Saturday, March 21, 2009


In Japan stamps are very important. Everyone has a stamp that they use for official documents. They are registered at city hall and you use them on bills, to open bank accounts, or even to sign up for a gym membership. My Japanese friends were astonished to know that we just sign our names in the States. "But anyone can sign your name, right?" Well, umm, yeah, but we don't have cool kanji to make up our stamps.

In fact my official stamp is just my initials - JK. It stays at the Board of Education with my boss because she "signs" documents for me on a regular basis so I only take it with her permission and a promise to return it safely soon after using it.

But luckily for me they use stamps for more than just official documents. The kids make stamps out of erasers at school and then use them to make bookmarks and the like. And calligraphers have their own stamps that they stamp their masterpieces with. I am recently the proud owner of 3 stamps featuring my name.

One was made for me by the fourth grade teacher at one of my schools. It's my name in hirgana carved into an eraser (the one at the bottom.) I was so excited and elated when she gave it to me. I've used it on cards and letters I've sent home and I have plans to stamp the geocache logbooks I find with it.

The other two are made from stone by my calligraphy sensei. He carved them himself and stamped our work for us yesterday before we left, one in romaji (on the top) and one in katakana (in the middle; this is how my name looks normally when written in Japanese.) I'm not sure I thanked him properly I was so excited. I'm going to have to go on a letter writing frenzy or practice my calligraphy some more so I can get the most use out of my shiny new stamps.

Traditionally this should be in red ink, but I only have a pink stamp pad at the moment.

My latest attempt at calligraphy - sakura or cherry blossom.

This kanji was harder than the last one I tried. I feel like I got the tree radical on the left alright but the woman radical on the right, while I can write it just fine with a pencil, is much harder with a brush. I'm also thinking too Western and write it with left to right in mind rather than right to left, which is how kanji is written. So my name should really be on the other side of the board. Oh well. I still like it. I imagine it looks like a woman sitting under a cherry tree while the pink petals shower down on her.

Friday, March 13, 2009

White Day

In Japan, Valentine's Day works a little differently than in the West. For starters only girls give chocolates. They give it to their friends - tomochoco. They give it to their bosses - girichoco (literally obligation chocolate.) And they give it to their lovers/potential lovers. Or in my case they give it to their old men friends who sometimes pay for them at karaoke and asked that I give them chocolate on Valentine's Day. I did but with the caveat that I got something on White Day.

Say what? What the heck is White Day? you ask.

Japanese men get one month to decide if the chocolate offering in February was to their liking and return the gesture, although usually with cookies rather than chocolates. So at my English class on Wednesday night I came home with four boxes of chocolates and cookies from my lovely friends Toshio, Nagata-san, Clinton and Bob (yeah, those aren't their real names.) I don't have to buy cookies least a week.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

In which I am appreciated

Last year due to some unfortunate scheduling I happened to be at one of my elementary schools for their graduation rehearsal and later at one of my junior highs for the actual ceremony. It was the kind of cultural experience I hoped I wouldn't have to ever repeat again because of the cold, uncomfortable chairs, and mind-numbing boredom. Somehow, this year I've managed to get out of all of them. I go to five schools and I'm not going to one graduation ceremony!

Instead this week, I managed to hit the "goodbye and thank you for being wonderful teachers" parties that the sixth graders in elementary school give before they graduate. On Tuesday they brought me cake in the teacher's room since I couldn't make it to the actual party and today during sixth period all the teachers were called down to the home economics room (very politely I might add) and then escorted there where we were fed crepes with tea and played games. They presented us with these plaques they had written messages on and a bookmark and then we had two very short speeches before we finished and the music teacher drove me home. Much much better than the graduation ceremony I must say.

I was especially happy to get a plaque since I didn't get one last year. You can see it below - that's my name in the middle in purple. It took me quite awhile to read all of it, but most of them say "Thanks for teaching us for two years. Your games and classes were fun. Please be nice to me in junior high." It's not really goodbye yet for these students and me since they will move up to one of the two junior highs I teach at. I made sure they knew that starting in April, however, that I was no longer Jennifer-sensei but Ms. Jennifer, which means no more stilted Japanese from me. It's all English from here on out!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Everything but Mt. Fuiji

I have lived in Japan for over a year now and despite multiple trips to Tokyo and everyone telling me that on a clear day you can see it from one of the higher spots in Tahara I still have not seen Mt. Fuji, not more than a hazy outline of what might be the largest mountain and active volcano if I squint and use my imagination.

So I convinced my friend Marie (pronounced Ma-ree-ay) to take a trip to see it. My exact request was "I want to sit naked in an onsen and look at Mt. Fuji." Soon the trip grew from the two of us to include our friends Sue, Vanessa, and a new friend Danielle.

Early Saturday morning we set out in the hopes that we would see the famous mountain. Our hopes would soon be dashed because according to Marie I am a 雨女 (or rain woman.) It didn't rain but she amended her statement to declare me a 雲女 (cloud woman.) But it wasn't just cloudy as in "oh no maybe we won't see the top of Mt. Fuji" or "Oh there it is but those clouds are ruining my picture" kind of day. No it was a "Oh my god how can the bus driver see in this thick pea soup-y fog. I hope we don't drive over this mountain road or hit another car" kind of day. When I say I didn't see Mt. Fuji, I mean if someone hadn't told me it was there I would have had no idea. I had to ask a few times which way I was meant to be looking.


Mt. Fuji

At least the food was good.


And we did have the onsen.


And good times with friends.


Which you know is good, BUT...I really wanted to Mt. Fuji!

Oh well, I can now say though that I have been on a real Japanese tour, which was all inclusive. We had the obligatory drunk party at the back of the bus. Hello! They started at 8:00 in the morning! One of them stole Vanessa's shoes while we were eating lunch and they chatted us all up at dinner (including insulting several of us.) We had the sponsored visits to places like a "winery" and a "cheesecake factory" that looked less like those descriptors and more like just a place to buy wine and cheesecake. And we had the lady tour guide in her smart uniform with her nasally voice telling us about the mountain we couldn't see and also warning us to be careful we didn't break a nail when we moved our tray tables. She also occasionally served us tea and made us sit through a horrible Japanese movie from the early nineties about a ragtag volleyball team. It was great!

But next time I think I will book my own trip. And maybe next time I might actually get to see something!