Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Fuji no Ue Asama Jinja is a little shrine up on a hill! I saw it the first day I came to Ashikaga. I made a promise to myself that I would visit it once I got some free time. This past sunday the rain cleared up, and I had an absolutely gorgeous day to spend in the outdoors.
I made my way up an overgrown hillside, past super tall cedars and wild bamboo. When I got to the top, I had an amazing view. It was absolutely beautiful.
While I was enjoying the view, I noticed that I was not alone and that there were a couple of older Japanese fellows also visiting the shrine. One of them actually approached me and started telling me some interesting facts about 'Fuji no Ue' as he called it. He started telling me that it was built in the Edo period, and that on clear days you can see Mt. Fuji, and he pointed out the names of some other mountains around. He went on and said that there is a festival every year where parents bring thier new babies up to the shrine and they stamp thier heads with a special hanko. This particular shrine, he said, is for boys. The girls' shrine is on a smaller hill nearby (I'll visit it, too).
My new friend also walked back down to the hill with me, with bells jingling from his belt. He said since there is no bell to ring at the shrine, he brings his own. He also said that he takes a walk up to to Fuji no Ue every day, and that's why he is still so genki (I mean, this guy must have been in his late 70s or early 80s, and he seemed super healthy to me). At the crossroads, he pounded on the ground w/ his walking stick, making a resonating sound, almost like a thick drum. He followed this demonstration by explaining that they also call this hill 'dan-dan' yama because it makes a hollow noise if you hit the ground. He speculated it was because there is a cave inside or something. He also took me to the opening of a small cave on one side of the hill, where there is a small statue of a Jizo inside. Unfortunately, the angle was steep and the cave was small, and I couldn't get a good photo of it, but it was super cool. So, not only did I get an awesome tour from a local, I also got to see some spectacular views.

More Photos on Facebook

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It's Election Time!

4/26 is Election day here in Ashikaga. The sound trucks have been out in full force. I have been coming home to a mail slot stuffed with campaign flyers for the past couple of weeks. I'm not sure if this is a highly contested race or if its slightly more heated because of the state of the economy or whatever, but these campaign people are relentless.

I always try to watch the reactions of the people around these displays that the candidates make of themselves. People usually just go about their business, some acknowledge and politely stand for a moment or two (perhaps only to wait for the crossing signal), but for the most part, these efforts go seemingly...ignored by the general public. I believe people do not want to show their political allegiances in public, due to... whatever historical socio-political obligations any individual may have. However, the percentage of the population that actually votes in Japan is extremely low. The voting age here is 20, but the amount of 20-year-olds that excercise this right is... also low. There are some fringe groups of university students that are gung-ho about political science and even perhaps allegiance to a certain party or what have you, but the fact remains that a mass amount of people in this country do not participate in thier political system.

A great documentary came out a year or so ago, called "選挙" or "Campaign" in English. I have the trailer below that explains some of the basics.

The thing about this film that never ceases to amaze me is that this guy had no ties whatsoever to the party and was kind of... thrown into the whole scene as a complete outsider, and was ignored and ridiculed, seemed to be suffering in his personal life, somehow actually managed to win the election.
The fact of the matter is that here, people just don't talk about these things within the context of their daily conversation. Whereas in many other places around the world, this may not be the case. I mentioned this reluctance to be opinionated in a previous post. In addition, the very candid conversations with his wife in the car were just wonderful little bits of insight into this particular facet of Japanese life that is so rarely rarely talked about.
Why is it interesting to me? Well... after having interned for a U.S. Senator and worked at a lobbying group, and considering various other political ties that I may or may not have, I find myself, personally, to be fairly politically active, as well as a large number of other people my age. For whatever reason, people in the U.S. are politically opinionated and don't hesitate to share! It's good! Because it creates dialogue, and sharing ideas and working together and so on and so forth. However, here in Japan... where there is little to no public dialogue concerning political matters, save for your regular monthly public meetings, and your sound trucks blasting through the neighborhood, the culture of political activism is significantly different here, and I always have to wonder why these things are!! If you get a chance, please check out "Election" it's a great documentary.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What's in the bag, beaves?

I got the inspiration to do this from this post by Nubby. Basically, it's what I'm carrying around all the time. I love my American Apparel LA-Z girl bag in ultraviolet. It's big, purple, and... amazing. If it ever breaks or gets holes and/or stains, I WILL buy another.

let's try this clockwise from the purple bag:

  • Ashikaga Elementary English Curriculum, School Schedules & Kokuyo Campus Notebook
  • Ipod Nano (3rd generation)
  • Clinique superpowder double face makeup
  • Clinique folding brush
  • Sunkist のどあめ (throat drops)
  • Bath & Body Works Coconut Lime Verbena Anti-Bacterial Gel
  • Goldie lip gloss
  • Burt's Bees lip balm
  • Bliss Lemon+Sage body butter
  • Apartment & bicycle keys
  • Vivienne Westwood handkerchief
  • Totes pocket umbrella
  • purple 判子 (personal seal) & white carrying case
  • PANTONE SoftBank 830SH (lilac. yes. I have a Pantone phone.)
  • John & Mary pencil case complete w/ pens, pencils & my Radar plastic eraser
  • 2009 planner
  • Coach signature checkbook wallet
That's it, really. I take my digital camera in and out, but ever since I got the cell phone, I've been using its camera instead. The phone has a dictionary on it, so if I need to look up a Japanese word, I can, but the definition will be in Japanese... which helps sometimes. Oh. Also sometimes I toss a scarf in there. Just in case. Lately I haven't been taking my town map along with me. If I stray too far from this area, I usually just throw the whole Lonely Planet guide in there, too. Luckily, my edition is also purple. What's in YOUR bag??

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


These kids I am teaching are just... amazing. They blow my mind. I say something in English they spit it out at me in Japanese. They understand what I'm saying... albeit responding very passively.
Some 4th grade girls dragged me into the library during recess today and asked me to read "Frog & Toad Are Friends" to them. So so SO cute. We even read "The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar."
I really really just hope that I can keep all of the kids interested and involved in each lesson. It kind of sucks that we only have class once a week, but... like they're only in elementary school, you know?
I like teaching so far. Let's see how the rest of the year goes!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Learn to bow.

I've lived in Japan before, and with a Japanese family, to boot. So, sometimes I feel like I have a little more insight than the average bear. I started thinking about some of the most important things for people to take into consideration during their trip to Japan and I made a list:

Learn to bow and say excuse me. - I think that すみません is my most uttered Japanese word. As far as bowing, it will start to become a habit. You will bow while talking on the phone, and you will bow if someone lets you cross the street & there is no walk signal. Even a slight nod is a sign of 'I respect you' and it puts people at ease.

Learn some Japanese. - Even a few words go a long way. People really appreciate it when you try, and it makes a lot of Japanese people who don't speak English feel so much more comfortable with you. And don't just prattle off the titles of your favorite manga/anime in Japanese. Learn to ask where things are, get directions, how to count money, and what the server suggests on the menu (お勧めは何でしょうか?)

Eat the food. - Yeah. I know. Japanese food can be really weird sometimes (natto, umeboshi, uni, basashi, just to name a few) but trust me, despite looking super strange, you might just find something you really like. At least you can say that you've tried it. Plus, it is really polite to finish your plate, double points for that!

Don't question everything so much - sometimes it's just best to accept things for the way they are and deal.

If you go to a shrine or a temple, be sure to take photos in appropriate places - yeah. Sometimes people get really offended if you take pictures at religious venues. If you NEED a photo, try to be discreet, ok? Unless of course everyone else is taking pictures, too.

What may seem strange to you, might not seem strange to someone who's lived in Japan their whole life. - Example: the Japanese variation on English. There was a Hair salon not far from my host family's house, but instead of saying Hair Salon on the storefront, it said "HEAR SALON." They caught wise when they saw the gaijin standing outside and laughing. They actually changed the sign in the next couple of days. How's that for saving face?!

Sort your trash - just do it. It's good for the planet and your neighbors won't hate you.

Bring something to read that is written in your native language - sometimes listening and reading to Japanese all day makes me really tired... and I need some English time.

Go to Hiroshima. Visit the museum and the monuments. Be respectful.

Get to know the town where you're living - you never know there might just be something really awesome about it that you never knew. Hirakata, where I used to live, was famous for its yearly chrysanthemum festival. Two stops up on the train line was a shrine to Thomas A. Edison!!

Take the Shinkansen somewhere at least once - Especially if you're living on a student budget, shinkansen tix can be kind of expensive. I love the bullet train, I wish they had them in the United States.

Start walking and biking - unless you've got a car, you are going to need to kick up your walking/biking skills a notch. Japan is all about those two modes of transport!

Watch SOME Japanese TV - come on, even if you don't understand it, its just ridiculous and entertaining. The commericals are great, too.

Don't get upset if they don't have your size - Man, I really wanted so many adorable Japanese clothes, but they never had the sizes to fit my gigantic American frame. I found some cool accessories to wear w/ my American digs, but don't fret, while you may feel that you look dumpy and gross compared to the super-amazingly-put-together-outfits of Japanese women, some of them secretly envy the comfort of your chuck taylors and inexpensive jeans.

Make sure you have enough cash - Yeah.. lots of places DO take visa, and some even take Amex, but in a lot of little towns and out-of-the-way shops/restaurants they only deal in cash. Postal Service ATMs are super convenient.

Don't let the culture shock get you down - yeah, I've been denied service at restaurants and turned away when I needed to do important things like get a cell phone, but don't let it get you down. It's not that they don't like you... it's kind of an irrational fear of someone so different, and not being able to help you properly, ne?