Archive for the ‘Everyday Life’ Category


July 6, 2010


I suppose it was inevitable, but Julie and I have recently started collecting records.  We were finally convinced after hearing the sound quality of some albums on vinyl that our friend played for us a few weekends ago.  I don’t think we’ll take it too seriously or anything but over the years to come I imagine we’ll gradually accumulate some of our favorite albums and spin them while we relax at home.  

Of course it’s also fun to go digging around for old, forgotten records.  We were able to do just that in the tiny town of Hiranai and the following week in the city of Hachinohe.  

Here’s the recycle shop in Hiranai with the records.  I can’t remember if we’ve blogged about this place before or not, but it’s absolutely amazing.  All sorts of antiques, toys, clothes, and appliances.  You can find anything from cooking utensils to traditional wooden dolls to bed frames to analog synthesizers to a kanji printing press.    And, of course, there is a huge cache of records.  


Stuff we found:  


Takeshi and the Blue Jeans. This is without a doubt our best find. On this record the band plays surf rock versions of traditional Japanese folk songs with the electric guitar carrying the melody. So why does the album cover look so rebellious? Well, when these guys were making music, the electric guitar was pretty controversial. I’ve read reports that an attempt was made to ban the instrument from being played in public places (though obviously those efforts were in vain).  

Takeshi and his band were heavily influenced by the Ventures as were thousands of other young people in Japan in the ’60s.  In fact if you look close enough you can see the Ventures logo on the headstock of the guitar.  The Ventures continue to play hundreds of shows in Japan every year.  They’ve sold more albums in Japan than the Beatles.  Later this month I’ll get a chance to see them live in Misawa.  


Theme from the show "God Mars," an animated robot show that aired from 1981-1982.




Our main find in Hachinohe was a collection of Ishida Ayumi 45s.  Julie and I became fans of Ishida a couple of years ago.  


One last story about the recycle shop in Hiranai.  While were browsing the aisles I came across a set of four records that appeared to be a collection of nationalistic/military songs from the early 1900s through World War II.  The set was in perfect condition and included several photos and some sort of informational essay that accompanied it.  We couldn’t believe we found it.  It was like finding an important historical document and made the other records we found seem like 40 year old candy wrappers.  

So we brought it to the counter and then owner said, in Japanese of course, “Oh this record.  Was it over there?  Oh, I see, well, I’m sorry about it’s not for sale.  It’s my personal record.  Sorry.”  

It was disappointing but at the same time he can appreciate that record in ways we’ll never be able to so it’s just as well.  We’re just glad it won’t be tossed into the trash anytime soon.


The Past Few Months

April 12, 2010


So it’s been a while.  Many of you who have been keeping up with our Flickr photos probably already know that Julie’s parents visited us a few weeks ago.  We’ll have a post or two of the trip up in a few days.

In the meantime we thought we’d write about a few things that happened to us since our last post (nearly three months ago).

After our big trip to Nagano we more or less went into money saving mode.  In early January we took advantage of the generous teacher discount (free day passes and rentals) at our local ski hill and went downhill skiing as much as possible on the weekends.  We also started cooking more meals at home which gave us an excuse to learn some traditional Japanese recipes.  Look for a food entry in the near future with lots of photos of our favorite dishes.

Towards the end of the month we got a little burned out on skiing and found other things to do in our free time.  I spent a big chunk of time in January and February reading, studying and playing games of Go, and making music mixes.  Julie continued her yoga, tea ceremony, ikebana and kanji classes, applied for graduate school, and began studying for the GRE.

In early February it really started to hit us that we didn’t have much time left in Japan (we’ll be returning to Portland in August).  Initially this was made us sad but we sucked it up and decided to make the most of the time we had left.  We spent more time hanging out with our friends in the community, including a couple coworkers at my school.

For the rest of February we hibernated and didn’t stray too far from our heater.  At the beginning of March we attended graduation ceremonies at our schools.  We said good bye to some awesome people, including a student I’d been tutoring every day at lunch.

As the school year came to a close a math teacher at my school approached me and asked if I’d be interesting in teaching a couple of math lessons in English.  Since I’ll be returning to teaching high school math in August, I decided to go for it.  In the advanced homeroom class we did an investigation involving a series of diagrams of toothpicks.  The students had to figure out the pattern and create an equation to determine the number of toothpicks in any given diagram.  In the regular homeroom classes we explored the experimental and theoretical probabilities of the game show “Let’s Make a Deal.”  Both lessons went very well, though the investigation was a little nerve-wracking as I was also being observed by three English teachers, two math teachers, a science teacher, the principal, vice principal, two graduating seniors, and the school nurse.

For the rest of March we prepared for the arrival of Julie’s parents and the departure of our coworkers who would be transferring to other schools.  It turns out one of our good friends, a person who works at my school, was transferred to a town pretty far away from Noheji.  It was very difficult to say good bye to this person but we know that we’ll see them again in the months to come and will continue to correspond when we get back to the U.S.

About a week and a half ago we met our new coworkers.  At Noheji High School I’ll be working with four new English teachers who are all extremely nice, interesting, and professional.  I think the last few months of teaching are going to be a lot of fun.

One last update relating to the game of Go.  I’ve been playing in monthly mini-tournaments (6 people) at the Noheji club for quite a while now and have been coming in either first or second pretty consistently over the past several months.  This past week I competed with a 7 kyu ranking and went 5-0, even legitimately beating a 6 dan opponent (13 ranks higher than me) for the first time.  It made me wonder if I was stronger than 7 kyu.  The week previously, at a Go club in Shichinohe, one of the members guessed I was around 3 kyu (4 ranks higher than I was at the tournament).  This seems a little high to me and I suspect I’m probably somewhere in the middle between the two rankings.  At any rate, I’m further along than I thought I’d be at this point but I still have some gaps that I need to fill to get to where I want to be before we leave.

If the ranking thing is mysterious to you, I’m basically a solid intermediate level player as of right now.  A 1, 2, or 3 kyu rank is advanced-intermediate.

I think that’s it.  Sorry for the lack of pictures but we’ll be sure to post a bunch in the posts to come, including:

1.  Exploring Aomori with Julie’s parents.

2.  Exploring Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Tokyo with Julie’s parents.

3.  Homecooked meals (including some delicious one-pot (nabe) dishes).

Recent Stuff

December 14, 2009


Over the weekend I participated in the Noheji Go Club’s monthly Go tournament.  I managed to win 3 games out of 5, which ended up being good enough for second place (there were seven people competing).  My prize?  The usual four boxes of tissues (awarded to everyone who enters the tournament) and three bars of soap.

Also over the weekend we celebrated the first day of Hanukkah with some friends in Towada City.  Our host, Bryan, went to a nearby second-hand store and picked out a gift for everybody.  Here’s the gift I received:

Here’s what it can do:

Catching Up

November 12, 2009


Well, it’s the middle of November and Fall is heading out the door.  The temperature has dropped significantly.  I now wear a coat on my morning walk to school, but there’s still no ice so I can get a way with tennis shoes for at least another week.  Another sign of winter’s arrival:  The river I walk by every day is full of spawned out, black and white zombie salmon.  While we’ve been teaching and attending seminars they’ve been facing upstream, swimming just enough to stay in the same place.  It’s as if the river has become their treadmill for training for the afterlife.

We’ve been busy.  Fall is definitely the time of year where we have the most classes to teach.  There are also quite a few seminars to attend, most of which are helpful and/or awesome.  Just last week Julie and I went to the Misawa City to help some high schoolers get ready for an upcoming school trip to Hawaii.  The day was spent practicing English conversation and learning more about Hawaiian culture.  In addition to helping out with homestay simulations, shopping, and calling a hotel, we taught the students a little bit about the Hawaiian language.  It was a very fun day.

What’s on the horizon?  More work, more use of our heater, probably less driving around, and lots of warm drinks.  Oh, and a blog post about the Noheji Trampoline Club.

Mt. Eboshi 2009

October 13, 2009


My entire school climbed a nearby mountain a few weeks ago.  We did this last year too but this time I was able to climb with the students up to the top and back down again.  The hike, to and from the school, was 24 km.

Mt. Eboshi in the distance

At the summit. Mutsu Bay, Noheji Town, and Yokohama Town in the background.

More Mutsu Bay, Hiranai Town, and Natsudomari Peninsula

Most of Aomori Prefecture looks like this. When the lighting is just right, you can see why they call it the "blue forest."

Awkwardly smiling in the wind.

As you can see, at the summit we were treated to a glorious view of Noheji Town, Mutstu Bay, Shimokita Peninsula, Natsudomari Peninsula, and our neighboring towns of Hiranai, Shichinohe, and Yokohama.  To see all the places where we spend the vast majority of our time all at once was breathtaking to say the least and made each kilometer on the hike worth it.

As for wildlife, no frogs this year.  However I did get a few photos of some large grazing mammals.

Yellow Rice Fields

October 13, 2009


Here’s what it looks like around here right now.  Lots of yellow rice fields, blue skies, and green mountains.

Last Days of Summer

August 31, 2009


Actually, summer is over.  Typhoon season is officially in session and fall is right around the corner.  However, we still had some fantastic summery weather this weekend.  To celebrate the last bit of summer, as well as some birthdays, an ALT gathering was held at a beach on the outskirts of Hachinohe this weekend.

Hardcore fishing. At one point this guy had three rods going at once.

Those two pictures were obviously taken with my cell phone. I wish I’d have taken my camera with me because the light was just about perfect in the late afternoon.

As for the event itself, it was an awesome time. There was a healthy mix of conversation, swimming, frisbee, football, and barbecue.  I was able to meet a bunch of new ALTs in our area and catch up with some not-so-new people who I hadn’t seen in a while as well. The new crew is a pretty solid bunch.

In what was probably the most surreal moment on the weekend, one of the (awesome) new ALTs told me that I looked familiar.  Then he realized he had seen pictures of me on our blog before his arrival to Japan.  He’d Googled for Hachinohe blogs and stumbled upon our entry about the concert and unexpected springtime blizzard amidst cherry blossoms.  I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised as we purposely tag entries so people can find them, but I was.  It’s a small world I guess.  Or maybe just a small Aomori-ken blogosphere.

Anyway, we may have a few more entries in the works later in the week.  Julie wants to write up an entry or two about her trip to Tokyo and Kyoto with our friend Britni.  There may also be an entry about omnikin ball and I’m debating about whether or not I want to type something up about the recent election here in Japan.  We’ll see.

Where have we been?

August 10, 2009


We haven’t posted in a while and with good reason.  Two weekends ago we were busy planning for an English barbecue at our apartment.  Our friend in town who teaches English privately to elementary and junior high school students invited approximately fifty people over for hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and soda.  Yes, that’s right, we celebrated the 4th of July…in August.

A few days before the big barbecue, our friend Britni arrived from the States.  As you can imagine, we’ve spent a lot of our free time showing her all the good things Aomori has to offer.  Since it’s August, this included participating in the famous Aomori Nebuta festival, watching the brilliant Tachinebuta festival in Goshogawara, attending a tea ceremony, exploring Hirosaki Castle, meeting Julie’s coworkers, meeting our ALT friends, watching wacky television shows, and of course, eating delicious seafood and ramen.

On top of all that, I helped out at an English camp for junior high and high school students in Aomori City over the weekend.  When I wasn’t running English activities I was running around in the gym playing basketball, American football, and wall ball (a game I taught them how to play).  It was exhausting, but a ton of fun.

Highlights of English Camp

Eight other ALTs attended English Camp this summer.  In addition to running activities, we were each put in charge of a group of ten students who competed against other teams in various English activities.  This included writing and performing a skit with props.  My team, team Ultraman, had to write a play incorporating the phrase “Does he have influenza?”  In the skit, Winnie the Pooh invites his friends over for a Halloween party where they decide they should go skiing later.  Two months later, they go skiing, Pooh gets lost, rescued, and it is feared he has influenza.

The main activities I was in charge of included an English logic puzzle and a shopping simulation.  Of the two, the shopping simulation was my favorite.  A Japanese teacher and I sold Alaskan products to students including totem poles (badminton poles) and bear meat (sold by the kilogram).  Towards the end of the simulation, my coworker would steal an item.  I’d wait for my students to yell “Help!  Help me!” and then I’d chase after the teacher and arrest him with some toy handcuffs.

But my favorite part of the weekend was just hanging out and talking with students.  As far as camp counseling goes, I’m not the kind that exudes enthusiasm and effervesces Fun! and Excitement! everywhere I go.  I take a much quieter approach and try to get to know the students.  It’s a balance.  Those rowdy leaders are certainly necessary for a successful camp but I think having a few people take a more subdued approach helps make it more inclusive.

Look for more updates on the blog soon.  I’ll be typing up posts for Nebuta festivals in Aomori and Goshogawara soon.  Tomorrow I’m attending a Go tournament for the teachers of Aomori Prefecture so I’ll be sure to post a few pictures and comments on that as well.

As I alluded earlier, Julie will be sightseeing with Britni in Kyoto and Tokyo this week.  When she gets back, I reckon we’ll have even more blog entries for you to read.

Trivia Weekend

June 25, 2009


Last weekend we ventured South to the Oirase Gorge to participate in the annual Aomori trivia contest.  Fun was had before, during, and after the actual contest.  Here are some pictures of us exploring famous Lake Towada before the competition on Saturday afternoon.

Swan and pink dinosaur paddle boats.

Our friends opted for the swan boat.

Oh, and our team tied for third.

Lawn Mowing

June 18, 2009



Although it’s not quite summer, the grass is green and growing in Aomori.  How do people mow their lawns here?  I’ve seen people do it three ways.  People who have a large territory to cover seem to prefer riding lawn mowers.  I’ve also seen a couple people with a small amount of grass to trim use simple push mowers.

The most popular method, however, seems to be Japan’s version of the weed wacker.  Most weed wackers that I’ve used in the United States cut plants by whirling a hard plastic wire around in a circle at a high velocity.  There is also a safety guard preventing grass, twigs, and other debris from flying into your face.

All the weed wackers I’ve seen in Japan are basically buzzsaws on a stick.  There is a safety guard, but it’s much smaller and affixed halfway up the pole rather than directly atop the cutting mechanism.  Japan’s weed wacker is essentially a terrifying, circular metal blade at the end of a pole that loudly spins around with the push of a button.  It doesn’t look very safe.  Sometimes when I’m at my desk at work I can hear the metal screech loudly against the ground or a the edge of a building or sidewalk.  I know our grounds crew are trained professionals who know exactly what they’re doing, but that sound is still cringe-inducing and makes me nervous.

It’s also not uncommon for people to let the grass and other plants, flowers, and weeds grow tall before cutting them down.  Often the debris is left in the field (like in the picture above) rather than raked up, collected, and disposed.  I suspect all the caterpillars we’ve seen lately appreciate this.

Well, congratulations for making it through this post.  I know it’s not particularly illuminating or interesting, but we’re trying to update more regularly.  We had to start somewhere.