Sunday, October 31, 2010

Oh It's Halloween

But do I care? No. It rained all day and the weather was abysmal. Good thing that I spent the day hanging out in a limestone cave with Eriko. Eriko came to Kochi for a business trip on Monday so she had time to hang out today. We planned to meet up at 2pm so I had to navigate to the hotel.

Before that, however, I had an interesting set of adventures driving into Kochi City. I can't even begin to explain how ridiculous the central road through Kochi is. There is and old train/trolley system in the middle and then there are two or three lanes on either side of this. Sometimes they shrink down to one or one and half lanes. It is nonsense. It didn't help that it was raining and I haven't driven in the city by myself yet. Basically every thing I did I was afraid that I was breaking a traffic law. I'm sure that I broke some laws today. I notice that Japanese drivers are always doing ludicrous things though. I wonder if people get tickets for things much else than speeding. I was going to stop at the Aeon mall to look for some things for my house but by the time I had reached the middle of the city I just had to pull into a parking lot and sit for awhile. My mind felt stressed out and I couldn't go any farther. I made sure that I knew how to get to the hotel. I went into a shopping center that was next to the parking lot. I realized that I have been really out of touch with civilization because the store kind of overwhelmed me. I forgot what a Japanese shopping center was like.

I settled down and managed to find Eriko at her hotel like we planned. It was hard to speak Japanese and drive my car through the city. It wasn't until we arrived at the cave did I feel relaxed enough to think straight. I probably sounded like a maniac today because I was. I felt like someone dumped speed straight into my brain cavity. The cave was splendid. The temperature felt nice and the 1km walking path went past some nice rock formations. I'll put these pictures up later as I continue to get more back logged. The pictures are hit or miss because of it being dark. It's really time I invest in a proper tripod that I will take everywhere.

I'll finish the rest of this day later. But I have a task for you. Is this chicken alive or dead?

What a cock

Friday, October 29, 2010

Here and There

We had a field trip today at school. I thought it was going to rain and was kind of hoping it would but the weather cleared up. It ended up being fun aside from the bus ride back where I was prodded and poked by extremely immature middle school students. I'll get to that sometime this weekend though.

Yesterday I mentioned that I did ikebana and here I am actually getting back to post the picture. The nurse/health teacher at the middle school printed out two photos and even laminated them for me. Japanese people always know how to be so nice. I wonder if they feel obligated most of the time though. I'm still not sure what other responsibilities the nurse/health teachers have other than caring for sick students. They have one at each of the schools I visit. But anyway here is the splendid piece of Japanese art I crafted. Pretty nice right? That was the lady who came to show us the mystical wonders of ikebana and complimented me ever so wonderfully. When you put an arrangement together it feels like you better understand the simple yet extravagant beauty inherent in nature. How did people get in the business of putting together, typically, such contrived flower arrangements and bouquets?

Konotani Ikebana

The other week I taught at a kindergarten down in Ino. They sometimes schedule these random events for me which I like quite a bit. They tell me to teach a subject and I show up to make the kids happy and have fun. I taught two classes about animals and the sounds they make. It would have been better if they hadn't lumped all the kids into two classes. The first class was 36 students with the second rounding out at 49 students. I think I better understand how a PE teacher feels. There were a lot of teachers in the room though and a handful of girls observing from the local college. I really just wanted to show a picture of some of the kids. I love when they smile.

So Cute You Want to Die

Tonight I bought meat for the first time in what seems like 3 or 4 weeks. I caved. I don't regret my purchase however. You see my refrigerator is practically empty and I didn't want to spend money on vegetables if I go into town this weekend. I settled on making pork bowl with rice. One could call this gyudon but that is beef. I'm not sure what you call the pork version because I've only ever heard people say gyudon. Thing is that you can go to a restaurant and get a pork version. I made this back in August I think but haven't tried it again because I didn't have mirin which is a type of cooking sake/wine or something. It's such an easy dish to make. Dump soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar, and dashi into a pot. Cut some thin slices of onion and simmer. Then drop thin cuts of beef/pork into the sauce and cook for a few minutes. You extract the beef and onions and serve on top of rice. It's always tasty to spread some of the liquid over the rice so it has more flavor. This definitely hit the spot tonight. I'll consider making an exception on my meat fast each week for this.

Nantoka Don

Before I head off into the night, I'll leave you with this.

Sweet Shirt

What a sweet shirt.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ikebana You Say?

Thursdays are one of my favorite days of the week. The students at the other school I go to are great fun. They actually act normal and not like puberty stricken neanderthals. A few of the girls are a little boy crazy but they are good kids. The guys generally maintain a pretty calm and laid back demeanor. The feeling is almost therapeutic.

I did some Halloween themed type activities today. I know plenty about Halloween except I never did trick or treating. I suppose we just didn't and that was that. Maybe it was too pagan? Well maybe we shouldn't celebrate Christmas either because it was a pagan festival adopted by the Catholic church and then changed for the purpose of converting heathens. It is kind of like all the people with pitchforks and torches who want to burn every Harry Potter book. The irony is that they probably own every single Disney movie and failed to realize Aladdin, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and whatever else you can pick out are filled with all kinds of sorcery, magic, and devilry. With that being said I really don't think I missed much with Halloween. I had the students mention everything related to Halloween and then we sang an easy song. They probably thought the song was terrible. Then we did Halloween pictionary with boys versus girls. That always seems to go over well with the students. The best part was the candy I brought. Their eyes lit up like slot machines when they looked in the bag and saw candy they had no knowledge of. It was pleasant to watch them dig through the sack and pick out something intriguing and unknown.

After I lunch I have been following the students over to the gym to play with them and hang out. Because I only come once per week I like to talk to them as much as possible. The second year girls are pretty silly and fun to talk to. They actually are the ones who told me to "come" with them. They have some crushes on the third year boys. The other week one of the second year boys in class told everyone that one of the girls wanted to marry one of the third year boys. The best part is that the English teacher, without hesitation, wrote this statement on the board. Boy was that girl red like a cherry lollipop.

There are a lot of antecedents that seem trivial to someone just reading so I'll omit those for now. However, I was asked to join the first year students to do ikebana today. Ikebana is Japanese flower arranging. They were practicing making arrangements for the culture festival that is coming up. A lady came in and did an arrangement while we watched and then made our own. We didn't make any complicated or groundbreaking flower arrangements but what we did make was beautiful it its own way. The two students and I had to take our design up to the front for a final evaluation and tweaking. I received some very nice comments from the teacher. She said that my design was especially nice because she could understand my feeling and nature through what I had made. She she said that my design let her know I was a kind and thoughtful person. The teacher didn't say anything like this to the other students. Maybe it is the landscaping blood running through my ruddy veins that contributed to my success.

Just maybe... just maybe...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Read 6

You can skip this first paragraph if you don't care about taking pictures. I noticed that when I would view my pictures with the Windows Picture viewer that I would have to rotate every picture that I took long wise. Then moving on to the next photo it would always save. I couldn't really figure out what it was saving each time I did this so I decided to look it up. Low and behold that when Windows rotates a picture it changes the image properties and has to reprocess the image. This results in a degraded quality photo. Maybe if you don't care that much you would never notice but I could tell something seemed a bit off on some pictures. From now on I have a program that will rotate any images without changing the properties or image quality. I'm glad I realized this now and not later on. It is for this reason that I still haven't put those valley pictures up. I had to go back through and correct my mistakes.

If you chose to skip the first paragraph here you go. Today had its share of interesting tidbits. I spent the morning sitting around pondering what I was going to do for my lessons on Thursday. I even managed to get a few things done. Usually my mind is in a billion different places during the day. I have so many random things on my mind. Take the following for example.

You know how everyone thinks by common sense that cold weather makes the body fall gravely ill? I can tell you for a fact this is not true. Argue with me all you want but YOU probably didn't take the time to actually look it up or research it. I'm sure if you ask most doctors they would say the same thing except for Japanese doctors at least. I'm not surprised that Japanese people believe this myth because the doctors here recommend gargling to prevent colds. All I know is that for my deficiency of gargling, in the past, others got sick more often. I don't even try to argue with people though because this myth (cold weather makes you sick) has been perpetuated through all societies for who knows how long. It is most uncommon to meet someone who thinks opposite of this such as myself. I would like to see how this belief changes or is the same depending on where in the world a person is. Interesting or not, I don't know. It never hurts to have many options in life right?

The second year students were pretty interesting today. Actually, they are usually like that. Sometimes to the point of being frustrated and irritated by their behavior. During cleaning time the group who is on the first floor rotation for the week was being lazy. They ended up trying to make me sweep the floor with damp rags. I obliged one of the students and did the hall way while they stood around. One of the boys in this group of students can be a little brat. I'm usually trying to diffuse his comments whether in Japanese or English. At the end of cleaning time the principal came over to ask us if we had cleaned everything well. I could see on all their faces that they knew they had been sticks in the mud. That is probably why one of the girls was laughing.

Carrying on from cleaning time we had English class with the second year students. Before we jumped into the amazingness and fun that is English the students wanted to ask me some questions. The teacher asked if this would be alright and I said sure. It was a little suspicious though. The teacher wrote the number six on the blackboard in a slow decrepit manner. It's as if you could see the shame dripping off the back of her body. Next, the students asked me to say the number six. Before it was even drawn I knew what they had up their sleeves. To buy myself some time I told them it was 'roku' in Japanese which is the number six. After I said that I laughed at the whole class and they were like NOOOOOOOOO. I hesitated for a few brief moments wondering what the response would be after I said six out loud. So to the best of my ability I tried to enunciate the number six as best as possible. The ensuing result was a flutter of laughter and snickering because if you didn't know, saying six sounds like the Japanese pronunciation for sex. We probably should have stopped before even doing this but for some reason my teacher let it continue. All I can say is that the hormones in the second year students and really all the students could take a healthy dose of elephant tranquilizer.

At the end of the class the students wanted me to write kanji. This was basically an opportunity for me to show off and gain popularity points with the students. I can say I did well because I heard many 'sugois' and 'ehhhhhhhhs'.

In the supplemental English period for the third year students one girl and a boy kept calling each other 'eroi' which loosely means something like erotic or sexual. Maybe not so literal. At one point they asked if I knew what some plant or something was. The girl tried to draw it but it didn't become any clearer what it was. My teacher proceeded to draw an example but much to everyone's surprise it turned into a great representation of a phallus. Talk about bad timing. The students were shocked and couldn't stop laughing. Granted there were only about six or seven in the classroom it was hilarious. My teacher quickly erased it trying to hide the embarrassment sweating off her brow. For the life of me, though, I can't figure out why that one girl then proceeded to draw a condom on the blackboard. That is okay. I don't want to know.

ps. I had to come back and update this because as I was studying I came across a sentence that said when you come in from the cold during winter you should gargle to prevent colds. Talk about timing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Overcast Days Straight to the Core

Things have been a tad slow at my outpost. It seems like we haven't had a shred of nice weather for more than a week now. At least it has been rainy the past two days instead of just being cloudy. I will always take rainy days over cloudy days. Rain is refreshing and peaceful in many ways. It feels like a friend has come to visit and is tapping ever so softly on my door wanting to talk. This was the perfect opportunity to study for several hours. The time blurs by when I'm at home. It is actually hard for me to find myself too bored. Between studying Japanese and learning guitar. I have heaps to do.

It's quite rewarding to make progress with the guitar. Over a month ago I felt pretty dismal and frustrated with my progress. I'm over it. I can tell I'm improving and figuring things out as I do along. I have some small goals I'm working towards and I'll probably have a couple songs I can play. Playing is completely figurative with guitar because I have a hard time doing anything other than down strums while singing. It is interesting how hard it is to get your mind to convince your mouth to say words and change chords at the same time. Well I'll get there eventually.

On Saturday I went out to Yasui Valley or maybe it is ravine. I didn't bother to look up the pronunciation for the last part of the kanji. It does have the kanji for valley in it but there is an extra which probably means it has a different translation than just valley. Anyway, as I said it was cloudy and overcast. I kind of don't like going out in such weather because I know I'm not going to capture as many good pictures. Especially if you shoot towards the sky. Trees get hazy and the whole scene looks blown out. The valley is actually a pretty neat place. I like the valleys that are filled with large boulders and rocks. There are some rather big ones too. The valley has a few waterfalls off some side trails. The best part will probably be in a few weeks when it gets colder. The valley walls will be filled with fall foliage and colors. I'm sure it gets busier around that time as Japanese people are enamored with leaf viewing season. Maybe it won't be so bad here because its rural but in Kyoto there were hordes of people shuffling around trying to get great pictures with their camera phones, at night.

I hiked up a random path without much discretion. I'll be back so I figured it didn't matter much where I went. I almost didn't even get out and hike but 300 meters is not far enough to really be lazy. It was a short hike up to the falls but I was detoured by what I thought was a path to a waterfall. I should have known better. Whenever hiking in such a place that is visited often, Japanese people make sure the path is well marked and delineated. Usually this is to the point of absurdity. So upon reaching the end of my detour I realized I should have been smarter than to think what looked like a path was not a path. It hasn't rained much lately so the falls were a bit dry. After a heavy rain they would be very beautiful. That isn't to say it was disappointing though. I will definitely be back to check it out. But that is a very tricky game to play because when it rains one place I don't have the slightest clue if another area got rain.

I was actually more interested in a smaller fall that was along the way up to the main falls. That is the picture that is posted below. It felt more memorable than the two others. It has a nice pool at the bottom that drains out through a lower crack in the rock. Because of this it looks like a little bath tub. I wouldn't mind trying to climb up the little valley to get there and swim next summer. Just something to consider but there are plenty of waterfalls to go swimming in.

The rest of the pictures, which aren't many, are still being processed. I will let you know when those are up. There are a handful that are worthwhile. There actually was this odd man made water garden feature that was interesting. I'm sure if it was full and running would be nice. You can see a picture of that soon.

As for other things. My job is my job. I had a good day at an elementary school and then I came back to the middle school. Unfortunately, maybe good, for me all the English classes were in the morning while I was gone so I spent the rest of the day studying Japanese and minding my own business. I really don't mind having several hours to do whatever. I probably should have planned for Thursday lessons at the other middle school but I'll work on that tomorrow. Of course that is what I always say and then I'm still finishing things up the morning before I leave. At least I'm not like the English teacher at my main middle school who shows up on a Monday morning when we always have a school meeting with the students, that can last till class starts. I'm pretty sure she was trying to get ready for her first class with 3 minutes to spare. I'm glad I had to go to the elementary school and wasn't around to watch the kids painfully do more worksheets. But what can you really do when you have 16 cats to take care of every day? Nothing, just like all the hair that gets on your clothes.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I'll get back into the swing of things soon. In the mean time enjoy this photo.

Natural Whirpool

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

漢字問題 - Kanji Problem

I've been devouring kanji like nobodies business. As I mentioned a few posts back my reading comprehension is improving quite a bit as the days roll by. For the most part I've been pleased with my progress and have retained a lot. I was poking around the internet on some blogs and came across an article about forgetting kanji. He basically went on to describe how many Japanese people are terrible at writing kanji because they use so many electronic mediums where you can type the 64 character alphabet in, press a button, and presto you get the kanji without any work. For this same reason, as I spend most of my time typing Japanese instead of writing by hand, I have thought my study style to be adequate for my goals. I figured if I spend more time just learning how to read kanji instead of write I can always go back and learn to write it when I have time. Plus, I can learn a lot more if I'm not practicing writing I won't really use. I felt really good reading the article as it essentially supported all my reasons but as I read the comments on the post I couldn't help but feel a bit distraught.

Is it just a short cut to not learn the writing system right now? Can I really say to someone that I know Japanese if I can hardly write all the characters? I don't like to think I'm devoting so much time to learning this language to leave out an essential portion. If I'm planning to learn Chinese why not learn how to write over half of the characters I will eventually need to write for Chinese? I shouldn't just put it off until I can read Japanese well.

So today I have decided to start a separate study of writing all the kanji vocabulary I have learned to date. This will probably slow down my pace learning new kanji but it's for the best. I don't want to neglect such an integral part of the language. Plus, when I really think about it I like writing kanji and haven't done it for a long time. I think I have some 3,000 words to go back through and learn to write. I probably can already write a hefty chunk of those but I will have to see one by one. After I catch back up I will be better prepared for when I start to tackle some Chinese.

Now that you have read things of no interest to you, what are you going to do? Just sit here and think about me sitting over my table studying? No, go do something with your precious life while you can. As for me I have committed myself to this and won't stop.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Universe

Today really didn't make much sense.

For starters it was Sunday and I had to go to school. That felt so weird. I'm still not even sure what the purpose of the day was. After lunch people came and watched the three different grades. It was a mixture of teachers from different schools in the Ino area and I think some parents. The science, Japanese, and math teachers had to teach lessons while people infiltrated the classrooms left and right. Talk about people breathing down your neck in the midst of a lesson. I wonder if the teachers were nervous. Yet, I doubt the people watching actually cared that much.

After this part of the day the people broke off into two different groups. I went with one to the library where the social studies teacher proceeded to blaze through a power point about teaching philosophy or something to the random lot of educators at the school today. People looked like they were riveted. A lady followed up with some extenuating jargon that made no sense either. I'm sure as she talked dry plaster chunks were falling out of her mouth. I felt pretty sleepy as it was and my mind was already shutting down from Japanese shock.

I should have mentioned that we had to bring our lunches today. Well, actually, you can come to school and order a bento (lunch) that magically comes from an establishment I'm not aware of but I don't give in so easily. The 550 yen leaves me feeling sour so I just skip that and bring my own. I totally forgot until a few minutes before I left this morning so I had to make something very quickly. My best friend in any food emergency is cabbage and carrots. Easily chopped and prepared. To make things even better I picked up some avocados last week for about 100 yen a piece and have been using these with my meals. I took half the avocado and then sliced it into strips to place on top of my salad. Avocado adds a superb smooth texture with a hint of oil. Not to mention the taste is equally nice. I think I'll try to eat more avocados and experiment with them in my cooking. I think avocado can be paired with an array of foods. For example...

Avocado Eggs

Back to the day now. After the boring presentations everyone moved to the gymnasium building across the main grounds of the middle school. From here things went from a confusing day to down right vexing and perplexing. There was a speaker from the Japanese space and aeronautical organization. Now if you want to figure out how classroom observations, random education presentations, and then a lecture from some dude who deals with the cosmos fits together be my guest but you won't ever figure it out. We learned all kinds of mesmerizing facts like how we can pay 200,000 dollars to ride a special space craft into subspace and experience zero gravity for 4 minutes until plummeting back to earth. We also learned about the unfathomable depth of space which I was pondering last weekend as I tried to fall asleep in my car. This lecture must have been fate then. Honestly, I stopped listening to the lecture after the first video he showed because my brain had shut down from the previous power point I watched. At about 1 hour and 15 minutes into the lecture we had hit about slide 50 and the principal gave him a note letting him know he needed to finish up. I think what makes the day even more incoherent is that he didn't even make it to the part of his presentation that was a message for the students, parents, and visitors. So all that space and cosmos nonsense he laborious conveyed to us was almost all in vain. He quickly flashed through some slides and then wrapped up his thoughts. A few minutes later as someone was saying thank you he forwarded his power point to slide, get this, 105 and said, "I totally super prepared for this presentation. Wow!" He pulled up the "final message" or point of the entire lecture but didn't even talk about it. We were supposed to do that ourselves. If that wasn't enough to top off my super exciting day, they had a short Q&A session. The first question was, "Do you think there are aliens?" Beside the fact we learned about potential space colonies on the moon and mars and concrete tangible information, this question missed the point of the lecture entirely. The presenter chuckled a little as if to deaden the reality of the question being asked. As with most of my days, upon reflection things are much more interesting than they appeared at first glance. This day was just odd and it ends that way except for the following.

Vegetable Pumpkin Curry

I got a Japanese pumpkin from the tea lady at school because she brought in extras from her garden. So instead of using potatoes in my curry I substituted the kabocha which when cooked is sweet and delicious. I simmered the pumpkin in mirin and soy sauce and then fried it with carrots and onion. Then I added water, red wine, and mirin to let the veggies boil and get softer. I also threw in some sliced red chili peppers for extra spicy flavor. The end result was a very nice curry with flavorful pumpkin. I have plenty for lunch tomorrow. I didn't take a picture of the end product because things get hidden in the thickness of the curry. I froze the extra pumpkin chunks and will use them later on. Life really isn't so bad.

Thank goodness I continue my weekend tomorrow with a day off. But that earth oven that I want to build is driving me crazy. I even had a dream about it because I've thought about it so much. If you don't know about my earth oven aspirations I'll explain soon.

It's really a shame we didn't see the other half of that guy's presentation today. It was actually kind of interesting. Yet, sleepiness and foreign language processing don't win wars.

Friday, October 15, 2010


So an early morning post to compliment my thoughts from last night. Be sure to read yesterday about my hiking trip and look at the pictures if you haven't.

Ayako Imoto is a Japanese TV personality or talent as they also say over here. I like how Jayson Young the JET in the next town over described Japanese TV as being a soupy shallow mess or something like that. It is so true. Japanese television shows usually consist of large groups of people sitting in a studio watching other smaller groups or individuals do ridiculous tasks, eat food, or travel places. Ayako gets her notoriety more from her dashing good looks than anything else. Have a look below.

She is hideous with her painted on eyebrows (thank goodness they aren't real) and nasty messed up teeth. To compliment her appearance she wears a young girl's school uniform. I was suckered into watching some of her programming recently as it is interesting albeit in a stupid way most of the time. It isn't uncommon to see such people on Japanese television though. One of her more recent antics was paddling a wash tub from an island off the Japanese coast to the mainland. I watched but spent most of the time thinking how much it cost just to provide that masseur and not to mention the entire support crew on a nearby boat.

Japanese TV is interesting but it's more interesting the careers people make for themselves out of weird characters. On a slightly related note, there was a show trying to figure out what meat was used most often when people make curry. Yeah... an entire segment devoted to the option of beef or pork curry. Oh Japan you are an odd place.

Thursday, October 14, 2010



It is almost the weekend again and I'm now sitting down to write about last weekend. Where does my time go? For some reason I cant remember half the weekend though. It must have been so trivial that my brain pruned those packets of information while I was sleeping. I don't have to write about them then, so good. Monday was another holiday so things fell perfectly into place.

The weather was acting like a spoiled child who cries on Friday and Saturday so it was impossible to go anywhere. It was pretty nice though to spend time around home. On Sunday it was really nice out but I didn't know it was going to be like that according to the forecast. I spent most of the day planning an attack on a mountain I had my eyes set on.

On Sunday at about 4pm I left my place and set out to fill up my car with gas. I should have done it earlier because the local gas station was closed and so was the one a few kilometers down the road. I had to drive about 8 or 9km out of my way just to acquire some gas. If I hadn't found gas I would have gone back home, screamed into a pillow, and then eaten some cookies. I got a later start than I wanted to because I intended to get to the mountain before it got dark so I could check out where the trail was. Well not only was it later than I planned but the drive took forever. Route 40 is a windy road with blind curves and numerous switchbacks. By the time I was in the vicinity of the mountain it was starting to turn into a horror movie scene. No blood or guts but just thick fog and clouds covering the road. When I finally made it to the parking lot and I could hardly tell where to park because it was pretty dark and fog infested. Much to my surprise there were a couple other cars hanging out. If you haven't figured out by now I was planning to sleep in my car so I could climb the mountain and see the sun rise. I guess only the true mountain warriors spend the night and hike before sun rise. I had to remind myself several times that I was in my car, in Japan, up on a mountain, spending the night. It was a very eerie and quiet night to myself. Much of the time I laid with my eyes closed pondering how far the universe reaches while I waited for my body to enter sleep mode. I didn't sleep the best but it was sufficient. It's better than driving that route 40 in the morning while it's still dark.

At 4:30am on Monday I got up and prepared myself for the hike up to the top. Upon waking up I was greeted with a glorious starry sky. Perfectly clear. When I set out at 4:45 I stopped for awhile to gaze at the stars. When I get a tripod (sometime soon maybe?) I will take some long exposure pictures. But in all honesty you need to get out of wherever your light soaked pollution area is and see the wonder of stars. I was moving at a pretty fast pace up the trail with my trusty flashlight in hand and few minutes in and I realized that I should never drink blended milk and coffee drinks before physical exertion again. It's like the one time I ate yogurt before a football workout as a freshman in high school. I never did that again. I'm sure I could feel the yogurt curdling in my stomach. I actually ended up being just fine but for a few moments I wasn't sure if I would be doing an air prayer to the porcelain god or not.

Before I knew it I had reached what I thought was the top. There were a couple other of people, men, armed with cameras and tripods as if they were going to wage a war with the landscape on photographic terms. I stayed there for about a half hour or more waiting for the sun to rise. I got a handful of shots as the sky was bleeding into morning.


But as I said I thought it was the top of the mountain. Well it is the top of the smaller peak. I didn't realize this till the sun was almost up and in order to compensate I ran up the rest of the trail to capture some shots at the highest point. I was a bit late but still took pictures as the sun came up. It was wonderful regardless of the pictures I took. I could see the red hues on the Pacific Ocean and the duller blues on the Inland Sea of Japan. The black shadows of the mountains and thin clouds mixed with pockets of sun gave off a mystic feeling. The illumination of Mount Ishizuchi was equally splendid. It was invigorating to sit at the top and take in the morning sun. One of the more interesting and beautiful aspects of the mountain is the meadow like short bamboo growing all over the hillsides.


I took some time for a small breakfast of an apple and some dried meat and then headed back down to the lower peak.


By now the masses of casual day hikers were flocking the mountain trails like ants and sugar. I met some hikers from Himeji (city west of Kobe on the main island Honshu). As with most random Japanese people I meet in the middle of nowhere they always mention my Japanese is good. If you haven't remembered you can say thank you in Japanese and convince a Japanese person you are fluent. A bit sarcastic there but with a shred of truth. Before I said anything I was standing around taking pictures and was thinking what they might be thinking to see the random foreigner up on a mountain in Shikoku. You can fill in the blanks because my imagination just broke. The hikers moved on and I met another older man from the nearby prefecture Ehime. We talked about the scenery and nice mountains. I could understand almost everything he said which not only is good for comprehension but makes me feel not so useless with spoken Japanese. At one point he asked me about Natsume Soseki, who is a famous Japanese writer. I was a bit confused why he suddenly brought up the writer but Soseki taught at a school in the man's town so he was connecting to the two. Soseki is one of the authors all Japanese know much like a J.D. Salinger in America. But he is only famous for not doing interviews, right? Okay so two different people entirely but you get the point. The man also informed me that stars were beautiful around 2am. So he was randomly up at 2am? Better. He was out taking pictures of stars at 2am on another mountain and was continuing his hiking where I was at. Talk about a true mountain soldier. He is more amazing than I. Yet, it isn't a contest so it was good company.

I bid him farewell 10 minutes later and descended the mountain. I kind of forgot to tell you how tall the mountain is and all those technical elements. But I don't want to ruin the shroud of mountain man-ness I have been creating for myself lately. So while the mountain is 1,896 meters tall I don't know the vertical distance ascended. Lets just say it was easier than the first mountain a couple weeks back.


Alas I'm already damaging myself so just fend for yourselves please


Head over to my flickr page for the rest of the pictures.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Prelude to the Sunrise of Shikoku in E Flat

After the three day weekend I have filled my mind with more things I want to do. I think I keep finding things to put on my list because I don't have many other plans or commitments. Plus, I feel like it is a really good opportunity to just DO THINGS. Things that hold my interest or seem rewarding. Next weekend I plan to finish cleaning up my balcony area and emptying the soil out of plant containers. I would really like to start working on my painting project so I will have to gather more information on what I need and where I should go to acquire supplies.

More than half the time my life is surreal and the other portion is real. My journey up to the mountains on Monday is a good example of that. I will be writing that up soon when I put it at the top of my priorities.

Last night catching up on my Japanese took my time. I am making really great progress in that respect. Next month I begin the JET Japanese course which will come to me every month in the mail. This will be good for cleaning up and expanding grammar. At the same time I have reached chapter 48 in my kanji workbook which means I know should know the readings of at least 700 kanji characters. Keyword is SHOULD KNOW but I actually can remember a significant chunk of those. I'm aiming to get to chapter 76 before the end of the year. At that point I will reach about 1,000 kanji. After that point I would like to direct my study toward the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). I would be preparing for level 2 of the test. I believe there are five levels with five being the lowest. It would be pointless and a waste of money to even take 3 because I'm much closer to the level 2. I feel like my speaking is what comes out of garbage disposal most of the time. I do notice that because of my kanji study I can understand a lot of random words people use. My communication is just a little butchered. But if you can talk about the scenery with the Japanese hikers up in the mountains does it really matter how good you are? No because I understand them and they understand me. What more do we need?

Anyway, I'll catch you up soon. I'm off to wrangle some 5th and 6th graders into English enjoyment with a dash of kindergarten on the side. I hope it works out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Up through roads wound like a spring
Nothing more than wind and trees sing
When does the path unwind?
Who have I followed behind?

Power Line Point

Signs in primitive script
One man finishes his trip
Where do my feet go from here?
The thought leers in my ear

Left and Right, Which is Right?

On shale broken thin
Roots just out like pins
What length till the next bend?
How many stops before the end?

Metal goliaths guard the ridges
They only exist as man's bridges
Unnatural in this place
The gentle slopes defaced


Three way junctions up this high
Why did anyone bother to climb?
The man made lake is pooling there
No one seems to care

Inamura Junction

Through a pine laden grove
Where knotted roots also rove
The shale slips past my feet
Too far to retreat

Slice the Hills

Up the last wind
I've straightened this line
My mind is no more besieged
For the summit I have reached

5 Feet Higher

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Round Two Begins

My second round of elementary school visits started today. Last month I was a bit unsure of how elementary teaching would go. I wasn't scared but it was completely new territory. My intro lessons went fairly well. I felt bad for the younger students who had to sit through a batch of random pictures and maps. I don't know to what extent they found it interesting and that isn't so important. Rather it was the gritty details about myself that needed to be laid bare so the students could begin to get a better idea of who I am. With only visits once a month it can feel like I don't know the students and they don't know me.

Today was heaps of fun. Do to the liberty of my job I'm left to fend for myself and prepare everything. A complete positive in most aspects. After looking through what the previous ALT taught I decided to use the topic of commands. He had mentioned that he never got around to doing such a lesson so it seemed like a good starting point the students probably hadn't covered, if not for a long time. I also made use of my RA experience today to pull out an ice breaker game that would be appropriate for all students. If there is anything the RA job taught me it is that at campus housing employee get togethers (mandatory) that they love any kind of ice breaker. Seth McCoy please kill big booty though. Even if it wasn't you that introduced it, you may have, it should die a terrible death in the vain of being buried in sand up to the neck and being left for a few hours to take a nap. Then you never wake up because the weight of the sand has compressed the diaphragm and breathing is subdued. This is why I don't like the idea of being buried in sand. All I can say is that the kids loved my ice breaker game. For those who don't know fuzzy duck you make a circle of people. Then one person starts and you point either left or right. If right, you say fuzzy duck. If left, ducky fuzz. Anyone can go either direction at anytime. To mix things up you can always quack at someone across the circle to send the game away from yourself. It was pretty entertaining trying to get them to say fuzzy duck and ducky fuzz loudly and correctly. We played rather slow but they all got it and were laughing up a storm as their classmates messed up and made mistakes. There wasn't a class that didn't like the game. Some of the 3rd and 4th grade girls were like, "Blaine sensei come play with us!" They didn't want to stop. I can only imagine the carnage of fuzzy duck that lies in the wake of playing. Success of the game definitely noted.

I went on to teach them really easy commands in English now that their minds were activated and alive. For instance, look, touch, stand up, etc. They caught on very easily even when I didn't teach them specific particles like 'a, the, an' that go with some of the commands. After I felt they knew the commands fairly well I had them stand up and explained another game. Now the name Simon Says in English doesn't make much sense to me but never thought about it till now. So I renamed it to "Sensei Says" (Teacher Says) which I think works equally well. The students really got into the game. As you might know it's impossible for me to not tease. This is no doubt thanks to my father which I say is said in the most endearing way possible. Sometimes his teasing was scary like when he would turn the lights off and hide in a room somewhere. Those were extremely surreal experiences. I have these mental images but I don't even know if half of them are real. At any rate, Sensei Says was so fun because I got to trick the students over and over again. Even after many caught on to the game I could still get them sometimes just by making confident faces and carelessly giving commands. After each class played a few times they kept asking to do it again. I intended to give students a chance to be the sensei but that would have been challenging for students to do correctly. I love how happy all the students were. They kept saying it was interesting and fun. The elementary students by all means made my day. As I drove home I couldn't but help smile and laugh.

On a completely different note, if you read yesterday I have quite a few "projects" I would like to undertake. To add insult to injury I spent an hour last time reading about ohenro. This is a 88 temple pilgrimage through the island of Shikoku.

Walking to each temple can take anywhere from 40-54 days. Recently it has been a big tourist attraction. You can charter bus tours and yes, even helicopters to visit all the temples. To me that seems to defeat the purpose of the journey. I don't think I will ever have time while I'm here to walk the entire route unless I saved up a ton of days off. Even then I couldn't just up and leave for more than a month at school. In summer it would be possible. However, the heat would cook my hide before I get anywhere. I think I might try to walk the route one prefecture at a time, in a week's time. I would love to walk the entire thing at once though. What WOULD YOU really want, doing a 45 day walking pilgrimage or breaking the route up over different times? That feels like an excuse. I want to say I did ohenro and follow up that statement with ALL AT ONCE. And the person follows up with, "That's something special Blaine, now tell me how to say hello in Japanese."

That was supposed to be the end. I remembered something interesting though from today that I thought was worthwhile to include. The music teacher has been asking me how I am progressing with guitar. I basically tell her I'm pretty rough at playing chords fluidly but I'm getting there. She never learned guitar because she thought it was too hard. I'm sure the piano is that much easier... She really has a sinister plot brewing that she wants to sweep me into. There is culture festival next month. Pretty big deal like sports day. I skipped the one at Kansaigaidai and went to Tokyo which I never regretted. I figured there would always be 'culture days' again in my life. I shan't be disappointed next month. The music teacher oversees the culture club which I think is a clever name to disguise the fact it is more of a music club than anything. Then again I could be very wrong. They are learning a song for the culture festival. The music teacher, after some prodding about my guitar abilities, asked if I would play with them. I immediately gave her a dumbfounded "ehhhh?" to which she replied, "Don't worry you will be good enough by then." I hope she isn't placing too much confidence in me. Now before you flip out she actually only asked me to play two chords the whole time on the guitar as a filler instrument. Still, I told her I would think about it. Ultimately we all know I will do it. Why back out of such a great opportunity. I miss band at times and this is a perfect chance to relive my days on tuba. I should write a memoir about the tuba section. My first evening at marching band practice I was introduced to the game called "Gestapo". One of the tuba players told me it was quite simple. They chase their Jewish friend around street alleys and try to beat him up. The reality is that the friend was Jewish and they actually played the game. I never learned if they traded roles but I highly doubt it. The Jewish kid was proud of his role. On a cold winter night I will attempt to pen the tales I remember from those days. Here I come culture festival. Be ready for me. The plus side to all of this is that I get some great exposure to the students. If I can play two chords like a robot I might just come in below deity status at school. One of the cool third students even tells me about his print club stickers and what he did with his girlfriend on the weekend. They must like me a little right? Soon they all shall stroll on the precipice of the monolith that is I.

PS. I have taken Genesis 11 into account with this posting. Thanks.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Into October

The afternoons are quickly draining away with the onset of autumn. It becomes dark much faster because of the mountains which I have probably said several times already. Around 5pm the sun is already heading behind the hills and gray overtones line up flush with the slopes. I don't mind though because the serenity in these valleys is unmatched when night falls. On clear nights I love to go out on my roof and stare at the heavens. Raw expanses of sky are beautiful. I have noticed that lately cloudy weather has made me feel very sluggish and lethargic. It might just be because my free days and weekends have fallen on days with lame weather.

My school existence is interesting. Today my cooperating teacher was gone taking care of some family business which meant I was left to fend for myself. For some reason they wanted to take my picture today and they made me wear a tie and jacket (only for the picture though). I didn't really bother to ask why and just went along with it. I think it is for some memory book. Oh, which great realization by me, is a year book. The PE teacher taking my picture wanted to use the blurry picture that was lighter but I wouldn't let her use it. The problem could have been easily adjusted in photoshop but somethings are better not offered. I spent the day preparing for elementary school lessons and hardly talked to anyone. I sometimes wonder what they really think of me. They probably don't mind me either way too much. I usually leave a little after 5pm each day and most of the other teachers are still hanging around doing who knows what. Most teachers only have to teach 3 classes maximum every day and every now and then 4. Some have after school clubs they help out with so that is understandable but others I wonder about. It is common for teachers to stay late at school yet I'm not convinced the teachers here need to every day. I tend to think it has to do with Japanese values of working working working. Who knows though. I feel a bit guilty leaving before most teachers but I don't have any actual work to do. I would just be eating clock hours that won't make a difference in pay or work accomplished. Plus, I do some of my best thinking when I'm back home. My desk has a smaller shelf unit underneath it that leaves me legs cramped half the day. It isn't the most conducive and product environment so I am glad to vacate come 5 o'clock every day.

Lately I'm thinking about devoting more time to a club after school to get more involved. I can't but help feel I should make more use of what is available. Would I regret it later? I usually deal with regret like I do apple cores. I eat them and receive small traces of cyanide to fight cancer. At least that is the theory some say. Sure I regret things as most people do but I make it a habit not to dwell on such things. I'm generally slow to get myself into things and I'm running that course right now. It's just me. There is a volleyball club that the PTA and local parents organize. While I like volleyball and the idea of playing with people, I don't believe I would enjoy the commitment that would require despite the fact I don't even know that information. Badminton seems to be a good option. It is a nice little workout and its fun to hit around with the students. Speaking of working out I'm still contemplating a mountain bike. I think I might hold out till next spring and see how I feel at that point. I would enjoy a proper bike for cruising (struggling in agony) around the mountains.

I enjoy the kids at school the most. They are the best part and sometimes can be a pain. Isn't that why we want to teach though? The students really make teaching what it is because they are dynamic and thoughtful (sometimes). Business jobs never have interested me much. Spread sheets and data entry only talk to you so much. And if they are talking to you its probably your mind either going comatose or mental degradation. Students always mix my days up and make things different. I appreciate them even when they act like idiots. Japanese middle school students are very good at being extremely immature. We have all gone through middle school and know what it is like but I tend to think Japanese schools are worse. It stems from a lack of direct supervision in between classes when they have 10 minute breaks. Students roam around doing whatever the heck they generally want. The boys might hold hands and hug. They might punch either in the butt and groin. They might be pushing each other around the halls. It is kind of bizarre. But then again Japanese television loves putting men who impersonate women on the air so what really is that strange to anyone in Japan?

I've been looking into 廃墟 in Shikoku. Haikyo means ruins but we would say abandoned probably in English. So far I haven't really come across anything too spectacular but my hunch is that I'm going to have to find things on my own. I found some information about mines which may prove promising in the future. I don't mean labyrinths of caves but the surface structures and buildings left from mine activity. There are probably handfuls of these places hiding in the mountains around here. I don't think too many other people have their minds set on such exploration. Plus, I continue to find more mountains to climb. I would really like to see if I can find some old Japanese roads through Shikoku. I forget what these are called but on the main island of Honshu they are all over the place. They usually run very conspicuously through towns and nobody knows they are even around. I doubt Shikoku has many but I would like to walk some if I can find them. It only fuels my desire to experience the land and its past. My interests most of the time seem so far from most other people but I walk my line proudly.

My house needs some touch up work. The railing on my balcony is so rusted and ugly. I want to be able to hang futons on it so I'm thinking of sanding the worst parts down and then painting it. I thought for a second I should maybe ask someone if it's okay to do some painting. No one checked the place when Lachlan left and they probably haven't done anything because one ALT leaves the day a new one arrives. I'm really doing the town office a favor by fixing up their property. So if that is any indication I'm going to go ahead and do some renovations. There is the old wood paneling that isn't so bad expect for the fact that it is like a wood paper on the surface. Adhesives have pulled various parts of it off around the house from pictures. I would like to do pain some more walls but that would be a little too much. So for now I intend to do the balcony railing and then I'm going to paint my toilet room. The toilet room is like a closet really. It has an entire wall covered in manga (comics) that I guess was pretty decent. However, it is a testament to the legacy of the one who lived here before me. Out with the old and make something new. After that I might paint the shower. I'm not sure what colors would be soothing for a toilet and shower room. Serious suggestions are welcome unless you are Travis. My plans are mostly tentative at this point. I think I just need to buy a broom first and sweep the balcony up. I would also like to find more use for the roof space. I'll have to get creative with bamboo this winter. I should change one of my spare rooms into a workshop. I've tooled around with the idea of building a bed frame out of bamboo or even wood. I have too many ambitious ideas though. I have to curtail some of them in order to realistically focus on more specific subjects. One of the most important is getting my rear speakers working in the car. This probably requires a simple wire fix but getting the stereo out is a potential disaster waiting to happen. In fact I messed up the air control switch for the heating and cooling in the car for awhile yesterday. It magically popped back in place to some great mystery. Anyway, I have a plethora of tasks on my plate and a stack of fleeting ideas lying about my midst. More to come on this later... you can be sure.

As I write I'm listening to a public broadcast from the town office about the local high school sports day. Is this what communism feels like? Better yet, is this how North Korea feels like with radios installed in every dwelling that you can never turn off completely? Just as one message ends a second one comes on as I write this sentence. It is always the same guy talking about town related stuff. Another big question is what he is always doing at the town office till such late hours. His wife must be really lonely or he is one lame bachelor.

I might even talk about sports day soon. But watch a month go past and I won't even bother writing about it. Oh well there is always next year right?

I thought my post was done but the guy came back on for a 3rd broadcast at the town office. I couldn't resist mentioning it. I should do a public opinion survey and find out who gives a care about 90% of the messages they give. Everyone surely loves the annoying echoing voice through the valleys...