Thursday, November 26, 2009


Here’s what I’ve been doing lately. Let’s start from this evening and go backwards, shall we?

Today was Thanksgiving. I know it’s a U.S. holiday… but it’s my favorite. All the good food and family you get at Christmas, minus all the pressure of gifts. Seriously. If Christmas could be more like thanksgiving, it might be my favorite holiday, but there’s just something about Thanksgiving that I just can’t get over. I love it so. I attempted to make a thanksgiving dinner here in my leopalace. Here are the results:

thanksgiving 020 Clockwise from the top: Coco Rose wine from Coco winery,  green beans sautéed in olive oil & garlic, black pepper chicken, cinnamon & sugar apples (which also go well with ice cream), and last but not least, mashed potatoes.
To say the least, I will have enough leftovers to last me for a couple of days.


fantastic. I was super pleased with the results.

thanksgiving018 This is how I made the apples. Butter, sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of black pepper. I wish I could have made a flaky crust for them, but alas, no oven in the leopalace.

I’m stoked for my leftovers tomorrow :D

Monday was “Labor Thanksgiving Day” here in Japan. Despite the word “thanksgiving” in the translation of this holiday, it bears no relation to American Thanksgiving. It’s more like labor day, if anything. The kids had a little ceremony at school to say thank you to the local police, crossing guards, and ladies who make the school lunch. In addition to the day off, that was how it was celebrated.

Due to an unusually warm and sunny November day, I spent my Monday in the park near the river with some cool people.

misc phone pics 019 misc phone pics 023 swings & see-saw.

misc phone pics 025 then it was my turn…despite my prowess at ballet at a very young age, I no longer possess a good sense of balance.

Sunday night I went to a swanky party at a private club owned by the wealthiest fellow this side of the Watarase River. I didn’t get many good photos, but it was still a good time.

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  About two weeks ago we went to this little Korean place and had some great food and watched a very entertaining Korean drama.

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And it seems like forever ago, but I visited the National Art Center to see the exhibition of the Hapsburg treasures. I really only went to see the Spanish artists (Goya, Velazquez, El Greco) You can shove all the rococo bullshit. They had 2 Rembrandt pieces on display as well, which was a nice surprise. fall 006 In conclusion, besides the Coco wine festival and studying for JLPT, I haven’t been up to much else. So… that’s all the news fit for print.
Until next time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009



Coco Wine Festival 047 I am going to have to quote one of my elementary school English lessons for this post. “Ashikaga is famous for Coco Winery!” I went this past weekend for the yearly harvest festival. For 2000 yen you get a bottle of red or white wine (or grape juice), a lovely goblet, a corkscrew, and a nice little yellow badge to let everyone know you are a part of the festival. The wine was fantastic, as was the food! We lucked out on the weather, too! It was such a lovely day to sit on a sunny hillside and drink wine.

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Coco Winery produces some of the finest wine made in Japan, a country whose wine is better suited for a sweet tooth than a sophisticated palate. Coco Winery’s vintages are apparently so good, in fact, that it was served at the G8 conference when it was held in Japan.

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What makes Coco Winery so special, however is not only its fantastic wine, but the people who work there. The staff of the winery is made up of over a hundred autistic and developmentally disabled men and women. Most of them live at the winery year-round, and they all tend to the grapes that grow on the steep hill (as shown above. Believe me, I was on this hill… it is REALLY steep!!) completely by hand. In addition to the vineyard, Coco Winery is also a school, which retains the philosophy that one’s life can change with hard work and diligence.

Coco Wine Festival 040 Coco Winery is special to me because some of the students that I teach are developmentally disabled. Some of them may live and work at Coco Winery one day. As for my students, I can say this about them: they are quite possibly the brightest, and most cheerful kids that I have had the pleasure of teaching. Their English pronunciation and rhythm is fantastic and I truly look forward to having my weekly class with them. I mean these kids just absolutely sparkle with intelligence, life, and energy, despite whatever disability they may have. Actually, most of the time you’d never know there was anything different about these kids. The other thing that I think is so great is that the other kids at school treat them as equals. You never hear anyone teasing or making fun. I swear. If anything, the other kids are helping them get their lunch or explaining something to them. It’s fantastic. It makes the whole school such a nice place to be in. No wonder these kids are so happy.

Coco Wine Festival 046 In conclusion, Coco Winery is the kind of place I want to support. Especially if the people there are anything like my students, I’m sure that the feeling of having a place to belong and do something really cool like make wine is really awesome.
I’ve already posted a lovely little piece about the vineyard by CNN in a previous post, so please check it out!

Friday, November 6, 2009




JAPAN 338 

This was how I spent my Thanksgiving 3 years ago. We had no classes due to Japan’s ‘labor thanksgiving day’ holiday, so I decided to go to the silver pavilion. It was cold, damp, and unbelievably crowded. I was terribly upset that I wasn’t at home with my family. Hopefully this year will be better :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tokyo on a rainy evening


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today’s 墨絵 aftermath…

miscphonepics007 I’ve been painting a lot of 菊 and 竹, but I want to learn how to paint goldfish. Bamboo just frustrates me, anyway. Can anyone recommend any learning resources? Books? Websites? I’d be super grateful.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Speech Contest...

Every year at Penn State, the Japanese department held its “三分スピーチコンテスト” (three minute speech contest," so I am fairly used to giving speeches in Japanese. When I found a notice on my desk at school for a speech contest here in Ashikaga, I figured I’d dig up one of my old speeches and give it the old college try. So, it  turned out that I had received the flyer a couple of days past the deadline, but my wonderful English coordinator at school called up the community college (who was organizing the event) and asked if it was OK if I faxed the application ASAP. Naturally, this was no problem. I was in!
So, a couple of Saturdays ago, I gave my speech.
I was given a chance to visit Shiga prefectural prison during my last stint in Japan, at Kansai Gaidai, and since the topic was open, and I had gained a lot of insight about Japanese culture from the experience, I figured… hey.. why not talk about what I saw that day at the prison, I’m sure not many people have that chance, and I’m sure it would be interesting, maybe a little boring, but kind of interesting…maybe.
Speech Contest 001 However, I do not believe this was the case at all. I think that I got such a poor response to it because it was not very humorous or cute like the other speeches. Maybe they didn’t understand it? I really have no idea what happened, except that the response from the audience was hardly adulation.
Besides this, the people that I invited to come and watch didn’t show at all (not one of them!). I was really bummed, so when I got up in front of that room, I was really nervous. The only person I knew was one of the judges, and she’s one of my bosses at the BOE. This nervousness also probably attributed to the fact that I was difficult to understand.
Anyway. I ended up leaving before they started breaking out the food & drink, mostly because I didn’t know anyone and every time I tried to talk to anybody they would avert their gaze and walk quickly away from me. Had I not explained in the speech that I had gone to the prison as a mere visitor and not as a criminal?
Speech Contest 003 Each of the contestants wound up with a lovely medal, a box of leaf pies (which are not made of leaves… just shaped like them), and a JLPT level-1 practice book. It was really interesting to listen to the other speeches as well. I wish I could have gotten to talk to the other contestants, but they were busy with their guests and I guess whoever else came to see them.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, and I also really hate to complain in such a public way, but this was honestly a really bad day for me. As for me, I don’t think I will participate in the speech contest ever again. I felt, for the most part, unwelcome, and my level Japanese is nowhere near most of the other contestants’. I suppose if I were to do it again, I’d choose a cuter topic. Maybe Hello Kitty.
In conclusion, I will leave you with the full text of my speech for your reading enjoyment: (It was kind of short, but I was trying to keep it brief and account for pauses after sentences.)