Monday, January 31, 2005

Trivia - Monday, Jan 31st

Gwyneth Paltrow married a musician in 2003. What's his name, and what band is he in?

Bonus points: What did they name their first child?

Yesterday's Answer (highlight line below):
They used to be married.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Trivia - Sat & Sun, Jan 29 & 30

How are Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes related?

Yesterday's Answer (highlight line below):
Milli Vanilli

Taisha Sho - genkan

large genkan
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Friday was 5 classes at two different elementary schools (Araki and Taisha). This can be pretty exhausting, but Friday turned out to be a good day and I remembered to take my new camera along so I could take some pics.

This is the large genkan (entrance hall) at the new Taisha Elementary main building. This is where all the kids arrive in the morning and take off their street shoes and change into their "indoor shoes." There is lots of construction around since they're tearing down the old elementary building. The new school buildings are fantastic - very modern and they have central heating!

group shot - ni nen sei

group shot - ni nen sei
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

First two classes on Friday were with the ni nen sei (2nd graders) at Taisha Shoogakkoo (Elementary). In 30 years, these are the kids that will be in charge. :)
We learned parts of the body. Played a sort of Simon Says game that we call "Jason Says," and then played a game where the kids race-to-the-board and slap the body part on a chart after I call it out.
They also sang me a song. :)

This is one of the two great classes of 2nd graders at Taisha Sho. They all wear these Romaji nametags so I can call on them by name, which is nice. They're wearing the normal winter uniform for Taisha Elementary.

jumping rope

jumping rope
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Recess at Taisha Sho - it was cold this day but really sunny and the kids love playing outdoors. I was asked to join in on the jumping rope, but politely declined. :)

They get 20 minutes in between 2nd and 3rd periods for recess. They get another short recess after lunch at around 1pm.

The kids jump rope, play a sorta dodgeball type game, play soccer and some just run about. After all the rain and cold we've been having, I'm sure they were happy just to be outdoors.

group shot - ichi nen sei

group shot - ichi nen sei
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Later in the day I had two classes of first graders. We learned how to say "I like...." using food. Hot Dog, Salad, French Fries, etc. I gave each student $1 of Jason Money and had them come to my restaurant to order something off the menu. Then we played a variant of the fruit basket game.

One of the two classes of first graders at Taisha Shoogakkoo. Most are wearing their P.E. clothes. Notice the girl in the front row wearing a face mask because she has a cold and doesn't want to spread her germs.

playing with sensei

playing with sensei
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

5th graders at Araki Sho playing a clap and chant game to learn family names like "mother" and "sister." Sensei (with the camera) is playing with them. I joined in too after snapping a few pics.

After class, I had to shake hands and say goodbye to all 71 kids in class that day. They were a good class and we had fun.

go nen sei - Araki Sho

go nen sei - Araki Sho
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

One half of the combined 5th grade class I taught on 1-28-05 at Araki Elementary. Notice that the kids at Araki can wear their own clothes - they don't have to wear uniforms like the kids at Taisha Sho.

(Unfortunately my pic of the other class of 5th graders came out blurry)

Friday, January 28, 2005

Trivia - Friday, Jan 28th

Who won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1990 (but later lost it)?

Yesterday's Answer (highlight line below):
The lead singer, John Spence, committed suicide in 1987.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Trivia - Thursday, Jan 27th

How did Gwen Stefani become the lead singer for No Doubt?

Yesterday's Answer (highlight line below):
Sweet and Lowdown

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Trivia - Wednesday, Jan 26th

Samantha Morton was nominated for an Oscar for portraying a mute in which Woody Allen movie?

Yesterday's Answer (highlight line below):
Chico & The Man

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Trivia - Tuesday, Jan 25th

What was the name of the 1970s series Freddie Prinze Sr. starred in?

Yesterday's Answer (highlight line below):
C. Bjork

Monday, January 24, 2005

Trivia - Monday, Jan 24th

In 2002, "Cremaster" artisit Matthew Barney had a daughter with which singer?

A. Sarah MacLachlan
B. Sheryl Crow
C. Bjork
D. Sinead O'Connor

Yesterday's Answer (highlight answer below):
A. Eminem

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Photos and weekend Trivia

Below are 6 pictures of the various means by which I keep from freezing here in my cold corner of Japan. For explanations of the various devices, read the post below the pics.

Now, on to the trivia question for Sat & Sun:

Who is the only rap star to have won an Oscar for Best Original Song?

A. Eminem
B. Queen Latifah
C. Ice-T
D. Eve

Friday's Answer (highlight line below):
Hugo Weaving

Kotatsu 2

Kotatsu 2
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

So basically I sit on the floor in that blue "chair" and stick my legs under the blanket where the heating fan on the underside of the kotatsu keeps me toasty warm. Pretty effective and cost efficient.

Kotatsu 1

Kotatsu 1
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

This is a behind-the-couch angle on my kotatsu. This is how I watch DVDs on my laptop or listen to my iTunes when I'm in the kitchen. I bought a slightly better pair of speakers to use when I watch movies - but I'll still need to upgrade my audio/video set-up at some point since I'm staying til 2006.

Ceiling Heater

Ceiling Heater 2
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

This bulit-in ceiling heater is right above my futon couch in the living room, and it blows toward my TV, so that works nicely - it is also my air-conditioner in the summer.

Heat Fan

Heat Fan
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

One of my best purchases since coming to Japan. Only 3000 yen! It even has a remote.

Notice the numerous THICK blankets on my bed in the background.

Bedroom wall heater

Bedroom wall heater
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

This built-in wall heater is just above my computer desk in my bedroom. Unifrtunately, that means it blows right down on my head if I'm at the computer and it's on.

computer desk

computer desk
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

I set my computer up at this desk left by my predecessor. I sit here when I type emails or surf the net.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

It's Fricking Cold here!

OK - I’ve been meaning to post about something other than just trivia, but you need to understand how cold it’s been and how that affects my living conditions at home. I’m actually typing this in the relative warmth of my Jr. High school staff room, as I take my laptop to school some days to give me something to do when I’m not studying Japanese or teaching classes.

So it’s COLD here in Taisha. Now I know that some of you who are living or have lived in cold weather climates are probably muttering “wimp” as you read this, but for this Southern California boy - it’s DAMN COLD!

I’ve never really lived in snow before - it never got too cold or ever snowed in San Diego or the Bay Area. We got the occasional bit of snow in Dallas when I lived there, but it was usually just slush and ice. So all this is new to me.

And I've discussed why it seems so cold here with my fellow JETs, and we all agree it has to do mostly with one important fact - there is NO insulation in Japanese homes. So this means it is often only a couple of degrees warmer in my apaato than it is outside. Furthermore, this means no matter what steps I take to heat my little place, the heat quickly dissipates and it starts to get cold again. So I find myself constantly battling the cold - struggling to stay warm without simply running my in-house heater 24/7, since it’s extremely expensive.

The first adjustment I had to make when I arrived and wanted to look up the weather was that Japanese is totally on the metric system, so they use the Celsius temperature scale. John Rousseau, a family friend, gave me an easy way to convert from degrees C to degrees F - you take the number in °C and double it. Then you subtract 10%. Then you add 32. It gets you pretty close every time. So if it’s 10°C, you double that to 20, then subtract 2 to get 18 and then add 32 to get 50°F.
So the other night I came home after school and kendo practice and the thermometer in my bedroom said it was 8°C in my apaato. (Did you do the math? That’s about 46°F)
Now I’m not sure what temperature my refrigerator is set at, but it can’t be too much colder than that since freezing is 0°C. So basically my house is a big refrigerator when I’m not there.

It’s a weird sensation to walk into a building and it not be any warmer than it is outside. This applies to my school as well. They don’t heat the whole building at my schools. They heat individual classrooms with these big, kerosene heaters that give off a faint smell. So if I have to teach in the language lab and we’re the first class in there that day, it’s cold as hell and all the students try to huddle around the heater for warmth, cuz it takes a while before the room heats up . I walk out into the halls in my Jr. High and I can see my breath - it’s that cold. I feel most sorry for the female students who have to wear their school uniform skirts even in this weather - they must be freezing at times. But they walk to school like that with no sweat pants on under their skirts or any added protection save for the occasional scarf or cardigan sweater over their “sailor” tops. Crazy!

So I have to alternate ways of keeping warm when I’m at home. I bought myself a “heat fan” for about 3000¥ at a used store. It looks like a regular fan and it oscillates, but instead of blowing air, it glows orange and emits heat. Great thing about it is that it has a timer so I can set it to turn itself off in 30 minutes; so I keep it by my bed at night and fall asleep with it on.
The other nifty item I own is a kotatsu, a traditional, quilt-covered heating table. Basically, I sit on the floor of my living room and stick my legs under my coffee table. I put a blanket over the top, but under the table top, and then switch it on. It has a small heating fan underneath and it manages to keep you toasty warm. Many Japanese families gather together in the evenings and all get under a kotatsu to keep warm together. It works surprisingly well, and with my heat fan nearby as well and a blanket, I keep pretty warm. Only problem is you don’t want to get up or move, cuz the rest of your house is freezing. So I do use my built-in heaters sparingly to bring the temperature up to a reasonable level. My normal electricity bill is about 6000¥ ($60), but I just paid one for Dec. 7th - Jan. 7th and it was 12,000¥ ($120), and that’s entirely due to me running my built-in heaters. I have two, one in the ceiling in my living room and one in my bedroom on the wall, which means I’m pretty lucky as many JETs I speak to only have one in their place.

I can shut doors in my apaato and keep it reasonably warm in one room at a time. Makes trips out into the hall to use the bathroom an Arctic adventure, and don’t get me started on how cold the toilet seat is sometimes - at least guys can go standing up most of the time.
So staying in is OK - I can manage to be warm. Venturing out is now much more difficult as I only have my gentsuki (scooter) to get around on. I need to get a face shield for my helmet, cuz the other day I had to scooter to school and it was snowing and the snowflakes kept hitting my unprotected eyeballs, so I had to go slow cuz I kept shutting my eyes to melt the snow. So for now I wear my sunglasses if it’s snowing, but that looks really silly and doesn’t help if it’s snowing at night. Today was the first time I was riding my scooter and I almost lost control due to icy roads. I’m gonna have to be careful, and I might have to even walk to work if it gets really bad one day.

Today the low was forecast to be 1°C and the high was 4°C. Can’t wait to get home and get under my kotatsu.


Click Here for the local weather in Matsue, the biggest city in and the capital of Shimane - about an hour north-east of here by car.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Trivia - Friday, Jan 21st

Which Australian actor had major roles in both The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix trilogies?

Yesterday's Answer (highlight line below):

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Trivia - Thursday, Jan 20th

Murphy Brown was the star reporter for a news magazine program called _____________.

Yesterday's Answer (highlight line below):
C. Chess

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Trivia - Wednesday, Jan 19th

Which mid-'80s musical was written by the two male members of ABBA?

A. The Phantom of the Opera
B. Assassins
C. Chess
D. Cats

Yesterday's Answer (highlight line below):
Frances Bean

Trivia - Tuesday, Jan 18th

What is the name of Courtney Love and the late Kurt Cobain's daughter?

Yesterday's Answer below:
True. It was 1986's Labyrinth.

Trivia - Monday, Jan 17th (new format)

True or False: Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly once starred in a movie with Jim Henson's Muppets.

I'm trying something new with the answer portion of the posts.

From now on I'm gonna post yesterday's answer in white text, meaning it will only "appear" if you drag your cursor over the text area, as if you were gonna highlight that chunk of text to cut-and-paste it. That way, you don't see the answer before the question.

Here goes...
From now on I will type the answer on the line BELOW the words "Yesterday's Answer"

Yesterday's Answer:
D. "Thriller - Michael Jackson

Saturday, January 15, 2005

trivia - Sat & Sun, Jan 15 & 16

Which groundbreaking music video did film director John Landis direct in 1983?

A. "Every Breath You Take" - The Police
B. "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" - Cyndi Lauper
C. "Our House" - Madness
D. "Thriller" - Michael Jackson

Ahhh... 1983. That was a great year for Pop Music. MTV was just starting and the 2nd "British Invasion" was underway. I have a great two-disc CD collection called "The Class of '83" which is just songs released that year.

Yesterday's Answer Ric Ocasek (former lead singer of another great 70s and 80s band - The Cars)

Friday, January 14, 2005

Trivia - Friday, Jan 14th

Which rocker turned producer is married to '80s supermodel Paulina Porizkova?

Full disclosure - I used to have a poster of Paulina circa 1985 on my bedroom door during high school.

Yesterday's Answer: Torrance Community Dance Troupe

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Trivia - Thursday, Jan 13th

What is the name of the fictitious dance company in Fatboy Slim's "Praise You" video?

Yesterday's Answer: Manny & Lo

December wrap-up - Part One

December - Part One

So here’s my recap post for the month of December 2004. I might relate some of my Xmas/Holiday stories in a separate post, but we’ll see how long this one gets first.

First up I forgot to mention in my November wrap-up what I did for Thanksgiving... basically, nothing much. I had to work that Thursday and then after work a group of us JETs got together in Izumo and had dinner at an Okinawian restaurant. Some interesting Japanese food that left a few of us still hungry, so when we hit McDonald’s later that night for dessert, most us also had a hamburger or fries as well. After Mickey-Ds we went across the street to the large SEGA WORLD arcade, a two-story fun house packed with video games and photo booths. They have a cool one where you have to taiko drum to the beat (kinda like DDR), which Dustin is really good at. I ended up playing air hockey, an old favorite, with Lisa, who turned out to be good competition. I was able to take her in a tight match, but Rusty was no match for her ferocious air hockey style.
Sure would have liked to have had some turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, but turkey is really hard to get here and none of us have ovens big enough to cook even the smallest bird. Maybe next year I’ll head out to the annual Matsue feast put on by JETs who are raising money for charity. I heard the spread was ample and tasty.

OK - on to December...

I was extremely busy in December, running around to all 5 of my shoogakkoo over the course of the two weeks leading up to winter break. I’ve already posted about the death of my friend and JTE, Ishitobi-sensei. This certainly cast a pall over the month, but I was determined to be in good spirits when I was with my elementary kids, and simply being around them during this sad time helped me from slipping into some bah-humbug funk and rekindled my holiday spirit a bit.

Wednesday the 8th was my deadline for submitting articles to the Shimane JET publication, The Black Taxi. I’ve been writing a column each month for the past 4 months and I’ve written a few other shorter pieces as well. I enjoy writing, especially about Pop Culture, which is what my column is about, so it’s usually a pleasurable experience, but the aforementioned passing of my JTE took the wind right out of my sails and I had a hard time finishing my column. I had wanted to help Mark and Fintan, the two Irish editors, as well to craft some holiday-themed articles, but I wasn’t up to it. Luckily, we had worked on writing some of the funny stuff the weekend before I found out about Ishitobi-sensei, and Mark and Fintan are both very capable writers and editors so they got along just fine with my minimal assistance. You can check out a online version of the Black Taxi Here, but it’s a truncated version with only the text pieces included due to computer restrictions at this time.

Wednesday, the 15th, was an eventful day. I get paid once a month on the 15th, so I had arranged to meet up with Lisa, who has a car. I wanted to do some shopping and her car would allow me to buy some bigger items. We hit the “Hard Off” which is a used-goods store in Izumo. “Hard Off” is a generic term for a discount store - you’ll also find used books at the local Book Off, etc. They have some awesome stuff at the Hard Off since japanese people tend to take really good care of their stuff and many sell their used items within a year or two of original purchase when they upgrade or move. I was searching for a heat fan, since it was getting colder by the day, and I found a decent one with a remote for about 3000¥ ($30), so I bought it. We did some other shopping at the grocery store (I can usually only get two bags with my scooter) and we also bought a birthday gift for our friend, Rusty, since it was his birthday that day. He didn’t give us any advance warning, so we had an impromptu dinner at CoCo Ichi, a local curry chain restaurant he likes and then just hung out. Good night, but we all had to get up for work the next day, so we cut it short at about midnight.

Side note about getting paid. I send money back to my American checking account via a quick and reliable service called Go Lloyds. It’s a bit pricey (costing me $30 in fees every time I do it) but with the time difference the money is in my American account the same day i send it from Japan. I’ve mastered my local bank’s ATM, even though I can’t read most of the buttons or read out. ATMs here are still not quite as convenient as in the States. My local one (JA Bank) is only open Monday-Friday 'til 6pm. It’s open on Saturday, but they charge me 100¥ for withdrawing on Saturday. It’s closed all day on Sunday. I always have to be aware of how much cash I have because almost nowhere takes credit cards and they don’t have anything like the debit cards that are standard back home now. It’s a cash society. Moreover, it’s a coin society, as they smallest denomination bill they have is the 1000¥ note, which is the equivalent of a $10 bill. They have a 5000¥ note, but I rarely see one, so most people carry around lots of 1000¥ notes and 10,000¥ notes, which is like carrying around hundred dollar bills. Takes a little getting used to. 500¥ ($5) and 100¥ ($1) are coins, so you end up with lots of change jangling in your pocket, which I think is a conspiracy with the vending machine companies so you’ll always have 120¥ to buy a Coke or Pocari Sweat (like Gatorade) or a hot coffee in a can. (I’ll have to write a whole post on the amazing vending machines they have here)

I was Santa-san 4 times the week before Xmas, and each time was a little different. When I went to Usagi Sho, which only has 8 students, they knew it was me immediately - no foolin’ them. But at the other 3 schools, I was more accepted as the “real” Santa since I’d never been to the separate Kindergartens before. And I’m the first male ALT in like 10 years, so I’m the first Western man that’s played Santa at these parties that these kids have ever seen. The last day I had to do it was Friday, the 17th, and that yochien had almost 80 kids. I had to have my picture taken with small groups of them and hand out presents to every student. I also took part in a short skit based on a popular Japanese series of children's books featuring the characters Guri and Gura, who are two little mice. I had to come out on cue and give Guri & Gura a “Christmas Cake” and then put on my scarf, hat and shoes and wave goodbye. Gasps and applause at some of the schools - then the encore of giving presents and answering questions as if I’m Santa. Of course the questions were in Japanese, but I did my best, making up stuff as I went along if I didn’t know. Many Japanese think Santa is from Finland, so I said I lived in the North Pole, which is just above Finland. And one school had me read a children’s book aloud while the Japanese teacher read the Japanese translation. Funny thing was that the book was about Father Christmas, which is what they call Santa in England. So the book was full of British expressions and slang, and I read my part in my best English accent, but I think it was all lost on the 3rd and 4th graders who were listening since they mostly paid attention to the translation. My costume got better as the week went on as well, so I wasn’t as worried about my pants falling down. It was really fun overall, and I should have even more fun doing it next year now that I know what to expect.

I went to three parties over the weekend of the 17th to the 20th. The first one was Friday night - the bonenkai (year-end party) for my BoE, but I’m gonna post about that separately as that’s where I got my new digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 4100. Then on Sunday I got invited to a local party taking place at the Shimane Winery, which is right by my house. Nice Korean-BBQ style food and some nice people made for a good evening - there was even a small gift exchange where I got a nifty candle holder.
On Monday night I went to a very informal bonenkai for just the 9th grade teachers at my Jr. High. The one 9th grade JTE, who speaks English, wasn’t able to go, so I was left to struggle through with the other seven teachers as we ate nabe style food while sitting on the floor. It was fun and relaxing though and I’m glad I went.

OK - that’s enough for now. I’ll post again soon with details of Xmas week and how I got the nifty digital camera I now use.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Trivia - Wednesday, Jan 12th

Scarlett Johansson's first big role (at age ten) was in which indie film?

Yesterday's Answer: C. Gene Kelly

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Radio E-I-G-O

Radio E-I-G-O, my weekly show broadcast over the whole of Taisha Jr. High, won’t be on the air tomorrow as this first week back after break is not a regualr school week, but I thought I’d post about doing the show.
(eigo is the Japanese word for English in case you don’t understand the call letters)

I’ll start off by saying how much fun it is for me to play music for my Jr. High kids each week on my “radio” show. Basically I get to take over the school PA system for about 15 minutes every Wednesday and play any music I like and speak English with the whole student body listening. I’ve played a wide gamut of songs so far, usually grouped around some vague theme, but sometimes inspiration strikes and I find a song that fits some event that just passed or is about to happen. 15 minutes isn’t really any time at all - usually I get about 3 songs in with some of my blather between songs. I do my best “DJ” voice and probably talk way too fast for my students to follow along, but I do slow down at times to emphasize certain words making it a quasi-learning experience. Mostly I just enjoy exposing them to some western pop music. Some of them know the current bands, but most of them don’t at all - no real knowledge of any U.S. or U.K. rock or pop stars except for karaoke staples like The Beatles, The Carpenters, and Queen. There is a thriving J-Pop scene here, but much of it is horribly bland boy-band pop or Britney-style teen Divas singing to the same backing tracks and melodies all the time. I can’t really criticize Japanese music too much because I haven’t listened to enough to really form an opinion, but I don’t think I’ll be spending too much of my money on Japanese music CDs.

Here’s some of the tracks I played in 2004:

Playlist for Wed. Oct. 27th (First show)
Surfin’ USA (The Beach Boys)
Going to California (Led Zeppelin)
Santa Monica (Everclear)
She (Elvis Costello)

Playlist for Show #2 (Nov. 2nd, 2004)
Gettin’ in the Mood (The Brian Setzer Orchestra)
What a Wonderful World (Sam Cooke)

Playlist for Show #3 (Nov. 9th, 2004)
Lean on Me (Bill Withers)
Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World (Iz)
Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) {Billy Joel}

Playlist for Show #4 (Nov. 17th, 2004)
Should I Stay or Should I Go? (The Clash)
Waterfalls (TLC)
Vertigo (U2)
Land of a Thousand Dances (The Commitments)

Playlist for Show #5 (Nov. 24th, 2004)
We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions (Queen)
A Place Called Home (Kim Richey)
The Thanksgiving Song (Adam Sandler)

Playlist for Show #6 (Dec. 1st, 2004)
Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bob Dylan)
Blinded by the Light (Bruce Springsteen)
It’s the End of the World As We Know It {And I Feel Fine} (R.E.M.)
New York, New York (Ryan Adams)

Playlist for Show #7 (Dec. 14th, 2004)
This show dedicated to Lennon & Ishitobi-sensei
In My Life (The Beatles)
Imagine (John Lennon)
Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix)
Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix)

A few things discourage me about the process - I really have no idea how much the kids are enjoying the program or how much they even listen. The program is on during their lunch time while they eat in their individual homerooms (there is no cafeteria at my JH). But when I’ve eaten with my students in their homerooms, the volume on the speaker that plays the music they listen to on other days, which they select or suggest, is often too low to really hear above the clatter of lunch trays and chopsticks.
It’s hard to control this volume from the PA control room, since it can sound loud down there, but be barely audible upstairs in the classrooms.
The sound system itself is old and really can’t handle anything with too much bass or heavy drumming - it just distorts and sounds terrible, so where’s the benefit of that? It’s a mono system with one speaker in each classroom, so the sound it compressed into one channel, which greatly diminishes some songs. But I personally have fun each week deciding which songs to play and working out my patter between songs, so for that alone it’s worth it to me. I hope the kids are listening and enjoying the show too, cuz in the end I am doing it for their benefit.

I’m thinking of trying to start offering dedications, so a student could request a song for a friend or a teacher, but I haven’t quite worked it out yet. I sometimes dedicate a song to a student I know, like my speech contest girls, and I hear they get all red-faced and embarrassed when I say their name over the PA, so that’s cool.

I gave each member of my JH Kendo team a “Jam CD” for a holiday gift. It took me a while to burn 21 CDs and copy the jacket inserts, but I think it was worth it cuz they all really liked the gift - I’ll find out this week if they liked the songs I chose. I also gave out burned CDs to a few of the teachers I like and my supervisor - once again my awesome Apple laptop comes through like a trooper and iTunes makes it so easy to assemble playlists and burn CDs - I love it!

Music is such a big part of youth culture in the States - I’m curious to learn how much of a role it plays in the lives of my rural students here in Taisha. I’ll keep you posted. So until next time, keep your feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars.

Radio EIGO signing off.

Trivia - Tuesday, Jan 11th

This one goes out to HC.

Which screen legend appeared with Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu?

A. Bette Davis
B. Bing Crosby
C. Gene Kelly
D. Fred Astaire

Yesterday's Answer: A. Jake

Monday, January 10, 2005

Recap for November 2004

OK - I’m gonna update y’all on a few of the happenings from the last two months of 2004 that I haven’t mentioned yet. These entries are as much for me, so a year from now I can remember what I was doing back in 2004.

So we’ll start with random happenings from November.

On the 11th and 12th I attended the 2-day Mid Year Seminar for all Shimane ALTs. It was workshops and seminars, and while some of it was helpful, much of it was time that could have been better spent. I did get this nifty lesson plan book, that I contributed to, so that was good. I also learned how to play a Japanese card game called karuta. And I got to see a bunch of the JETs from other parts of Shimane that I rarely see, so that was nice. Since the event took place in Hirata, which is only about 45 minutes away by car, Lisa, Rusty and I carpooled, so I missed out on the poker game that night at the lodge where everyone from farther away was staying. I really miss playing cards, especially poker.

That Saturday, the 13th, was the speech contest for three of my san nen sei girls. I’ve already posted a pic of us holding the trophy from last year. My girls all did well, but not perfect, so they came in 2nd overall as a team. None got individual prizes, which was disappointing, but they all had fun practicing, and I feel like i know the three of them better than just about any of my other 9th graders. I’ll be a bit sad in April at graduation to see some of them move on to High School, as just as I’m getting to know many of them they’ll be gone.

Thursday, the 18th, was the other speech contest in Gotsu. I was supposed to accompany two girls, one 8th grader and one 9th grader, but the 9th grader had been very sick for about a week, so she couldn’t go. One of my JTEs (Ms. Hama) and I boarded the southbound JR train in Izumo with my ni nen sei, Asuka. It was about a two-hour train ride down to Gotsu, where we congregated at Gotsu Sr. High, where Koren is the ALT. I was very happy with Asuka’s performance, as this contest featured longer pieces, and Asuka’s selection, about a young hemophiliac with HIV, was a difficult piece that she recited well. But alas, no prize for her either. I’m hoping that despite the passing of Ishitobi-sensei, who was the JTE that really pushed students to enter these contests, that my school will continue to enter these contests. I really enjoy helping the students prepare, and practices are a great way for me to get to know some of my students beyond the classroom.

Friday the 19th was International Day at Sada Jr. High, a school where a JET friend, Rob, is the ALT. Since I’m simply “American,” which I guess isn’t very exotic, I was asked to run the room where the teams of students came to play Baseball Trivia. Now this is not trivia questions about the game of baseball, but rather random questions that I asked two competitors, facing off “Family Feud” style, in English on a variety of topics. But if they got the question right they rolled a dice and that determined if they got a single, double, triple, home run or an out. So two teams competed to score runs and be the winner. It was great fun and well suited to my abilities - but my voice was hoarse by the end of the day from all the talking and cheering and shouting. Some of the other, more exotic ALTs held mini seminars on their home countries, so the kids got to learn about Ireland, Scotland, Romania, Hawaii, and Finland. And at the break after lunch I got to teach the kids how to play competitive four-square, one of my all-time favorite playground games. Rob put on a great event for his school of about 100 kids, and I hope to go back next year.

Sunday, November 21st, was a fun day and night. My local shrine, IzumoTaisha, was having a big festival for the arrival of the Gods in Shimane, which happens every November. The shrine priests started out down on the beach, welcoming the Gods ashore and then walked through my town up to the shrine, where they did some more rituals involving prays and parades. Lots of people turned out and it was a festive atmosphere only dampened a bit by the intermittent rain and encroaching cold. I walked from my aparto to the shrine with two ALTs who arrived to check it all out, Emily (U.S.) and Rebecca (U.K.). We saw other JETs at the shrine, and I felt a bit sheepish, since it’s my town but I don’t really know it all that well in terms of where to park, what was going on, or where to go for food when it was all done. There isn’t much in Taisha, and much of the shops, bars, and restaurants are barely signposted - you just have to know they’re there. I’m getting better at knowing my way around, but when the weather warms up I really need to just take some time and have a good walk ‘round the whole town.

That Tuesday, the 23rd, was a holiday for the Japanese version of Thanksgiving, where they celebrate the harvest. So I took the Monday off to have a 4-day weekend, which was nice. After a short 3-day work week, it was the weekend already and that Sunday, the 28th, I was invited by my smallest shoogakkoo (Usagi Elementary) to their town festival. So I got a ride with my Jr. High school Kocho Sensei (Principal) and we arrived in Usagi at about 9 am for food and dancing and presentations by the 8 students of Usagi Sho. It was great fun, and I even sampled some of the local delicacies, like tasty, homemade Udon noodles, although I passed on the “squid pancakes” they offered. I also got to see the local community and some of the students perform a ritual dance involving rhythmic drumming and Oni (demon gods) costumes and waving sticks around. Some of the older women in the audience were tearing up during the performance, but I have to admit that the relevance was lost on me.

The next day, Monday the 29th, was a busy day as I had to head by bus up to my 2nd smallest shoogakkoo, Hinomisaki, and teach some classes in the morning. In the afternoon, my supervisor, Utani-san, came and picked me up in a cramped BoE car, and we headed into Izumo for an opinion sharing session with the JET PAs (prefectural advisors). Basically it was just a shoot-the-shit table discussion with about a dozen of the other local ALTs and CIRs. Our supervisors had their own meeting upstairs. I really wish I could get some feedback, positive and negative, from my superiors and teachers, but none is offered. I would like to think that means I’m doing a good job, but I think that Japanese modesty would prevent many of my co-workers from ever saying anything negative, even if it were warranted.

So that was the parts of November 2004, not already covered in other previous posts, in brief synopsis. I’ll post a similar synopsis for December soon.


Trivia - Monday, Jan 10th

Melrose Placewas actually a spin-off of 90210. Which Melrose character served as the link between the two?

A. Jake
B. Amanda
C. Billy
D. Jo

Yesterday's Answer: "Streets of Philadelphia"

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Trivia - Sat & Sun, Jan 8 & 9

Bruce Springsteen's video for which Oscar-winning song featured him singing live to a pre-recorded backing track?

Yesterday's Answer: The College of William and Mary

Friday, January 07, 2005

Trivia - Friday, Jan 7th

Jon Stewart killed time playing soccer at which southern college?

Yesterday's Answer: Gary Coleman

IzumoTaisha - New Year's 2005

IzumoTaisha - New Year's 2005
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Some of the crowds attending my local shrine on Jan. 2nd. That's not snow on the tree on the right - it's little white slips of paper with wishes on them tied to the branches and trunk. Souvenir stand in left background is selling cards and trinkets meant to bring good luck in the coming year.
I was there at dusk which was nice, but it was still super crowded. Many vendors and stalls along the long walk up to the shrine were selling food, so I had some tasty chicken thingies and a passable hotdog-on-a-stick.

SouthWest entrance at IzumoTaisha

SouthWest entrance at IzumoTaisha
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

This is the most crowded I've seen my local shrine. Large rope in background is good luck if you can toss a coin into the coils and make it stick. Woman in foreground is carrying an arrow with a bell attached that many people had - not sure what it signifies.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Trivia - Thursday, Jan 6th

Which former child star is portrayed in the 2003 hit musical Avenue Q?

Yesterday's Answer: Paul Schaffer

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Trivia - Wednesday, Jan 5th

Which talk show bandleader wrote the '80s anthem It's Raining Men?

No multiple choice on this one, but it's fairly easy if you think about it a bit.

Yesterday's answer: D. New Order

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Trivia - Tuesday, Jan 4th

The surviving members of Joy Division went on to form what seminal '80s dance group?

A. Depeche Mode
B. Bronski Beat
C. General Public
D. New Order

Yesterday's Answer: B. London School of Economics

Monday, January 03, 2005

Non-Japan ramblings

I've had some free time lately, since school doesn't start up again until Jan. 11th.

So I've been tooling around the net and doing some reading. I know I need to update this-here blog with stories from December - I'll get to it this week.

One thing I stumbled across over at the Oni Press community board was a discussion of the new "Sin City" movie.

Sin City is a comic book written and drawn by comics legend Frank Miller, who wrote the famous Batman mini series "The Dark Knight Returns." I'm a huge fan of Frank's work and "Sin City" in particular.

Robert Rodriguez, director of the Spy Kids films and the El Mariachi trilogy, is co-directing a live-action "Sin City" film along with Frank. I've been excited about seeing this film ever since it was announced. But I was BLOWN AWAY by the stills from the film, following Frank's awesome art style so closely. You can see them here. They are really quite something.

But then I was checking out all the nifty new trailers at the awesome Apple trailers page and I saw a link for a Sin City trailer. The movie looks incredible!!! Check out the trailer here.

It's so satisfying as a fan of something to see it adapted with care and an eye toward perserving the original impact of the source material. Wether it be a play, a book, a musical, a comic, a true story, a video game - whatever you're a fan of - if you see it made into a movie you want it done right - and "Sin City" looks like they're doing it right. I can't wait to see it.

2005 is shaping up to be quite a "Jason" year at the movies. The third and final Star Wars movie, a new Batman movie, the Sin City movie, an Elektra movie, a Fantastic Four movie - lots of cool fanboy flicks to keep me happy.

But just clicking on trailer titles I also stumbled across the following trailer for a new movie by the director of "Bend it Like Beckham." It's called "Bride & Prejudice." The movie itself seems like a silly Bollywood-meets-Hollywood bit of fluff, but the lead actress is the most beautiful woman I've seen in ages. She's incredibly gorgeous! Check out the trailer here.

I've got a bit of an Indian fixation going at the moment since I just finished reading Jhumpa Lahiri's first novel, "The Namesake," which is about Indian immigrants to America. Fantastic book! I really related to much of it, even though my parents immigrated from England, so I never was seen as an outsider based simply on my looks or surname. Together with her superb collection of short stories ("Interpreter of Maladies"), Lahiri is now an author I'll anxiously await news of each new book.

Speaking of good books, I'm about a third of the way into "The Da Vinci Code" and I must admit it's a compelling read - quite the page turner. I've heard that Tom Hanks has been cast in the lead role for the movie version that should start filming this year. I'll be curious who they get for the female lead.

Anyway, hope you're all having a good New Year so far. More Japan content soon.


Trivia - Monday, Jan 3rd

What school did Mick Jagger attend before turning his attention to music?

A. New York University
B. London School of Economics
C. Oxford
D. City and Guilds of London Art School

Yesterday's Answer: C. David Bowie

Something new for 2005

Here's an added bonus for all my loyal readers.... (the sound of crickets) You are out there, right?

Anyway, I got quite a few calendars for Xmas this year. Which is cool, cuz I love calendars. I never have enough places to put all the calendars I buy and get as gifts each year.

This year I got three nifty desk page-a-day type calendars. One will go on my desk by my laptop at home; one will go on my desk at school, and I don't yet know where I'll put the third.

One of these calendars is made by Entertainment Weekly magazine and has a Pop Culture Quiz question for every weekday and one question for Saturday & Sunday combined.

So I thought I'd just type in each day's question and then post the answer the following day.

Feel free to post your guess at the answer in the comments section. If you just can't wait for an answer, feel free to email me. My email is jasoninjapan(at)msn(dot)com

On to the inaugural question:

Luther Vandross' big break came in 1975 when he sang backup vocals for which pop legend?
A. Rod Stewart
B. Carly Simon
C. David Bowie
D. Eric Clapton

I'll admit this one had me stumped, and here I'm supposed to be some guru of Pop Culture knowledge. Anyway, I'm not making these questions up, so I make no claim that they'll be enlightening or easy or particularly interesting, but over the course of the year, they should be fun.


Sunday, January 02, 2005

Snow in front of my aparto

Snow in front of my aparto
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

We had snow for New Year's. Not much was still around the following afternoon, but it's still all new to me.

Snow in my backyard

Snow in my backyard
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Taken from my back porch on 1-2-05

New Years in Japan

Here's some info about the New Year's holiday as observed in Japan that I gathered off the web.

I'm off to my local shrine tomorrow to take part in various festivities - don't know how much I'll be partaking in the food mentioned below, but you never know.

Hope your New Year's was great.

It's only been one day into 2005 and I've already experienced a first of sorts. It snowed in Taisha tonight and a thin blanket is currently covering the ground. Having grown up in Texas and Southern California, I've never really lived in snow, although we did get the occsional bit in Dallas when I was a boy (more icce than snow). So having to get around and deal with snow is all new to me. And boy is it cold! Lord knows what my heating bill will be for December and January, but it's freezing in my apartment, so I'm willing to spend the extra to keep all my bits from falling off.

On to the info:

January 1st to 3rd are shougatsu (New Year's holidays) in Japan. These are the most important holidays in Japan. People say to each other "ake-mashite-omedetou-gozaimasu" (Happy new year) whenever they see at the first time in the new  year.

Japanese people eat special dishes called osechi ryouri during shogatsu. Osechi ryouri is packed in a Jubako box, which has several layers. The foods are colorful and artistically presented. Each dish has a particular meaning. For example, prawns for long life, kuromame (cooked sweet black beans) for health, kazunoko (herring roe) for fertility, tazukuri (teriyaki taste small sardines) for a good harvest, kurikinton (sweet chestnuts and mashed sweet potato) for happiness, and more. It's also traditional to eat mochi (rice cake) dishes on New Year's Days.

It is traditional for Japanese people to visit to a shrine or a temple during New Year's Days. People pray for safety, health and good fortune. The first visit to a temple or shrine in a year is called Hatsumoude. It is not a very religious event but rather a custom. You can go any shrine or temple near you for Hatsumoude. Many well-known temples and shrines are extremely crowded. For example, Tokyo Meiji Jinguu, Kanagawa Kawasaki Taisya, Chiba Naritasan, Nagoya Atsuta Jinguu are very popular and expect a couple million visitors during New Year's  Days each year. If you want to visit one of the famous shrines or temples, be aware of pickpockets.

Since most businesses are closed during the first three days of the year, the streets tend to be quiet except for those near shrines and temples. Nowadays, it is common for many department stores to hold New Year's special sales at this time. So, you see many shoppers in the street too.

The only thing that's affected me so far as far as business being closed is that the banks are closed and they don't refill the ATMs, so if you didn't get money before the 1st, you're out of luck until the morning of the 4th. Luckily I was warned and remembered to get some.

My local shrine (IzumoTaisha) is one of the most crowded in Shimane at this time. They expect 2 to 3 million visitors over the course of the three New Year's holidays. That's an amazing amount of people in my tiny town, so I'm gonna go check it all out tomorrow.


Saturday, January 01, 2005

Matthew & Me - Iwami Silver Mine site

Matthew & Me - Iwami Silver Mine site
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Matt & me along a path to the original silver mine entrance at Iwami. Iwami is up in the mountains a bit, near Mt. Sanbe. Had a good day walking around the site, but all the signs describing what we were seeing were in Japanese, so we had to guess most of the time. Despite the cold, it turned out to be a nice day after the sun came out.

J&M at IzumoTaisha

J&M at IzumoTaisha
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

My friends, Jodi and Matthew, who visited just after Xmas. They live out on a small island in the Oki Islands named Chibu. They had fun hanging out on the "mainland" and we had a good time doing some sightseeing around Shimane despite the overcast weather and the cold.

Long walk up to IzumoTaisha

Long walk up to IzumoTaisha
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

At a large torii (gate) on the scenic walk up to the Izumo Grand shrine in my town. 12-27-04