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.