Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


August 1, 2010



Yesterday Julie and I took our last train out of Noheji for a long, long time.  Tomorrow we’ll be flying back to America where I’ll resume teaching high school math and Julie will begin a master’s program in library science.

There’s a lot that should probably be said in this post, but at the moment I’m at a loss for words.  Perhaps I’ll get some ideas on our ten hour flight tomorrow evening.

For now I will simply say “thank you” to all the wonderful people we met and befriended during our stay in Noheji.  I’m not sure there’s anything we can do to repay you for the kindness you showed to us.  どうもありがとうございました!


Primitive Notebook

December 23, 2009


I found this while looking through old photos on my cell phone.

In case you can’t read that, it says:

Primitive Notebook:

This is the most comfortable notebook you have ever run into.  You will feel like writing with it all the time.

Trampoline Club

November 23, 2009


So we joined a trampoline club in Noheji.  It’s fun.  We take turns hopping up and down and tight, springy, super-classy trampolines with little kids and their parents.  It’s not freestyle though.  There are certain techniques and moves that we’re learning very slowly from our friend Kuni (hi, Kuni!).  Observe:

How not to jump on a trampoline:

This is how it’s done:

More pictures:

Cutting Onions

November 23, 2009


Julie found a solution.

No more tears.

Julie’s Office Trip, 2009

October 31, 2009


You may remember reading about my adventure to Tokyo with my office last year. This year, we went to the bordering prefectures of Iwate and Akita, touring around from stop to stop by bus. I kept a journal during the trip, which I will take from heavily for this post.

Saturday, 6 a.m. My alarm is sounding, but I decide to sleep for 10 minutes more, knowing full well that I’ll only have 30 minutes left to get out the door. I’m scrambling, when I finally do get up, to gather my things and eat something before leaving. Taylor patiently waits, in sweats and his scruffy morning beard, by the front door as I rack my brain for anything I might be forgetting. I’m leaving later than I wanted, so we both run out to the car, which we have to park in a lot on a different block than our apartment. I worry the whole way along the drive to my office, thinking everyone must be there already, waiting.

7:15 a.m. Right on time! No one is at the office. We drive into an empty parking lot. No bus in sight. A bad feeling creeps into my stomach as I automatically start to think back on the directions I received about meeting up before the trip. I try to figure out where it was that I got something wrong. Were we not supposed to meet at the office? Was it 7:15 p.m. last night that we were supposed to meet? I call a coworker. She assures me that I have arrive first. Relief.

7:30 We set off on the bus after everyone arrives. We pick up more office members at 2 other stops. The kanji (aka trip organizers) start passing around snacks and drinks and tell us about what’s in store for the day.

8:30 The sun is bright through the morning mist. The bus is full with the bubbling sound of Japanese conversation.

First stop: Bento lunch at Kamaku Lando.

We also had to sample the famous yakisoba at this stop.

We broke off into groups and I joined in with the ladies for an adventure through Wonder Castle.

Balancing through Wonder Castle.

Little and big people room!


The one-armed handstand on a table room!

Sky diving!

That guy was really worried about his elephant.

Fish friends, swam right out of the pictures.

After a well-needed, hour-long nap on the bus, we stopped at a museum made from an old samurai dwelling. We picked out some souvenirs and headed back to the bus. We drove through a twisting mountain road, with no lack of the beautiful fall foliage that had followed us throughout the morning and afternoon, until we reached Tazawa Lake; the deepest lake in Japan. Our hotel was further up the mountain and we arrived just as the sun was setting.

We settle into our ryokan style hotel rooms and then we had dinner. Oh, how we had dinner.

This was my hotel room. In the evening when the guests leave the rooms, the hotel elves come out of hiding and quickly and efficiently move the table and chairs somewhere and lay out all of the futons for the guests.

Here’s the hotel dining room. Each table has a basket of food ready to be grilled on a fire at the center of the diners. This particular evening there was a pot of bear meat and rice dumpling soup hanging over one of the two fires. The soup fire was also surrounded with whole fish on a stick. The room was toasty warm and super relaxed. Many people chose to wear the yukata (light kimono) provided by the hotel. It’s comfortable and easy to change in and out of when visiting the onsen (public bath) also at the hotel.

This is what my place setting looked like before I started eating.

Here’s one of the many rounds of food grilling in front of us. The chicken is stuffed with gyoza meat and the mushrooms are shiitake with a pepper in the center.

Here’s my place setting right before my food coma set in…

After dinner, the hotel’s super hot and sulfuric onsen relaxed our muscles. I couldn’t stay in longer than a few minutes at a time because it was so hot. After the onsen, more food (!) and visiting until we were all too sleepy to not turn in for the night.

Day 2

Sunday, 6:30 a.m. Again, I push snooze to sleep for another 10 more minutes. Then I remember the onsen, so I cut my snooze short and gather my things together to head out for a morning soak.

Breakfast was fish, soup, nori, mushroom/miso salad, slimy bundle of fibrous seaweed drenched in vinegar or possible pickled, more pickled mystery vegetables, super salty fish eggs, tea, rice, and orange juice. Yum!

We had some extra time in the morning, so a group of us walked around the woods near the hotel. Here’s what we saw:

The overlook.

Close up.

On the bus again. Our first stop is a handmade goods shop. We spend an hour and ten minutes there watching people work on their crafts: iron ware, painted wooden horses, dyed fabric, and yummy treats. A few of my coworkers tried their own hand at the yummy treats.

The area had a really pretty lookout point where a snapped up some more autumn leaf pictures.

Next stop was a sake factory. After a tour through a big building with many large vats and a strong, strong smell, we were sent through the souvenir shop for taste testing. I bought a bottle of amezake; a super sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from rice. Although it tastes really sweet, there is no sugar added.

Last stop was a late-afternoon lunch. We ate at a restaurant famous for its wanko soba. Wanko soba is served bite-to-bite, so as you slurp up some noodles from your bowl, emptying it, a server is standing next to you and immediately splashes another mouthful into your bowl. The servers hold a tray filled with small bowls of these (big) bite sized servings, and stack all the empty bowls next to you so you can count how many you eat. 10 of these bowls is about one normal sized bowl of noodles. When you are full, you cover your bowl so that it can’t be refilled. This sounds reasonable, but the servers are very quick and there is some skill involved in managing to eat your last bite and then quickly cover your bowl before the server can refill it. They really do try to beat you to it and will hold a refill bowl right next to you when they see you are reaching for the lid. I stopped after 35 bowls, and the record for our group was over 80 bowls. The record for that restaurant was a guy who ate over 500 bowls.

It was the most fun I’ve ever had eating soba.

Kado Update

October 31, 2009


I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs the flower arranging class that I have been taking at the agriculture school where I also teach one beginning English class. This past weekend, the school had a huge festival featuring the different classes and what they have been learning.

The Kado (flower arranging) class spent the day before making arrangements to be on display in one of the classrooms during the festival. Here’s what we came up with:

My flowers before...

...and then after!

My classmates and teacher (top left).

Summer Break, Britni’s visit: Aomori

September 13, 2009


My good friend since college, Britni, was able to visit us in Japan from July 31st – August 17th. For the first part of her trip, she was able to observe our daily lives in Aomori, experience a few festivals, and get a feel for the community of Noheji.

During this time, I hosted an “English party” for the students of a private English teacher in town. Britni was the guest of honor.

That afternoon we visited Asamushi Aquarium, about a 30 minute drive from Noheji.

We geared up for the Aomori Nebuta festival. Nothing cures jet-lag like jumping up and down in the streets for 2 hours straight.

After spending a day with me at my office and trying out yoga the next evening, we set off to conquer our next festival: Goshogawara Tachi Neputa.

We were able to join in with the dancing portion of the parade for a bit.

That weekend my tea ceremony teacher, Toriyama-sensei, provided a ceremony for Britni, me, and a Misaki-san, a friend from the college where I teach from time to time. It was so beautiful and relaxing.

Toriyama-sensei has been my Chado (tea ceremony) teacher for the past year. Such a wonderful woman!

Usually the guests and host sits on the floor during a tea ceremony, but she set up tables and chairs for us sense our knees aren't used to that kind of stress. Thank you!

On our last day for the Aomori part of her visit, Britni met the pastor at our church down the hill and afterwards Misaki-san acted as a tour guide to show us Hirosaki City. We enjoyed a stroll through the Hirosaki castle grounds, and later a tour of the Hirosaki Neputa showcase building.

Hirosaki Castle, Julie, Britni, and Misaki-san

Hirosaki Nebuta Museum

Playing with traditional Japanese toys at the Hirosaki Nebuta Museum.

The next day we would be traveling to Kyoto.

Saturday Barbecue

August 16, 2009


I went to a barbecue last night in Towada and met someone who twirls fire for a hobby.  This photo was taken in the middle of his routine.

Nebuta Videos

August 16, 2009


We captured a few videos of Nebuta both in Aomori and Goshogawara.  Each video is very short (about five seconds in length), but if you’re short on time, at least watch the first two.

One Year in Japan

August 3, 2009


About a year ago Julie and I flew from orientation in Tokyo to the airport in Aomori City.  Our supervisors met us at the airport to drive us to Noheji.  It was hot.  Along the way we stopped for lunch at a soba noodle restaurant.  Since it was summer, they suggested the cool noodles that you dip into cold sauce.  This troubled me.  I was worried about the texture and decided I was going to order hot noodles in broth instead since that sounded more familiar (ramen).  I don’t remember the taste as much as I do having to continuously wipe sweat from my forehead and adjust my legs because we sat on the floor.

Today zarusoba (cold noodle soba) is one of my favorite foods.  Additionally, Julie and I are full capable of finishing a meal while sitting on the floor without having to move our legs every thirty seconds.

It’s been one year since we arrived in Japan and we probably have one left to go.  Although we haven’t made a final decision, we’re strongly leaning towards returning to Oregon after the completion of this next contract year.  Approaching the beginning of our last year here is bittersweet.  From now on, every season and festival we experience will be our last.  But there’s a kind of blessing in that.  Since we know it will be our last time I think it will be easier to enjoy the moment and appreciate the things we do and see every day.

Of course we don’t just want to repeat what we did last year.  Obviously the goal is to dig deeper.  Julie will continue her language exchanges with some friends we met in the community.  She’s also participating in yoga, tea ceremony, and flower arranging classes.  My main hobby is Go and I won’t be giving up on that any time soon.  In fact, starting next month, I’ll be able to compete in monthly tournaments amongst the people in the club.  Previously I had only been able to watch these tournaments since my ability was so low.  Now I can beat some of the weaker players in the club and make games interesting for the ones who are very strong.

The main goal for both of us though is to continue to refine our teaching and make the most of our interactions with the community.  This includes everything from cultivating friendships to the way we say hello to the people we see in the streets.

If you’re reading this and remember our first post from Japan, thank you for taking this journey with us and please continue to check in as we begin our second year.