Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year - あけましておめでとうございます!

So it's Monday, December 31st, and another year for me here in Japan has come to an end.

Before I talk about the year that was, I'd like to say Happy New Year to my family and friends and of course, my great students! I wish all of you all the best in 2008.

2007 was a year of contrasts for me. It started rather well - I rang in the New Year in America, said goodbye to my favorite class of students so far in mid-March, decided to stay a 4th year in the same job in Taisha, had a great vacation to Osaka to watch live Sumo, and started another school year with a 3nen sei class I'd taught since they were 6nen sei at elementary school.

Despite other good moments throughout the rest of the year, it hasn't ended as well as I would have liked. I still haven't adjusted to my new job teaching at two schools, and some of my better friends in the JET program left in July.

I have to decide in the next month wether I'll stay for a fifth and final year, and right now I'd say chances are good I will stay. I still really enjoy my kids and teaching when I get a chance to do it. It will be hard to leave whenever I decide to do it. Thinking about my future beyond the JET program now occupies a great deal of my time, and while I'm pretty sure what career I'll pursue, I'm still uneasy about my eventual transition back to "real life."

Knowing that I'll most likely stay in Shimane until July of 2009 makes me want to set some concrete goals for myself for 2008. Call them New Year's resolutions if you like - there are three main things I want to focus on.
1 - I'd like to lose some weight and get in better health.
My diet is so bad, and I do so little exercise, I've really gotten fat - perhaps the fattest I've ever been. It's just not healthy and I want to try to reverse the trend.
2 - I really want to improve my Japanese skills. I've spoken to a local tutor and I hope to start private lessons with the aim of taking the JLPT level 2 test in December of 2008. I know I can do it - I just have to commit the time to studying. I don't want to leave after living here for 5 years with the level of Japanese I have now.
3 - I need to save some money, but at the same time, I want to see more of Japan before I leave. I haven't been back to Tokyo once since I was there for JET orientation in 2004, and I really want to see live sumo at the main Tokyo arena.

Hopefully I can overcome my inherent laziness and accomplish some of the these goals.

It's gotten really cold in the last few days. I'm surviving under my kotatsu. It started snowing today and we're supposed to have a "white New Year." I may walk up to IzumoTaisha on New Year's Eve or Day, but we'll have to see how the weather is.

It'll be a somewhat lonely New Year for me this year. I have a week off of work since everything shuts down in Japan for the 3 days around New Years. But I won't see anyone during this time. Every other JET in Izumo went somewhere for the holidays - either home or to somewhere warm like Thailand.
I was having some chest pain on Friday - nothing to worry about, most likely just indigestion from some weird food I ate that day, but it made me think for a minute. If I had a heart attack and collapsed in my apartment, no one would even find the body until January 8th or so, when I didn't show up for work. And thinking further I realized that the last conversation I had in English with a non-Japanese person was on December 17th, and I wouldn't likely have another one until after January 7th. That's a long time to go without speaking to anyone, save for small conversations in Japanese with clerks and servers. I don't really get phonecalls from anyone, so email and this blog is my only real means of "conversation." So if you've read this far, I thank you.

So you might think that being more social should be a goal for 2008. Hmmm... Well, maybe. I certainly would like to get out and do some things, but I only have a few friends in Japan. I should try to change that, but maybe it's a little late. On the JET Programme you're thrust together with a bunch of people from all parts of the world who might only share one thing in common - the basic job we all do or our common plight of being the outsider in a very homogeneous society. And I'm lucky in that the people around me in Shimane are good folks and I enjoy hanging out with them. Some even enjoy my company, but I don't really have a good friend - a buddy or a pal - in the sense of a person who invites you along to things, wants to hang out just to hang out, and knows me on a more personal level than "That old American guy who lives in Taisha." I've never formed an outside-of-work friendship with a Japanese person, and maybe that stems from my lack of Japanese, so hopefully I can concentrate on #2 above and change that.

The loneliness is pretty crushing at times, and makes me very sad some days, so I will try to remedy that as much as I can in 2008. I'm going to busy myself with trying to update my blog here and picture and video sites over the next few days, and as always I have plenty of movies I want to watch and books I want to read.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a safe and fun New Year. Check back for many updates over the coming week, and I'll see you in 2008!


Saturday, December 29, 2007

December pictures

The 7th grade Chorus girls and Santa
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

I had some fun times in December, dressing up as Santa at both my Jr High Schools and greeting the kids with handshakes and "Merry Christmas" as they came to school in the morning.

I also took a bunch of pics of my kids wearing my Santa hat. And I visited a few of my elementary schools for Christmas lessons.

Click on any of the pics to see more from the weeks leading up to Christmas in Taisha.


Christmas week at Taisha Chu - 11.jpg

Volleyball girls

Special guest - Moriyama sensei

The students at Usagi with me

Friday, December 28, 2007

Chorus and Volleyball

The 9th graders!
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Here are two more sets of pictures from last summer that I forgot to post. Pics from the Chorus Club and the Volleyball team.

On July 24th, I started the day by driving down to nearby Oda to watch my girls Volleyball team. They did well and won their matches. Then I drove back up to Izumo and watched my Chorus club compete in a regional competition. You'll notice in the two sets of pics from the 24th that I'm wearing the same t-shirt.

Then on July 25th, I drove to Oda again to watch my Vball girls, but they lost in the penultimate match, meaning they didn't get to advance to the next competition. Lots of crying and sad faces.

That night I took the nightbus to Osaka to get my flight home the next morning on the 26th.

If I recontract it's going to be even more hectic next summer as I'll have two schools to try and cheer for - luckily they often end up at the same competitions - and I've even been to a match already where Hamayama fought against Taisha. Those are gonna be tough.

I've also uploaded a few pics from the Chorus concert at Taisha's music hall - the Urarakan - that took place in June.


Kanako & Yuka

Thursday, December 27, 2007

J-List banner ads

girls tennis in Gotsu - kentaikai - 21.jpg
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Hello -

If you come to my blog regularly, then maybe you've noticed the new box on the right side that is an advertisement/link to a web site called "J-List."

I've shopped on their site for years now, and they have a small incentive program, so if you click on the link thru my page here, I get a small credit for use on the site. I've never put up an ad on my blog before, but I like the guys at J-List, so I'm happy to lend any support I can.

If you're in Japan, then many of the products they sell can also be bought in your local store. If you live in the rest of the world, it's a great site to get unique Japanese items, and they have lots of fun stuff too, like t-shirts and toys and Japanese snacks like Pocky.

The "Yokozuna" t-shirt I'm wearing in this pic is a "J-List Original" shirt - I get a great reaction out of Japanese people when I wear it. It shows that I'm a sumo fan (The term "yokozuna" is the name for the grand champion of Sumo), and it's a little inside joke too, since the font and coloring are identical to a chain of restaurants here called "Yoshinoya."

I also highly recommend signing up for the weekly email update from J-List. The owner/operator, a nice guy named Peter, sends it out each week and always includes some info about living in Japan. But he's also from San Diego, which is my hometown too, and that's where the J-List offices and distribution center is for the United States.

Anyway - I'll probably play around with the graphics and the size and placement of the ad box, but if you have some extra time, click on it and check out the site. (Be aware that there are two sites - one has all-ages items and one also includes items only for adults)

-Jason "Yokozuna" H.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kendo and Tennis

Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Going thru my iPhoto selection, I noticed that I have pics from earlier this year that I forgot to post.

Here are two such batches of pics from late July. Just before I flew home to America for summer vacation, I went around to watch my kids play in their regional competitions.

I drove about 2 hours south to Gotsu to watch my girls tennis team. I'm glad I did as Saki and Ayumi - two great 9th graders - won the whole competition and were given the trophy for the best pair in Shimane prefecture.

I also drove down to nearby Oda to watch my kendo team compete - neither team - the boys or the girls - made it to the next level - but one individual girl - Yuki W. - made it to All-Japan. And she's just an 1nen sei, so I expect big things from her in the next two years.

Click on either pic to see more from these competitions.


girls kendo team

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

my first vlog - Merry Christmas from Japan

Merry Christmas and even tho it's early, I'll say "Happy New Year" too.
I finished 40 of the new years cards I talk about in this video, so I've got about 20 more to do.
But right now NHK is showing the San Diego Chargers football game, so it's my Christmas present. My only one. Well, I did get a bottle of Coca-Cola as a present from one of my kids. :)

Below is a fun little video from the Charity Christmas concert I went to on the 24th.


Friday, December 21, 2007


For my students who watch my blog - this is a guy I met on YouTube and he does a bi-lingual vlog (video blog). He lives in America and blogs about American culture in Japanese and also blogs about learning Japanese in English.

おもしろいのビデオ ー みってください。


Monday, December 17, 2007

TJH is #1 school at Hokuryo HS Speech Contest

Thumbs Up!
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Hello All -

I posted some pics from a speech contest that took place about a month ago on Saturday, November 10th at Hokuryo High School, a local private school.

This was my fourth time attending the contest with students, and my first time taking two sets of kids - one set from Taisha JH and one set from Hamayama Chu.

I had some success at Hokuryo my 2nd year, when two of my kids took home prizes, but last year we went home empty-handed.

So I'm pleased to announce that Taisha Jr High was awarded the Top Team trophy for the first time since 2003. In addition to the #1 school trophy, two of my kids took home individual prizes - 8th grader Kensuke got a 3rd place plaque for his recitation of "Plastic Bags & Turtles" and 7th grader Koki got a 2nd place plaque for his recitation of "The Hungry Lion." 9th grader Risa also did a great job, and her recitation of "An American Rakugoka" helped push Taisha to the top for the #1 school team trophy.

My 3 kids from Hamayama Jr High also did well, but I had much less time to practice with them. None of them won a prize, but I was proud of all of them for a job well done. I know next year we'll spend some more time preparing and have a better chance of nabbing a prize.

I had lots of help from Nagami sensei, pictured here, and Nariai sensei getting the kids ready. And over at Hamayama Chu, Yoshida sensei helped me out. It makes a big difference if one of your JTEs is supportive of the kids trying to do a speech contest.

This Saturday, the 10th, was a busy day, as after spending most of the day at Hokuryo, I had to head over to the Urarakan music hall for the evening "Thanks Concert" put on by the Taisha JH Brass Band.

A full day, but I was smiling all night after our victory at Hokuryo.

Way to go Risa, Kensuke and Koki!!


Monday, December 10, 2007

Taisha's Culture Festival - Bunka Sai 2007

2007 Bunka Sai - afternoon - 41.jpg

More pictures to show off...

I posted my pics from Taisha Jr High's 2007 Culture Festival (bunka sai).

This took place at the Urarakan and in the TJH gym on October 25th.

In the morning, each of the 12 homeroom classes sang two songs at the Urarakan, the music hall across from the school. The Principal (kocho sensei) and Vice-Principal (kyoto sensei) and some of the teachers acted as judges, and three prizes were given out in each of the three grade levels - best conductor, best pianist, and best singing.

The kids all have to sing the same first song, and then can choose what song they want to sing for their 2nd song.

2007 Bunka Sai - morning - 25.jpg

2007 Bunka Sai - morning - 26.jpg

One or two of the kids from each homeroom plays the piano for their class and one kid (but sometimes two) conducts. I only took pics of the 3nen sei kids singing, since my pics at the Urarakan never come out that great - the lighting is always a problem and the zoom lens on my Nikon is not that powerful.

The singing takes from about 9am to about Noon, and then we go back to school for bento lunch. Then, in the afternoon, from about 1:30 to 4:30 we have cultural performances and a kind of talent show, where the 9th graders get to perform comedy skits, sing, perform with their band, etc. That's the fun part of the day for me - I'm always curious to see what hidden talents my kids have - who can play electric guitar - who is funny on stage - who has a future career as an MC.

This year the kids did a kind of kabuki performance, did a traditional dance with wooden clappers and there were some funny skits (I can only judge by the laughter of others since I can't really understand the jokes), and three of the boys played in a rock band. And my 9th grade chorus girls performed their English song - Seasons of Love from the film/play "Rent." They did a great job. (I had helped them rehearse and was very proud of them!)
The art project this year was a giant paper mache origami-style crane that they hung from the ceiling of the gym.

And we had a group of high school students from Finland visiting, so they got up on stage and sang two traditional Finnish folk songs.

Click on any photo to see more from that day - and I'll try to individually label them soon, but it's 1am now and I have school tomorrow, so it's off to bed. Oyasumi nasai. :)


2007 Bunka Sai - afternoon - 13.jpg

2007 Bunka Sai - afternoon - 52.jpg

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Halloween lessons - 4 elementary schools

Halloween prep at Araki eigo club - 2.jpg

Hello All -

I'm in the process of making a short movie highlighting my Halloween lessons from this year - I'm making the movie as a way to include all the short video clips I shot during October.

But here are the pics that I'll also be using to make the movie.

I had Halloween lessons at 5 of my shogakko during October - unfortunately I didn't get any good pics from my lessons at Nagahama Sho - my newest elementary school.

But here are some fun pics from the other 4 schools I visited - Araki, Hinomisaki, Taisha and Yokan.


Araki - the pics from Araki sho both my English club kids preparing for our Trick or Treating day (which never happened due to snafus in the schedule) and the combined Super English lesson with both 6th grade homeroom classes.

Halloween at Araki Sho - 8.jpg

Maho & Saki

Taisha - pics from lessons with all 3 classes of 2nd graders. I had lots of help with these lessons from the new main English teacher for all my shogakko - Miymi! She's a great teacher and we have fun lessons together. I don't get to visit elementary schools as often now that I have two Jr High schools, so Miymi was hired full time to teach English lessons at 6 of my shogakko.

The coolest 2nd graders in Taisha

Too Cute!!

Hinomisaki - Hinomisaki is one of my smaller schools, with only about 37 kids in the whole school. So we had an all-school Halloween event, and I dressed up in my "Merlin/Dumbledore sensei" costume for this one.

the 5th and 6th graders

Halloween party at Hinomisaki Sho - 8.jpg

Yokan - I had a fun lesson with the one 6th grade class at Yokan. The kids had decorated their classroom and made their own costumes and we played a game and then had some trick-or-treating fun, including bobbing for apples in a kiddie pool.

6nen sei in costume

Great costumes

Sunday, December 02, 2007

It's a Fat world after all....

I listen to a podcast from iTunes recorded by film director Kevin Smith and his producing partner, Scott Mosier. It's called SModcast - I'm sure it can be easily found by doing a search on iTunes.
They ramble on about all kinds of various things - and since I like their sense of humor, I find it amusing.

Recently, they talked about an article they saw on Wired.

I thought it was interesting since something similar happened to me at USJ in Osaka. Yeah - I know - I need to lose weight. :P

Here's the article:

If there's a sadder commentary on the state of American society, we can't think of it -- we've grown so fat we sink the boats of It's A Small World.
According to Miceage (a website that covers all things Disney theme park related - their article is even more in-depth), the boats routinely bottom out under the weight of super-sized riders, bringing the popular ride to a grinding -- literally -- halt. That's increased the wear and tear on the fiberglass boats, which have been in use since the ride opened during the 1964 World's Fair, when Americans, on average, weighed 25 pounds less than we do today.
It's a big problem.

Other rides, including the drop in the Pirates of the Caribbean, face the same problem, Miceage says, but nowhere is it more of headache than It's a Small World.
The ride features several twists and bends where overloaded boats easily bog down, including the "S" bend through the Scandanavian room.
Employees -- Disney calls them "cast members" -- have been aware of the issue for some time now and so discretely leave empty seats in boats carrying heavy riders. But backups persist, and in some cases no one realzes there's a problem until boats stop emerging from the ride.
Disneyland is putting the ride in drydock for 10 months to make it ship-shape again. The boats will be replaced with more buoyant models, and the new flume will be one inch deeper. Work will begin in January.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Halloween party and Ice Cream at 31!

My friend, Ang, teaches at my local high school - Taisha HS. She invited me to come to her ESS (English Speaking Society) Club's Halloween Party. She has a small club of about 6 or 7 students. All girls this year. But they did a nice job of decorating a classroom with Halloween decor. And Ang invited other kids to come along - a bunch of boys from one of the sports teams decided to "crash" the party and eat all the food. :)

But we had a good time - I showed them Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video - and we played a few games. And I got to see some of my former students, so that was cool.

I posted a few pics from the party...

THS ESS Halloween Party - 1.jpg

After the party finished at about 6pm or so, one of my favorite kids from last year, Yuki, walked out to the parking lot with me, chatting about high school - and we met some of my favorite kids from last year - The Takuwa Triplets - who told us they were heading over to Baskin Robbins Ice Cream - called "31" here in Japan - because on the 31st day of any month they give a 31% discount on their ice cream treats. So after school, but just before dinner they were heading over to 31 for some cheap ice cream. Yuki and I and Ang and Kayla decided to join in and go along. We all got double scoops and took over one corner of the small dining area. I took some pics out in the parking lot afterwards...

After ice cream at 31 - The Taisha Girls

And then after that Yuki, Kayla and I hit local family restaurant Gusto for some dinner after our dessert. :)
Yuki did a great job keeping up with the conversation since Kayla and I are both native English speakers.

Hanging out with my kids and former kids like this is really fun - just chatting in a relaxed atmosphere is more rewarding than teaching in some ways. And I have some great kids who are a pleasure to hang out with.

Just yesterday I need to talk to one of the 2nen sei girls on the Volleyball team - I had finally gotten in her t-shirt that I ordered from America - I bought the team Vball t-shirts, but that's a story for another post - so I went along to practice. I'll digress for a moment and say how interesting Jr High sports clubs are here - they basically are unsupervised about 70% of the time but they still practice as hard as if the coach were watching. But my thoughts on Japanese Jr High sports is also a subject for another post.
So I spoke to Aya and noticed that 7 of the 9th grade girls from the team - who don't practice or play anymore since they are now "retired" - were in the gym, in their shorts and sweatshirts, hanging out and hitting balls back and forth while the current team was stretching and doing drills.
I asked why they were there and they basically said that after the two days of full-day testing they just had, they wanted to blow off some steam by playing some volleyball.
So I was ready to leave and go home - it was about 4:30 - but one of my coolest 9th graders -Tomoka - asked me to sit down and chat with them. So I did - and for about 30 minutes we just talked about all kinds of things.
And I was having a mediocre day up to that point - it was a frustrating week of no classes at H chu - but I headed home at about 5:30 with a smile on my face.
Maybe it seems weird for a 38-year-old to enjoy hanging out with teenagers so much, but my kids are great and have a genuine interest in me and what my life is like in Japan - an adult who isn't married or doesn't live with his parents is a rarity - and what my life was like in America - and on the flip side I'm really interested in what they fill up their time with away from school.

So I'm happy that so many of my kids are now checking out this site and my vids and pics - I'm glad I can give back to them a little. Some of them pester me now at school wondering when the latest batch of pics will show up on the site. :P

Lastly, I'm gonna try and post a little Halloween movie from all my pics of my Halloween lessons at my elementary schools.

See ya,

watching sports in October

I had a few days of Sports Watching back in October, so here are a few pics from those days.

I got to see both my schools - Taisha Chu and Hamayama Chu - in action.

I got to see boys and girls tennis...

Taisha tennis at Hamayama Park - 3.jpg

Taisha boys tennis at Hamayama Park - 1.jpg

HJH girls' tennis at Hamayama Park.jpg

and soccer...

Taisha soccer at Hamayama Park - 5.jpg

and track and field...

My Taisha track team is so used to me taking pictures now, they just mess with me and don't take any normal pictures. The girls came up with the "peace star" seen here...

Peace Star - best attempt

4x100 relay team from Hamayama Chu

It was a good few days - most of my kids performed well, but no came in first place or won the whole thing as it were.

These tournaments in October are the first with just the current 2nen sei and 1nen sei without the current 3nen sei, who recently "retired" to concentrate on their high school exams. I also saw kendo and volleyball.

As always you can click on any pic to be taken to my Flickr page to see more pics from those days.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Flip Video camera - a review

So I bought one of these handy, little Flip Video cameras when I was home in San Diego last summer vacation. I've been trying it out in various situations over the past 3 months and here are some things to consider if you're thinking of buying one for yourself or someone else for the holidays....

1 - It is incredibly convenient and easy to use. It's small and light and runs on two regular AA batteries. The buttons are easy to reach and it's simple one touch on and one touch off.
2 - It records in fairly easy to manipulate AVI files.
The one I have records about an hour of video (or about 1 gig) before it's full.

That's the good - now the not-so-good...
3 - The sound is ok, except for the extremes - too loud or too soft or if it's windy outside.
4 - The zoom lens is basically non-existent. This is the biggest drawback for me, and why I will be looking into getting something else for my video needs. As you can see from this kendo video - I was about 50 ft away in the first row of the stands, and everything in the distance is soft and muddy - yes, you can tell it's students playing kendo, but you can't really tell who they are, etc.
Even in my classroom video that I posted before this one - you can't read the signs on the chalkboard and I'm probably only about 20 ft away at the back of the class. So it's ok for up close interviews, but forget about anything beyond a 25ft radius.
5 - The extendable arm is a nice touch, but it won't mesh up well with my iBook, so I bought the cables and these work fine.
6 - At first, the user interface when wanting to watch or upload your Flip clips was incredibly tiresome and hard to use. Flip has recently tried to remedy the problem, but when I tried to download the new interface it wouldn't work and you only get one chance to try. So now I simply hook up the camera, and transfer the AVI files from the camera to my laptop harddrive - which works just fine for me, but may be a little more difficult if you're a complete computer novice. I was VERY frustrated when I first bought the camera with the program they FORCED me to use to see my clips, but now it is slightly better.

In conclusion, I think you get what you pay for. I got my Flip on Amazon and with shipping and the extra cables it came to about $140. Very cheap for a cool little digital video camera, but a very limited-use digital video camera. And I've had to carry around two cameras with me lately - one for pics and one for video. So. I'm going back to having just one camera that does both. It's gonna be my Xmas present to myself.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

random grab bag of pics

autumn leaves outside my apt - 1.jpg
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Hello All -

I just posted a really random assortment of pictures that have been sitting in iPhoto on my laptop for a while.

The picture above is actually a recent picture I took just outside my apartment. The colors of the leaves on all the trees on the mountains are changing and it's sometimes a breathtaking site.

I've said before that I'll never live in such a beautiful place as Taisha again in my life. While the ruralness often has its drawbacks, it also affords some spectacular scenery.

I've also included some pics that fall outside the normal batches of school-related pics I post. Included are some pics of my friends and I enjoying soba noodles at the recent Taisha Soba festival. Also, pics of my English boards at both my schools - I'll soon be putting up my annual Xmas displays.

And some pics of my friend, Yuka's, visit to Taisha back in July. She and I and her friend all had a good time despite some overcast and rainy weather.

Had a good day today with some of my local shogakusei - I've got so many pics to post - I hope to have time to get to them all soon.


Yuka's visit to Taisha - 4.jpg

Saturday, November 17, 2007

2007 Taisha Chu Thanks Concert

2007 Taisha Chu Thanks Concert - 43.jpg
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Last Saturday, after spending the day at a speech contest at a local private high school called Hokuryo, I went to the Taisha music hall for my Jr High's annual "Thanks Concert."

I've posted the rest of the pictures from that event. Before I posted the pics of graduates who I saw at the event, and now I've posted the pics of my chugakusei performing and hanging out in the lobby. I have video too from that night and I hope to be able to post some of them soon too.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Taisha High School kids

Taisha High School kids
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

These pics go with the video in the post below.

I posted 8 pics of former students to my Flickr site.

I finally got Risa on video (see below). Risa is the shyest of her triplet sisters, but her and Kanaka gave me a fun interview.

I already have videos spotlighting the other kids in this pic:

For a good one with Risa's sisters Saki (far left) and Shiho (not in this pic), go Here.

I have a ton of vids of Yuki (far right), but I like this One with her friend Saki from last year.

And you can see one with Kazuki (the tall boy) by going Here.


And I'll post the rest of the pics from the Thanks Concert, featuring my current students soon.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

2007 TJH Sports Day - after lunch

2007 TJH Sports Day - after lunch - 90.jpg
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

I posted the rest of the photos from Taisha Jr High's Sports Day. Click on this pic to be taken to page one of about 6 pages of photos from after lunch on Sept. 7th.

Activities include the dance routines in costume and the awarding of the prizes. My team, the Green Team - Mighty Midori - won 1st place. Class 3-1 is full of great kids, so I'm really happy they won. But all 4 homerooms did a great job on their routines and costumes and all had a fun day.

I'll try and make a movie out of these pics soon, including some of the video footage I shot with my Flip camera.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Print Club - "Purikura"

Hiking Day - Purikura 1
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Purikura pictures are as much a part of Japan for me now as sushi or sumo or bowing.

In case you don't know what they are, here's a brief explanation. Purikura is the nickname for these types of photos, derived from the Japanese pronunciation of "Print Club" or "purinto kurabu" in Japanese katakana. These pictures come from a little booth you go in, take 6 or 8 shots with your friends, and then decorate with light pens and then print out on sticker sheets to be cut up and shared.

You see them everywhere in Japan - both the booths and the pictures themselves - many people use them to decorate their cell-phone and my kids decorate their notebooks and pen case lids with them. Girls seem to like making them more than guys, but the boys have them too. And any student in Jr High or High School will be a purikura expert, knowing the best poses and best things to decorate and write on the pcitures.

I decorated this pic. Simple stuff, just wrote all our names in English and added the crown and bow tie and flower. But the girls knew how to get the machine to email their keitai (cell phone) with the pic and then they emailed it to me. I've taken purikura dozens of times over the past 3 years, but this is the first time I've had digital copies. So that allowed me to post these two on my Flickr acct. In real life, the pics are usually quite small, less than and 1 inch by 1 inch, about the size of a small postage stamp. It usually costs about 400yen for a sheet of about 24 pics.

I like to collect the ones I take, so I've started a book with just pages of purikura pics from my trips to the booth, and from other friends in Japan and students.
When the new Avril Lavigne CD came out, a bunch of my kids asked me if I could make them a copy, so I downloaded it off of iTunes, and burned them copies and charged them purikura pics for the burned CD. Most gave me more than one, so now I have a bunch of fun pics of my kids.

If you come to Japan for a visit, definitely give purikura a try. It's not too hard to follow along even if you don't know Japanese and while some of the booths have a myriad of options, most usually have an "osusume" or recommended course you can just follow.

Yay for purikura!


My Friday at Taisha High School

visiting Taisha HS - 2
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

I had a day off from my Jr High classes on Friday, so I emailed my friend, Ang, who teaches at the local high school and asked her if I could come observe some classes at her school for part of the day. She said sure, so I went to Taisha High School for the morning on Friday, and taught three classes with her and her JTEs.

We taught all 1nen sei (10th grade) classes and all of them had at least a few of my students from Taisha Jr High who are now at THS. It was great to see a bunch of my former students. Taisha High is a BIG school with about 1000 students, and there are 9 homerooms (kumi) in the 10th grade alone. So we taught in 3 of the 9, and had a fun lesson about shopping and Ang's JTEs were really nice, including me in the lesson.

Best of all I got to see some of my favorite kids - like the three on the left in the picture above - Yuki, Hiromi and Shiho. I had class with them during 4th period, right before lunch, so we got to chat a bit after class. I really miss some of them, but they all seem to be doing well at High School, and I must say that many of my former students were raising their hands and answering questions during the English lessons, so that made me happy. :)

After lunch I had to head over to Taisha JH to work on my submissions for the Lesson Plan Swap Book we put together for the ALTs in Shimane. So despite having a "day off" I started my day at 8:30am and ended it at 5pm. Oh well - it was a great day. :)

I just added about 20 pics from Hiking Saturday to my Flickr acct, so click on the pic below to see more pics from that fun day! (They go with the video in the post below)

Kana, Suzune, Momoko and Saya

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Year 4 of my adventure

So I've been writing and posting to this blog for a little over 3 years now. It's morphed a little over time, becoming more of a repository of my photos and videos, almost exclusively about my teaching job, than a diary of my thoughts and feelings.
And that's ok. I set out to give an insight into what it's like to live and work in Japan as an ALT in a rural community, and I think if you go back through the archives and look at my pics and vids, you get a pretty good picture of what life is like for us JETs out here in the inaka.

I was talking to my friend Michele once a few years ago about this blog and I told her how I wanted to go off on a rant about my frustrations and feelings and she advised that I keep the tone of this blog light and informational. She suggested I start a 2nd blog for my "life diary" type entries. Well, it's been a while, but I think I'm going to follow her advice.

But I'm not gonna post the link to my new blog here - I think I'll let that one be anonymous and just rant away if I feel like it. Hopefully doing that will help me sort thru some troubling issues I'm dealing with at the moment.

Lately I've been really depressed. The reason that I mention that here is that if there are aspiring or new JETs reading this, then they should know that despite all the fun I have here, the job is not without it's frustrations, and living here can get to you at times.
My recent low ebb has more to do with personal issues anyway, more so than work related issues. But your personal can spill over into your professional, and I find myself getting annoyed at things at work that would normally not bother me so much.
Of course, my supervisor just sent me an email asking if I want to stay for a 5th year. :P
I don't have to give my official answer until February, but they already want to know for budget planning.

I'm just really not sure. Part of me wants to stay - part of me wants to leave - and part of me wants to stay in Japan but not as a teacher. It's gonna be a tough choice.

My recent bout of self doubt was triggered by a video I watched on You Tube - Click Here to see it.

That video is in itself a response to another video, a short film titled "Are you anybody's favorite person?"

I thought about this and I don't think I am anybody's favorite person. Sure, people like me - I'm a likable guy most of the time. And my kids like me, as I am a fun teacher.
But I don't think I'm anybody's favorite person. I was once, but that was a long time ago now.
And I just don't see that changing anytime soon - certainly not while I'm in Japan. So that's had me thinking, and when I think like this I often suffer from insomnia, which makes me tired and cranky during the day.

Anyway, this is turning into exactly the type of rant I was gonna start posting on my new blog.

This week has kinda sucked, and I haven't been in the mood to edit the movie I mentioned about Taisha's Sports Day or to post anymore pics, etc. But I'm sure come the weekend I'll be bored in my little apartment and you'll see some new stuff here soon.

I hope all is well with you and please come back again for my regular posts soon.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Taisha JH Sports Day prep

Mikitaro, Yuta, Ryo & Yuki
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Hey Gang -

I just uploaded 101 pictures from the days leading up to Taisha Chu's Sports Day.

I'm going to use these 101 pics to make a short movie - so you'll be able to see which ones I use and don't use and how I crop and scan and edit them to make the movie.

Click on this pic of Mikitaro, Yuta, Ryo & Yuki to go to my Flickr page to see all 5 pages of pics.

I wanted to make one movie for their Sports Day, like I did for Hamayama Chu, but I have SOOOOOO many pics of my Taisha Kids that I've decided to make two films - part one will be these pics and the prep and part two will be a longer film including 200+ pics from the actual day of the event.

I hope to have the first, shorter film ready and posted to my You Tube acct by the end of this week.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Video update - Brass Band and Volleyball

I added 4 vids today - 3 from when I went with Taisha's brass band club to Tottori ken for the Chugokutaikai - and one from a recent Volleyball match here in Izumo.
The band vids are from the same day as the recent batch of pics I added to my Flickr site.
You can see the some of the band kids ducking my ever-present camera, and some being the natural hams that they are.

I have lots of short vids like these that I hope to post over the coming week, so check back for updates.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sakamoto sensei & the 9th grade Brass Band members

Sakamoto sensei & the 9th graders
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

On August 24th, I drove about 2 hours north-east into adjacent Tottori prefecture to attend the Chugokutaikai - the regional competition for my Brass Band club.

I actually missed their performance by about 10 minutes (shhhh - don't tell anyone...) because I got a little lost and underestimated how long it would take me to get to the music hall. So just as I arrived, my kids were coming out of the main hall into the lobby to have their pictures taken. So I got to snap plenty of pics and hang out with them until the results were announced. They made the top 7, but not the top 3, which would have allowed them to go on to the All-Japan competition. From Shimane prefecture, Izumo First Jr High once again advanced - they are quite the powerhouse school in the Brass Band arena.

Once again, my band kids this year have turned out to be some of my favorite kids to hang out with and chat with - really great kids and quite a few of them are very good musicians as well.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Taisha HS school festival

Taisha HS school festival - 10.jpg
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Click here to see a few pics from my visit to Taisha High School during their school festival back in late August.

My friend, Ang, teaches at THS, and many of my former students graduate and go to THS. So it was great to visit for a few hours and see a bunch of my old kids.

They have a 2-day school festival just before their day-long Sports Day. During the festival, they have theme rooms (haunted house, game rooms, food rooms, etc) and homeroom performances by the 12th graders, like the girls in this picture.

I didn't take too many pics at their Sports Day on Sept 1st - but I did shoot some video, which I've posted to my You Tube account.


Chorus kentaikai in Matsue - genki 9th graders!

Chorus kentaikai in Matsue - genki 9th graders!
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Click here to see some pics of my great Chorus Club girls. I attended their prefecture competition in the capital of Shimane, Matsue, back in August. The girls sang well, but did not advance to the regional competition.

I've been working with these 10 girls after school preparing them for a performance at the school Cultural Festival at the end of October. I'm teaching them a song in English from the film "Rent." The song is called "Seasons of Love" and I think we'll be able to pull off a great performance.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Taisha JH Class picture day - a short movie

Hey Gang,

All my 9th graders gathered in front of the school recently to have their group picture taken for the endpapers in the graduation yearbook.

The official photographer went up to the 2nd floor of the school and shot his pics looking down on the group of about 150 kids and teachers. So I went with him and snapped away.

I then took those pics, and some I shot that same day in the stairwell by the 9th grade classrooms, and assembled them into the little film you're watching now. Kinda rough with not many transitions, but iMovie allows me to zoom into the large group shots, something you can't really do just looking at the pics on my FLICKR page.

I'll post the original pics I used to make the movie on my Flickr page soon.

Enjoy the film, and the music is by OreSkaBand in case you're interested.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

The 41st Annual Lafcadio Hearn Speech Contest

Yuta, Sumie & Nagami sensei
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Lafcadio Hearn was an Irish writer who lived in Shimane about 100 years ago and he became famous for his writings on Japan and his translations of traditional Japanese folk tales.

Every year in Matsue, the capital of Shimane, they hold a English recitation contest in his honor, where Japanese high school and Jr High school students have to memorize a short selection (about two pages) written by Hearn and recite it in front a small panel of judges.

This year 49 Jr High students took part, and as always, Taisha Jr High was represented well by two 3nen sei students.

This year, Yuta (on the left) and Sumie (in the middle) agreed to memorize the at-times very-dated English and add gestures and with the help of me, Nagami sensei (on the right) and Nariai sensei (see my other pics on Flickr), shape their recitations in cohesive presentations.

I've had very good luck over the years at the Hearn contest.

My first year, 2004, I took two 2nen sei students, and one, Hitoshi Yamane, won a top prize. Hitoshi had lived in America for a few years when he was a young boy, and his English is very good. His recitation of "A Living God" was excellent.

My next year, 2005, I took two 3nen sei girls to the contest, and again came away with one of the top prizes. Asuka Tezen won for her recitation of "Sayonara!"

Last year, 2006, I again took two 3nen sei girls, and again won one top prize. Mami Sato won for her rendition of "Butterflies" which at least one of my kids has chosen to recite every year I've been involved.

This year I knew would be a challenge, as Yuta and Sumie were both novice speech givers, whereas in years past I've taken kids that had already done one of the less difficult speech contests the year before they attempted Hearn.

Both gave excellent speeches yesterday, remembering all their lines and incorporating their gestures fluidly. But unfortunately neither walked away with a prize.

But this year I think I truly felt satisfaction at a job well done.
Yuta and Sumie are both great kids. They started rehearsing about 4 weeks ago and went from 0 to 100 in a very short time. I couldn't be more proud of their achievement and their hard work.

And I think they also felt good about their performances, despite not winning a prize. I know in the future they will face any English assignment with full confidence that they can do it. They know they were better than many of the kids at the contest, and even though they weren't judged to be among the best, they also know how much they've improved over the past month. So I think they are happy and satisfied that they did their best.

And we had such a fun day Saturday. With 49 5-minute speeches to get through, it was gonna be a long day.

But we got lucky in that both Sumie and Yuta were scheduled to present in the morning session, so from about 12:30 until the awards ceremony at 4pm, we were free to do what we wanted.

So we had lunch at McDonald's - only the 2nd time in her whole life that Sumie has eaten at McDonald's, which is a worthy topic for a whole 'nother post. Then we went to a local shopping complex called Saty and I got to buy some Dr. Pepper at an import shop. (I really LOVE Dr. Pepper!)
They have purikura (print club) photo booths, so the three of us took pics while the "adult" teachers (I'm older than both of them) drank coffee at a local cafe.
Then we still had time to kill, so I convinced the kids and teachers to go to karaoke for an hour before heading back to the contest.

So we had a great afternoon before the letdown of no prize.

The girl who won the top prize in the Jr High division gave the same speech as Yuta, but her English was flawless and had a hint of a British accent. So I asked the ALT (Bill) at her school if she had lived abroad in Hong Kong or England and sure enough, she had lived in London for two years. You could totally tell.
Unlike the big, prestige speech contest that takes place in Tokyo every year and is named in honor of a member of the Japanese royal family, there is no rule prohibiting students who have lived abroad from competing at this local contest.
As a coach, I can help my students be confident speakers who use a loud voice and effective gestures, but it's difficult for me to overcome long-inbedded pronunciation issues in just one month of practice.

Anyway - I took video of each kid giving their speech so I'll try to get that posted to my You Tube site soon.

Enjoy the pics!

And congrats to Yuta and Sumie for a job well done and how happy they made me watching them do their best.

Monday, September 17, 2007

HJH & TJH Track n Field in Hirata

HJH & TJH Track n Field in Hirata - 17.jpg
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Last week I started working at my new Jr High - Hamayama Chu.

It's about 10 minutes from my house by car, and is about the same size as Taisha Chu, with about 450 students.

My first week at HJH was all preparations for their Sports Day, which took place last Friday, the 14th. It was a fun and casual week, and I had a good time meeting all my new students.

I took hundreds of pictures at both Sports Days - Taisha's on the 7th and Hamayama's on the 14th.

I hope to label and organize them and post them soon.

I'll probably post the pics from HJH first, since I don't know any of the kids' names yet, so that will save me time in labeling and I want to tell the kids there about my blog, so it'll be good to have some pictures for them to look at when they visit.

Basically I now do one week at Taisha, and then one week at Hamayama and then repeat.

This week coming up is a TJH week and I'll be busy after school everyday preparing Sumie and Yuta for the Lafcadio Hearn speech contest, which takes place this Saturday, the 22nd.

I've also started rehearsing with my 9th grade choir members - I'm teaching them a song from the play/film "Rent" called "Seasons of Love" to sing at the school cultural festival in late October.

So I'm busy, but doing well. Next time I'm at HJH will be lots of my self-introduction lessons, and I hope to be able to use my laptop and show pictures of America and pictures of their Sports Day.

The pictures I just posted are from a small Track n Field tournament in nearby Hirata that I went to yesterday. Kids from both TJH and HJH were competing, so I got to hang out with kids from both schools. Now of course I have to cheer for both schools when members of each are in the same race.

So click on this pic to see a few more from the T&F meet.

I'm busy watching the sumo everyday, but I hope to post more pics soon.


Japanese High School kids do STOMP

Here is another video from the Taisha High School festival, the day before their Sports Day. Each homeroom class of 3nen sei (12th graders) puts on a 7-minute routine. This class chose to do a "Stomp" performance. You get to hear some Avril and see some baton twirling.

You can go to my You Tube page for part ONE of this perfomance. I also posted 2 other vids from THS.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

chatting with Chugakusei - let's meet Miyuki

Here is a short video with Miyuki, one of my 9th graders who used to play kendo. (All the 9th graders are now "retired" from their after-school clubs and sports teams so they can start to concentrate on studying for their high school exams)

You can see Miyuki, Yuki and Ayumi in this clip, all members of 3-1 class and on the green team for Sports Day, which is tomorrow. I have been assigned to the Green Team this year, so when I was in America I bought green braclets for all 36 kids in the class and a green t-shirt for the homeroom teacher and had all the kids sign it in permanent pen on the back.

Lots more video and pictures from Sports Day as I have time to post them.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Japanese High School kids sing Avril

You can read the description of this video at my YouTube site by clicking on the words "You Tube" in the lower right corner of this video - it'll take you to the vids page on You Tube and I typed a couple of paragraphs explaining this vid.

Of course, you can also just watch and enjoy. :)

Shot at Taisha High School, the school of choice for the majority of my Jr High school students.

The sound is variable since it was really windy last Saturday.

I went to Izumo High School's sports day today, but missed the dances and cheering. Got to see a few of my former students, so that was fun, but I made the classic mistake...

I was introducing one of my former kids to Tyler, the new ALT at Izumo HS, and I said "This is Kasumi." Of course, her name is actually "Narumi." I'm so bad with names, and I hate it when I can't remember a former student's name.

Anyway - more pics and vids soon. My school's sports day is supposed to be this Friday, the 7th, but it might rain, so we'll see.


Monday, September 03, 2007

1nen sei Sports Day in July

shoes and tea
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Catching up with some already posted pics - these two were taken in July during the Ichi Nen Sei (7th grade) only Sports Day.

The 1nen sei girls played dodgeball and the boys played basketball in the gym.

The pic above is the entrance way to the gym - the kids have to remove their "indoor" slippers before going into the gym, where they can then put on special-soled gym-only sneakers. The girls, well-prepared as always, have flasks of cold tea and sweat towels - the boys just sweat into their shirts and go thirsty.

The pic below is of three of my most genki 7th grade girls who I think will provide me with plenty of good poses over the next few years.

Enjoy the pics and I'll try to post more soon.


Love this pic!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sports Day prep - Aug 2007 - #2

Members of 3-4 class working on their dance routine for our upcoming Sports Day.

The 9th graders have to come up with a 5-min routine, that includes a class cheer, and then teach the routine to the 8th graders and 7th graders next week.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

pics from the 9th grade Sports Day in July

Mai - SLAM! - 4.jpg
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

For three days in July, my Jr High has a grade-specific sports day for each grade in the school.

On this day, the 9th grade boys played basketball and the 9th grade girls played volleyball - competing in a double-elimination tournament with all the homerooms.

I missed the 8th grade tournament this year - I had to go visit an elementary school that day, but I did get a bunch of pics of the 7th graders, which I hope to post soon.

Click on this great shot of Mai going up for a SMASH to be taken to my Flickr page to see about 50 more pics from this hot, hot day in the gym with my 9th graders.