Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Or, ‘tea water.’ Which, I suppose, has something to do with the river running through this part of Tokyo. I’m always startled by the sudden burst of natural light every time I am on the Marunouchi line going towards this station, so this time, I decided to actually get out of the subway and see the outside world around Ochanomizu.

ochanomizu 001  A fantastic little concrete bridge and the JR station.

ochanomizu 003 

Can anyone tell me about this part of Tokyo? I feel like there has to be more to it than this. Or perhaps not. It made for some nice photographs, at least!

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Year in Review

So many things happened this past year. It never ceases to put me in a state of disbelief when I think about what had happened to me towards the end of last year versus what I’m doing now.

Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?

January 2009

It actually didn’t happen in January, I believe it happened on December 30th or something like that, but, I lost my job at Clean Water Action after not being able to hold up my fundraising average – which was fine. I knew it was coming eventually, I hadn’t been able to raise any money for weeks, I had pretty much lost all motivation, and I had quietly accepted my defeat long before my last day. I actually didn’t ever plan on working there as long as I did, and after what I shall hereafter refer to as the “November incident,” I had no desire to work there any more. I was sad to leave a good cause and a good group of people, but it was most definitely time for me to move on.

I had been grappling with the idea of going to graduate school, and I had already taken my GREs twice and applied to the University of Washington for the Japan Studies Program in their Jackson school of International Studies.  However, I had also been applying to jobs in the meantime. One of those jobs was English teaching in Japan. I received word from my current company of an offer of an ALT position. After the winter holidays were over, I sent a reply to my current company that I would be happy to accept their offer of an ALT position. I was no longer looking toward Seattle, but rather much further West.  I started my paperwork.  0116091232708005 In the meantime, I had exhausted a couple of avenues looking for other work at home, so in early January I started interning for Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey Jr. Unpaid interning. Many of the incoming phone calls from ‘constituents’ were nothing short of vicious (although I really did try my best to be nice with people. If they got really mean, I’d just have to say, “Sir/ ma’am, I am an unpaid intern,” and they would shut up.) albeit the mere act of being in the office for a few hours was actually quite interesting, and I learned quite a bit about the role of the local senate office in national politics. It was also really exciting to be in the office during President Obama’s inauguration. How many of you could say you were interning for a Senator during the Obama administration? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

February 2009

I turned 23 to no great excite.

My dad and I visited my brother in Florida for a week or so. We were in desperate need of sun and heat in the dead of a freezing Pittsburgh winter. I informed the Senator’s office that I would no longer be available to work come the second week of March – when I would be leaving for Japan. Florida21809thru22609016

March 2009

I returned to Pennsylvania full of good moods and positivity after basking in the glorious Florida sun for a week or so. I got the letter saying that I had been accepted to the Japan Studies program at the University of Washington. I sent my reply along with the form saying that I was declining admission. I wrapped up whatever I was doing (opening mail? getting harassed by constituents?) at Casey’s office, said my goodbyes and after a lot of anxious packing and waiting, got on a plane back to Japan.Mito 013 I hadn’t been in Japan since May of 2007.

It was my first time to Kanto, I had never been to Narita airport, Tokyo, more or less Ibaraki prefecture. From my company headquarters in Ibaraki, I received word that I would be placed in Tochigi prefecture and teaching English at two elementary schools. It was so strange how all of these details that had been a complete mystery back in January had now come to light and I still had months before I could completely come to terms with their factuality.

The day after I arrived in Japan I got a call on my cell phone (which somehow miraculously had full service in Mito City)  from the Director of the Japan Studies program at the University of Washington. He had called to say that he was sorry I wouldn’t be attending the program this year, but I was more than welcome to re-apply and come next year.

April 2009

April is when cherry blossoms start blooming and the new school year starts. I was living off of the savings I brought with me. I did not receive my first paycheck until May, but I managed to do a fair bit of checking out my new surroundings during this period of time. I spent most of my time in Ashikaga, but I had a few acquaintances from my company who I spent time with during this month, which included my awesome friend, Taryn, who I knew from Penn State. I was also lucky enough to have Mr. John Milito comment on this very blog, and because of that singular occurrence, got to meet pretty much all the awesome people in Ashikaga & Sano. Thanks John, I would be so isolated had you not commented on my blog way back when! More Ashikaga 022 School started around the middle of the month, so I was working and keeping myself fairly busy trying to get myself oriented to this new and kind of crazy work situation.

May 2009

I spent Golden Week in Ashikaga, seeing…you know, the sights… but later on in the month, luckily, my paycheck finally came! I was off to Tokyo! I visited the Metropolitan Government Buildings, Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Ueno, yada yada yada, all that and so on and so forth. Showa Day, Bannaji & Ashikaga Gakko 076 At this point, I was still kind of fudging it as far as English class. Actually, to tell you the truth… I had really no idea whatsoever what I was doing. I didn’t major in Education, I had no proper training or experience for this kind of thing – or so I thought. Until one day it occurred to me that I should just be like all of my old teachers. They were great people, and what can I say? Other than: I learned a lot from them! So I read up on the English curriculum, checked out the lesson plans of the past ALTs and realized that I had more than enough materials at my disposal. This job was going to be cake from now on. 

June 2009

Things at work were going really well. Everyone seemed pretty happy with what I was doing, and I got some pretty good feedback from company types as well as school and BOE types. Unfortunately, despite all of these good things, I had my first and only bicycle accident. Got hit by a car on my way to school. I was in a rush and decided it’d be good to take a shortcut. Well, neither of us saw each other. We decided not to involve the insurance companies. Long story short, he had a dent in his car, and I needed a new bicycle. Thankfully, I was not hurt and neither was he. Later that day, one of my wonderful teachers gave me one of her daughters’ old bikes and I then had an awesome pink bicycle. tokyo days 051

July 2009

uchiawase 001The first semester came to a close and I got to know my co-workers a little better by (what else?) going drinking with them and hanging out in Yokohama with them. I also visited Kamakura and of course went to Tokyo for some late nights and summertime fireworks. My pink bicycle was stolen at the train station and two days later had miraculously (mysteriously?) been returned.  After collecting myself after all of the end-of the semester insanity, I was on a flight back to Pittsburgh come the end of the month.weekend of 7.11 and 12 040

August 2009

IMAG0326Home again home again! Pittsburgh was a glorious retreat from the sweltering Japanese summer. I went to Kennywood and a Pirates game with Pat, saw all of my awesome relations and friends, ate glorious pizza, hamburgers, pierogies, and all of those other incredible American foods that I should probably only eat once or twice a year. When I arrived back in Japan at the end of the month, I still had a few days with nothing to do, so I made a trip to Nikko. At that point I had come to the realization that I was much more comfortable traveling alone than with other people. I could take my time and enjoy things at my own pace. Life by myself wasn’t so lonely anymore, as long as I could surround myself with my interests and things I enjoyed doing, I would be able to stick this out.

September 2009

Undoukai 032The beginning of a long second semester. September was hot. I mean it was so much more hot than what I am used to. So hot, in fact, that I was able to jut sit… and sweat. Absolutely stifling humidity. Despite the heat I carried on with lessons and daily life. Both of my schools had their Undokai during September. I actually missed one because of thte silver week holidays. Once silver week rolled around, I made elaborate plans to make a pilgrimage to Kansai. It was my first time back in 2 years. I would stay in Kyoto and venture south to Osaka. Needless to say it was a wonderful trip. I got to see all of my old friends, and make new ones too. Kansai is and will continue to be my home away from home. I love it dearly, like one loves an old friend or the house they grew up in. That’s how I feel about Kansai.IMGP6711

October 2009

Did anything special happen in October? Other than my BFFFFFFF Aki coming to visit one weekend, It’s almost hard for me to remember. If I go back and read my blog posts, I see that there was a typhoon that didn’t ever come to Ashikaga, the Benesse magazine with the article about my English class was published, I came across reruns of Alf on TV… I visited the Ashikaga Museum of Art, um.. . I know that this was the beginning of crunch time for me for JLPT studying. I know I really started doing review (almost) every day at this point. I know I went through that awful speech contest ordeal one weekend, but the following weekend was a too-awesome ALT Halloween party that entirely made up for the ghastliness of the speech contest. aki comes to visit 009 

November 2009

In November, I was still getting ready for the JLPT. Really, outside of work, my regular hanging out & drinking with people and the Coco Winery Harvest Festival, I didn’t exactly make myself available during November. Actually, the whole becoming slightly unsocial because of studying for a test thing kind of got to me after a few weeks – I mean, really, wouldn’t it get to you after awhile, too? I made a successful attempt at Thanksgiving dinner (which I made in my shit-as Leopalace kitchen) and left November at that.

misc phone pics 016

December 2009

After the JLPT was over during the first week of the month, I and a good number of my friends who were also taking the test breathed a sigh of relief. I guess nothing really really exciting happened this past month. I opened for that show a couple of weeks ago, I showed my students how to make awesome paper snowflakes (and if I have to make one more I swear I’ll go bananas), and I had a broken reverse cycle heating/air-conditioner which was fixed with a simple reset of the machine. A friend of mine invited me to a year-end party with her friends last weekend. It was awesome and  I also had winter vacation to worry about. I had a flight home booked, but as far as going home was concerned, things were looking impossible. However, my wonderful parents booked me a flight back to Japan so I’d be able to make it home for the season for at least a week.

So that’s it. Today is my last day of school before winter break. I have a faculty drinking party this evening and I’m going home on the 30th and spending time with friends until then. Well, I suppose that’s all I have to say for now.

Until next year. FTW.

Friday, December 18, 2009

(punk rock?!) show.

Last weekend my friend Matt invited me to open for this show called “Let’s fighting love vol.2” I guess since nobody wanted to go first. I accepted this invitation, despite the fact that I had zero time to prepare or practice for the event. He lent me his (purple!!) guitar since I left my guitar back stateside. Anyhow, there weren’t too many people that showed up, mostly just us ALTs and these other two Japanese punk outfits. It was a good time. However, next time I play a show here I’d rather have my own guitar and have time to practice…

Thanks to everyone who came out !!

lets fighting love vol. 2 007lets fighting love vol. 2 032lets fighting love vol. 2 067

listen to our music:

Vice Lords of Valhalla

Cooking Casper

Bridget M. Beaver

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Things I Love Thursday – elementary school edition


Yeah, I probably have one of the best jobs in the world. Teaching English to elementary school kids! There’s no pressure to perform academically on tests or homework, plus we get to sing songs and play games. The point of elementary school English in Japan is to expose the kids to a new language and its culture in a fun way and hopefully get the kids interested in studying English before they start the drudgery of middle school.
So, I’ve been here for two semesters so far, and here are all the things I love about working at elementary schools in Japan:

1. The kids! Of course! I’m going to say here that the kids at my schools are fantastic. Super 仲良しくて、やさしくて、and 元気!!! I’m not kidding! Of course, there are always going to be like.. those 5 kids in the whole school that think they are too cool for English, but whatever, all the other kids are having fun, so they can go sulk in the corner and not have fun with the rest of us.

2.  Days when we get awesome 給食! Yes, I definitely put this down at number 2, because I honestly look forward to kyushoku… it’s always a surprise to me, mostly because nobody ever decided it might be a good idea to give the English teacher the monthly menu. Maybe they just assumed I wouldn’t be able to read it. In any case, days when we get tonkatsu or a cool dessert or something fun like the little tube of Meiji cocoa that you squeeze into your milk box to make chocolate milk with, are fantastically awesome days. The kids have fun, and they like asking me if I like such-and-such food, and they like showing me how to eat certain foods. Lunch times are awesome times.

3. Getting to decorate my own classroom! When I was a kid, I always thought it was so cool how my teachers decorated the bulletin boards and stuff at school according to holidays and seasons. I also really liked how they got to decide what posters and stuff to put in the classrooms… well now it’s MY turn! I get to have my own cool classroom and bulletin boards to fill with awesome stuff! ha!


4. Teaching the 6th graders “cool” songs. Seriously. If I had to sing “the days of the week” or “row, row, row your boat” with ALL of my classes, it would absolutely drive me up a wall. Luckily, my 6th graders are fantastic kids who know enough English and will try very hard to learn “cool” songs. We’ve already learned “Sing” by the Carpenters, “1,2,3,4” by Feist, “Hey Jude”, and this month we are singing “Feliz Navidad” at one school and “Christmas time is here” (from the Charlie Brown Christmas special) at the other school. Yeah, my 6th graders pretty much rock.

5. Speaking of songs, I thoroughly enjoy the 歯磨きサンバ (ha-migaki samba). Yeah. It lets me know when lunch is over and when it’s time to start cleaning time. It’s pretty catchy, too.

6. Drama time! Drama time is that time that comes AFTER we’ve reviewed last week’s lesson and BEFORE we start this week’s lesson. I get to act silly with my homeroom teacher (HRT) while we introduce this week’s target phrase in a little conversation that we call a “drama.” I guess they called it drama time with the last English teacher (ALT), and I loved the name, so it definitely stuck. We do all kind of crazy things in drama time. Here is one drama we did a few weeks ago to teach the kids “who is your teacher?” and “what grade are you in?”

HRT: I love 遠足 yay!! Wow, what a beautiful temple! Oh no! Where is my teacher?! Where are my friends??? WAAA!!!! (>.<;)

ALT: Hello there, are you lost?

HRT: Yes I’m lost and sad…

ALT: What’s your name?

HRT: My name is ________ (*choose someone… from your class.)

ALT: What school do you go to?

HRT: I go to なんとか elementary school.

ALT: What grade are you in?

HRT: I’m in 6th grade.

ALT: Who’s class are you in?

HRT: I’m in Mr./ Ms. ________’s class.

ALT: Here, have some candy, and get in my car!

HRT: Oooo! Candy! Wait… are you a不審者?! I’m going to the police!! Good bye!

ALT: Hey, wait!!

The kids enjoy it, especially when the HRT and I ham it up. Sometimes they are like, “do it again! do it again!” “You and sensei are like a combi (a pair of comedians)!” Reactions definitely vary, we have some boring, straightforward dramas, too. Nevertheless, drama time shows them that English is fun, and has practical uses. If the homeroom teacher is into it, then the kids will be into the rest of the lesson!

7. The other teachers at school. They are pretty awesome people, if I do say so myself. They work basically 24/7 for these kids. I have no idea how they have a life outside of school. I actually feel really bad when I leave school and they are still in the teachers’ room correcting worksheets or doing whatever they are doing. I’m serious. These teachers are always working hard, and it shows. Their students are unbelievably bright. They also take care of me if I have problems… (like when I got in a bicycle accident, or when I got a flat tire) and they give me fruits and veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers and umeboshi in the summer, apples and mandarin oranges in the fall). Not only do these teachers work hard, they know how to PLAY HARD, too! Faculty drinking parties rock the house. I’m serious. Every time I’ve gone it has never been a chore. Everyone ends up having a great time and not wanting to go home. End result, fantastic co-workers.

8. Not having to have a car to get to school. I really really love this. Like.. a lot. I live close enough to both schools that I can either walk or ride my bike. I actually feel much healthier here than I do back home in the U.S., mostly because of this aspect of my lifestyle.

9. Telling the kids about the United States. My students never fail to be fascinated with all things American. I guess because it’s so different from Japan. When they ask me questions about the U.S., I tell them the way it is there (for the most part) and they are just absolutely amazed. Once, my 3rd graders asked me if it was true that kids in America go to school on a big bus, and how did the bus know where to pick up the kids, and how were the kids divided in the bus? Was it boys on one half and girls on the other? Divided by grade? How big is the bus? How many buses are there? Where do they park all the buses? Who drives the bus? Etc.
I showed them pictures of a big American school bus and told them about neighborhood bus stops and basically everything else. I also had to explain that you have to sit wherever there is a seat on the school bus, and it isn’t separated by boy or girl or by grade - apparently this was shocking news.

10. Getting to go home earlier than the rest of the faculty. It’s a pretty nice thing, especially since everyone else stays till 7 or 8 o’clock (or later) at night. Since I am not a full-time teacher, I get to school at about the same time as everyone, but once my meetings are had, and my flashcards are ready and my interview sheets are copied, I'm ready to go home. It’s nice that I don’t have to abide by the same rules as the rest of the faculty… but then again, I simply do not have as much work as they do. I plan my lessons and most of my materials are already made. If not, I make them myself in my free periods. In truth, there is quite a bit of downtime as an ALT and sometimes I have to make myself just look busy. I don’t mind though, I usually end up with kickass flashcards and classroom decorations as a result.


SO, that’s what I love. How about YOU?! What do you love?