’s notice, how could I finagle a day of successful lessons? And then it hit me: Of course! I would bring the pumpkins.


San Diego on fire again

Thursday, October 25th, 2007 by Chris

I didn’t hear about the southern-California wildfires until my mom told me about them on the phone yesterday. Since then I’ve been riveted by the Flickr community’s photos that are constantly being uploaded by photographers all over the region.

You can get an idea of the scale of this thing from this map from KPBS.

San Diego Fires 2007

The amazing thing is that this map covers as much area as the entire prefecture that we live in in Japan.

It’s deja vu all over again. We lived in San Diego for four years before moving to Japan, and the fire pictures are taking us back to 2003 when some of the same areas burned at almost exactly the same dates, starting on October 26 and continuing for several days after.

Our thoughts are with our friends in San Diego, particularly John and Kathie who live directly between the north and south fires.

Anatomy of the Small Town Festival

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007 by Steph

One really great way to see your neighborhood with new eyes is to join a group which performs in your community. In this way, you get an insider’s view into all of the weird, wonderful little events that make a neighborhood a neighborhood. This is especially an eye-opener for someone living in a small town in a foreign country who has yet to master the language: namely, me.


Respect my activiteh

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007 by Chris

Some of you may have heard that we have made some inroads in the music/performance community here, after a year of looking in from the outside.

A month or two ago, our friend and fellow Noshiro ALT Frank discovered and introduced us to a taiko drumming group, Noshiro Belabo Taiko (???????). We (and I in particular) had been dithering about joining a similar group in the neighboring town of Futatsui, unaware that there was one right in our own back yard. The group is a great deal of fun, consisting in roughly equal quantities of adults and elementary/junior high kids.

After all of two rehearsals, we were informed we’d be performing at a small town festival the following weekend. Since then we’ve been in no less than three performances (albeit playing with the kids), which always tickles the announcers who love shoving microphones in our faces and asking us where we’re from.

We don’t have any taiko videos yet, so for the moment you can get an idea from this photo from our friend Andy:

Taiko in Kazenomatsubara

Almost immediately after starting taiko, Steph fulfilled her year-long dream and got the opportunity to join a Yosakoi dance team. In the apparent tradition of Japanese performing groups, they threw her into a performance after but two rehearsals. Here they are performing (in the rain) at the pre-Futatsui Marathon festival (5-minute video; might take a minute to load):

Yosakoi at Futatsui Marathon Festival


Friday, October 19th, 2007 by Steph

Pumpkins and Potatoes

I’ve been coaching a high school student for a speech contest (which she won, incidentally). She was really nervous the day before the contest. To calm her nerves, another teacher suggested that she imagine that everyone in the audience was a potato or a pumpkin. This advice, “Minna wa jagaimo”, is apparently de rigeur when trying to calm public speakers. I told my co-teacher that our old stand-by is to imagine everyone in the audience in their underwear. I don’t think this American version was translated for my student’s benefit.

The Big Chill

I’ve been doing mini-lessons on Halloween, explaining why we wear costumes, and why we make Jack O’Lanterns. During one of these lessons, I learned people go to haunted houses in Japan also, though it is a summer activity, because being scared cools the body.  I can see a certain logic there, I suppose, but autumn will always be haunted house time for me.

Piping Hot

Many of the onsens around Akita are located in mountainous areas. These ups and downs can be really hazardous to negotiate in the winter with ice on the road. However, wintertime is exactly when you want to take a nice long dip on an onsen. The solution? Pipe onsen water under the roads to keep them ice free. Efficient and brilliant. Here’s a cross section of road with all the tubes for water:


Oishii, yo!

While driving through the ken, we stumbled onto a little pullout by the side of the road, which was absolutely brimming with trucks. We pulled over to see what the hubbub was about, and found people enthusiastically filling huge jugs with the water pouring out of a pipe from the mountain. Empty bottles were provided nearby for a small fee. People were hauling away this water by the truckload. Apparently this particular source of water was praised by some writer, and ever since, people have flocked to this spot. With assurances of “oishii, yo!”, I filled up one of my own bottles for a sample. I must not have a very sensitive palate, because I tasted nothing. Or perhaps that is the very embodiment of delicious water.

Wreck Removal

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007 by Chris

When we moved to Noshiro, we were “thrilled” to find that our otherwise wonderful house included two ancient rusty car hulks in the front yard. You may remember them from such photographs as “Our House”:

Our House

According to Nate, Steph’s predecessor, they had been there when he’d moved in three years before.

Well, last week, a couple guys showed up at our front door and asked me if those cars were mine. “Heck no,” I said in my best Japanese, “but I can take you to the person who knows.” I showed them to our landlord who lives in one of the blue shacks next door. I left them to it and surreptitiously watched out a window as they gestured and yakked around the cars. The guys got in their souped-up spoilered window-tinted pimpmobile and went on their way.

I didn’t really expect that they would actually return for the hulks. But my lack of faith, disturbing or otherwise, was rewarded today when a crane truck backed into the driveway right up next to the cars. Open the gates, Peter, they’re a-comin’ home!

Insert Car A into Slot B

Now they are gone and a whole new world of landscaping opportunities (and parking places!) has opened before us. We might need to have a bring-your-own-car party just to see how many we can fit out there. It’s still not Andy’s driveway, but we’re catching up!


P.S. I was amused to note that a pine sapling about two feet high had grown between the cars.