Saturday, December 11, 2010

More etegami

Here are my latest etegami. It's a winter series and I wrote in Japanese this time. It's probably not correct Japanese since I'm out of practice but it's my best effort using my dictionary and the internet. I'm sending these to my friend Marie. I sent the first one already and I'll send the last two a few days from now staggered so she gets them at different times.

Winter etegami
I just realized my scanner chopped off the bottom of this one but it says "It's getting colder and colder"

Winter etegami
"Don't catch a cold!"

Winter etegami
"Warm hands and a warm heart."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My latest hobby

Right before I left Japan I got really interested in etegami. It's a kind of Japanese folk art. The word "e" means picture and "tegami" is letter so "etegami" is picture letter. Really they are postcards.

I love postcards. Ever since I was a little girl I have collected post cards. I have hundreds from everywhere I've traveled, some from you here on my flist, and a large selection of old postcards my grandmother gave me when she cleaned out her desk. My favorites are the ones my grandpa sent from Germany when he was stationed there in the 50's. So postcard art is right up my alley.

Etegami has several components. First you ink in the outline. Sumi ink is traditional You hold the brush at the very top. It makes it very hard to draw precisely that way but you end up with what is called a "living line." Second you lay in the color with gansai water colors. Then you add words - a saying or a phrase that goes along with the picture. Then you put your stamp on it. I use the smaller of my two stamps that my calligraphy teacher, Maeda-sensei, made for me.

Finally, and this is the most important part, you give the postcard to someone. A little old lady in Kobe told me "it's not etegami unless you give it away." I love getting mail and I hope the people I send them to like getting mail too. So far it has already prompted a nice long email from my friend still living in Japan.

Below are a few samples of what I've drawn and also ones that Marie painted and sent me before I left Japan this summer. She helped me find a book to bring home and I bought most of the supplies before I left since they are much harder to find here in the States. I did a bunch that were fall and Halloween themed and sent them to friends.

Fall etegami

Halloween etegami
I made this one for the Roommate.

Halloween etegami
And then I gave her this one the next day.

Etegami from Marie
You and me are like cherries - Marie gave me this one.

Etegami from Marie
Let's go eat delicious sushi - Marie gave me this one.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Larry Travels the World

Many years ago - almost ten now - my sister and I got a Larry the Cucumber for Christmas. I don't remember how soon after we started taking pictures of Larry but it wasn't long before he was all over town. From there it was a very short step to taking him along on vacation and my many trips around the world. Since I've lived in France and then Japan, Larry has had the opportunity to have his picture snapped all over Europe and Asia.

This is the work of nearly 8 years and you can see where at the beginning I didn't have a digital camera (or the ability to get anything focused correctly.) Here are just a sampling. You can see the rest in my Flickr set here.

Larry travels the globe
At the grocery store in town.

Larry travels the globe
In London

Larry travels the globe
In Paris

Larry travels the globe
In Rome

Larry travels the globe
In Sydney

Larry travels the globe
In Beijing

Larry travels the globe
On the Great Wall

Larry travels the globe
In Tokyo

Larry travels the globe
Near Mt. Fuji

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The other reason I came home

Painting with my three year old nephew.

Painting time

Or rather painting on my three year old nephew.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

This is why I came home.


Introducing Bob. Not her real name of course but since my dad calls me and my sisters Joe he has decided that the grandkids will all be Bob. This is so he doesn't have to remember anyone's name at any given point in time. They are either Joe or Bob.

This Bob was five weeks early and spent most of last week in the ICU because she couldn't keep her temperature regulated but she's finally home with her older brother Bob who still doesn't know what to make of her. Being two and obsessed with Thomas the Train he has dubbed her Salty. I kind of hope that one sticks because I think it's hilarious.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Yukatta party

Somewhere between paragliding, a trip to Osaka, goodbye parties, and packing to come home, my girlfriends and I had a yukatta and hanabi party. There wasn't a festival going on nearby before I left so we decided to make our own.

We met at my house and then headed to the arcade to take purikura pictures in our summer kimonos (called yukatta) and then we went out by the water where we set off fireworks. It was really windy so we couldn't get them lit without some effort and then we had to be careful that no one caught on fire. (No one did thank goodness.) My friend Sue's goal was to "make a good memory" and get some picture of dressed up. Mission accomplished.

Hanabi party

Hanabi party

Hanabi party

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I'm bogged down in cleaning, packing, and going to sayonara parties at the moment. But last week when I was chilling and only thinking of packing/cleaning/sayonara partying I decided to get something off my want-to-do list for here in Tahara and that was go paragliding. I'd caught glimpses of paragliders in Takigashira Park and near Mt. Zao and I've always been intrigued. I finally convinced my friend Sue to go with me and she was very kind to do all the research, scheduling, and translating safety instructions for me.

The first day we tried to go the wind wasn't so good so we had to wait a long time. I didn't really mind because we were in the shade, there was a breeze (even if it wasn't good for flying) and we had a spectacular view of the Pacific. We ended up getting to go finally but it was only for 10 minutes. We paid the guy but he said we could come back another day for free since we really hadn't gotten our money's worth.

So the next day we tried again. This time the only waiting was for Sue to finish her turn. Then I went for over an hour and a half. We flew a total of 22 kilometers - from the launch point in Toyohashi all the way down to Tahara. This was quite the deal since at the rate we paid we were only supposed to be up for 30 minutes. And I think I paid less than advertised because either the guy doesn't know how to make change or he gave me a discount because I'm foreign and/or the wind wasn't good the first day. Either way I was definitely a satisfied customer!

An hour and a half ended up being a little too long actually since my legs were starting to cramp from not being able to move but it was worth it. Great views and it was oddly relaxing. It wasn't jarring at all (even the landing) and I tended to forget that we were 100m in the air until I looked down to see my feet dangling.


Ready to go.




Looking down.

The amazing view.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

3 weeks left

I was a little leery of giving myself 3 weeks after I finished school before coming home but I'm starting to think 3 weeks is exactly what I need. I was afraid I would be bored but now I can pack at leisure and spend lots of time with my friends before I go.

I rode my bike to the beach yesterday and then met Sue, Saori, and Miwa for dinner. At one point they all had their calendars out while we planned multiple events with me before I go back. We're going to karaoke on Friday. Once we realized there are no festivals nearby before I go back we decided to have our own yukatta party here in Tahara. We're going to dress up, go to the beach and set off fireworks and then maybe hit up some more karaoke. (I need copious amounts of karaoke before I return home.)

Today I went to the beach again with my friend Miyuki and her husband. Friday and Saturday my friend Danielle is coming to stay and we are going to try and bike down to the end of peninsula. I might be going to a festival on Sunday in Toyota and my friend Allison also wants to come and stay. I have lots planned with Marie. There is a sayonara party to go to with the Board of Education and I have a meeting with the mayor before I go as well. I don't know why I thought I was going to be bored these three weeks. I'll be lucky to have a moment's peace honestly.

Sue and Saori are even going to take me to the airport the day I leave. This of course means there is no chance I won't be absolutely sobbing when I go but I just feel so blessed to have such amazing friends here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My last day of work was on Friday. I taught four classes, had lunch, gave a speech to the 9th grade and then went home. I really didn't think I was going to cry. I only teared up a little at Tobu-sho, my favorite school two weeks ago. And I didn't cry a single tear at Tobu-chu, Takamatsu-sho, or Okusa-sho.

Each of those schools had short ceremonies where I gave a speech and they presented me with a book where all the students had written me cute little messages that all said the same thing. (Thank you for always teaching me English. Your classes/games were very fun.)

Tobu-chu's student message was funny in that it mentioned the lesson where I talked about the differences between American bathrooms and Japanese bathrooms. Apparently the radical idea of the shower and toilet being in the same room had the most impact in three years.

At Okusa-sho we didn't really have a ceremony but we spent what normally would have been class time playing dodgeball (American rules because I've never quite understood the Japanese version) and then playing water basketball in the pool.

And during none of this did I shed a tear.

Then I gave my very last speech to a group of students who have been with me almost since I got here. Yusuke and Taiki who used to throw themselves on the floor if they couldn't answer "What sports do you play? during the Q&A warmup. When they could answer they shouted as loud as they could "I PLAY BASEBALL!" And the boys in 3A who spent last week asking me to sleep with them. And Koyo whose name tag said "Koyo da yo!" And Sachiko whose English was always very good and whose sister Ayako I taught before too. Touru, Akinori, Rino, Manami...and dozens more whose names I never remembered because I taught 1200 students a month. They presented me with a picture book and beautiful yukatta. I gave the speech in English and then I read it in Japanese. It wasn't until I was reading the Japanese that I started crying.


The last 3 years have been fun. At first I didn't speak any Japanese but you all were so kind to me. Thank you! I studied Japanese hard and you studied English hard and then we could communicate. I had fun talking with you. Soon I'll go back to America but I'll never forget Tahara Junior High.

I managed to only sniffle when I said goodbye in the teacher's room but I cried all the way home. I can't believe I'm really done. I have the sense that I'm doing the right thing even though I don't have anything lined up next but I have really enjoyed my three years here and even though sometimes I could get so frustrated with being in Japan I always had fun with the students.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Would you like to...

This is what I've been teaching to the 9th graders this week and last. P.28 of the New Horizon textbook where Judy asks Shin to go to a rock concert with her on Sunday. They're meeting in front of the station at 1:30. I've convinced most of the students that Judy is really asking Shin on a date. One of my teachers pointed out that Mike and Emi are probably a couple as well since they went on a picnic together in the 7th grade textbook - famous for the line "Oh! My cola!" (Don't worry Emi wiped up the spill with her hankie.)

We tried motivating them by telling them this is very useful English to use on cute foreigners. The unfortunate side effect however is that several of the boys have decided to practice on me. I love my students and there are several of the boys who if I were 14 I would be in love with. But I'm not 14. I'm 28 and their English teacher so when Kazuki asked me if I would like to come to his "Go to bed early party. It very enjoy," I threw my pen at him and told him "No!" and then a calmer "I'm sorry I can't. I'm busy." per the dialogue.

That was last week at Tobu JHS. This week at Tahara JHS I had 2 "Would you like to sleep with me?" 1 "Would you like to go to bed with me?" and 1 creative "Would you like to make a baby?" And I'm only half done with the 9th grade. I didn't realize my last week of teaching in Japan would consist of being repeatedly propositioned by 15 year old boys.

It reminds me of the time I was in a supermarket in Lyon, France and a teenage boy informed me that he had a "big tick." He seemed quite proud and repeated it over and over. I told him he should probably get that checked out by a doctor. At least my Japanese students are using correct English and polite English at that. One thing you can count on the world over though is that junior high school boys are all the same

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


It's July 7th - the seventh day of the seventh month - which means it's Tanabata.

Tanabata is a Japanese version of an old Chinese myth. A weaver princess named Orihime and a cow herder Hikoboshi fell in love but they never got any of their work done so they were banished to opposite sides of the Amanogawa (Milky Way.) They are only allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month.

To celebrate Tanabata people write their wishes on long strips of colorful paper and then hang them on bamboo poles. The poles are also decorated with streamers and other ornaments. In Tahara lining the Hanatoki-dori there are bamboo poles filled with wishes. The tables at Centfaire where the high schoolers hang out in the evening also have decorations.

I wrote my wish last week at Takamatsu Elementary. The teachers wouldn't let me write it in English so I had to do my best in Japanese. I wrote it in pencil first, then Suzue-sensei corrected it for me and then I wrote in pen. You can see it below. It says raigetsu america ni kaerimasu kedo mata nihon ni modoritai desu. That translates to "Next month I'm going home to America but someday I hope to come back to Japan."

The only thing is that if it rains then they can't meet and they have to wait an entire year for another chance. I'm afraid poor Orihime and Hikoboshi won't meet this year since it was pouring buckets the last time I looked out the window. I hope that doesn't affect my wish because I really do want to come back to Tahara someday. Either way, Happy Tanabata everyone!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

BBQ Party

Happy Independence Day! I celebrated with a BBQ in the park. Actually it was a sayonara party for me thrown by the Tahara International Association but we fixed hamburgers, hot dogs, and threw water balloons so I could almost pretend it was a real 4th of July party.

They advertised the party in the paper and with a flier to the schools so quite a few of my students showed up. I'll see some of them again in the last two weeks of school but the students from Tobu Elementary already had their last class with me so today was our last-last goodbye. I'm really glad we had one last chance to have some fun together.

I think my friend Emiko had more of a structured plan at the beginning but it ended up being low key and relaxed. The water balloons for the water balloon toss ended up being broken before we could play any games with them but with most of the kids soaked they didn't really care. Some of us played the shingo game (also known as Red Light, Green Light) which I taught them how to play in school last year. After hamburgers and hot dogs we made s'mores. At the end they gave me a present, I sang My Old Kentucky Home one last time, and we took a group photo. I had a great time. Throw in an afternoon nap and this could be the perfect Sunday.

BBQ Party
Some of my 3rd graders (and 1 kindergartener)

BBQ Party
We were supposed to do a water balloon toss but the kids broke them all before we could. We had fun anyway.

BBQ Party
Some TIA members cooking up our lunch.

BBQ Party
Eri and Mina making s'mores

BBQ Party
Daichi eating his s'more. Everyone said they were really sweet but delicious.

BBQ Party
Everyone had a great time!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tanjoubi Omedetou!

Me and surprise parties just don't go together. Two years ago my friend Marie tried to plan a surprise birthday party for me but she scheduled it on a Tuesday - the same day as my choir practices at the time - so when she asked if I wanted to go to dinner with her I told her I was busy.

"Oh well I'm planning a party for you and I already booked the place so can you skip chorus?"

The answer of course was yes. I can always skip choir practice for a party. Especially if it's for me!

This year she almost got away with it. I thought we were having lunch and then going to have a bath today but I had music practice with our mutual friend Masako yesterday and she gave away the secret. Just as we were leaving Masako said she would see tomorrow at Marie's house party.


Aaaaand surprise ruined.

Masako felt really bad about it and emailed Marie right away to apologize. But I don't really care. I just love that Marie tries to throw me surprise parties and that she cares enough to convince me to stay in Japan longer so we can take one last weekend trip together (to my dad's chagrin.) I'm going to miss all my friends in Japan but Marie most of all.

Birthday Party 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

O saki ni shitsure shimasu

As you may or may not know the Japanese have a lot of set phrases that are polite to say throughout the day. Living alone, I don't get to use the ones for leaving and coming home but I do have to say the ones at work. For example, I say a loud "Good morning!" or "Ohayogozaimus" to everyone in the teacher's room every day.

When I leave I say just as loudly but somewhat apologetically, "I'm sorry for leaving before you" (osaki ni shitsure shimasu) Then they respond with "Wow you worked hard today!" (O-tsukaresama deshita) Or sometimes they just say sayonara. I actually get kind of offended when I don't get an o-tsukaresama deshita when I leave. I mean I know I'm just part time and leaving before it gets dark but still I taught 4-5 classes so I deserve a "you worked hard today" goodbye.

They say o-tsukaresama at other times too. When a train arrives somewhere they thank you for your hard work sitting there patiently while the conductor drove the train. The hair stylist tells me thanks for your hard work after she has washed my hair, which always confuses me because shouldn't I be saying it to her instead? And a teacher told me that after I finished washing my hands the other day. She was waiting for her turn at the sink so it's possible she was being sarcastic about how long it takes me to wash my hands but I couldn't be sure. I've encountered very little sarcasm here that I'm unsure it even exists. But who says thanks for your hard work after washing their hands? I mean really.

Anyway, I was explaining all of this to my dad the other day - the ins and outs of Japanese greetings in the workplace and how they don't say things like "Have a good weekend!" on a Friday evening when they leave work because they know they will all be back on Saturday morning. They don't even say "Have a good night" because apparently no one should want to be anywhere other than at work. My dad pointed out that we would never apologize for leaving early in the US. We're much more likely to say "See ya later suckers!" as we waltz out the door at 4:59 on Friday afternoon.

He asked me if I ever smiled when I said "sorry for leaving before you."

"Oh no," I told him. "You have to look like you feel awful about leaving them behind to do all the work. You can't look happy about it."

There is no "See ya later suckers!" in Japanese although if you did translate it it would be something like "O-saki ni suckas!" which for some reason makes me laugh. Maybe it's the thought of my uber-polite coworkers shouting the word suckers and looking happy to be going home that is ridiculous enough to put a smile on my face. The only problem now is that since this conversation I have a mental picture of me shouting O-saki ni suckers! as I leave the teacher's room everyday to go home. It makes looking apologetic hard.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

For the record, just because I can swim 1200 meters doesn't mean that I can run around for two classes playing tag without feeling like my legs are going to fall off. Which is exactly what I've done the last two days and exactly how I feel at the moment.

Told my elementary students that I'm leaving at the end of July and we only have two more classes left together. Most of them didn't seem that sad but maybe that's because they're 10 and they don't really think about the future. The teachers have been really sweet though and I know I'll be crying buckets when it's time to say goodbye.

Back at junior high school tomorrow. We have exchange students from Indiana and Kentucky visiting so it will be nice to have someone to speak English with. And two weeks from now a delegation from Georgetown is coming to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the sister city relationship with Tahara. As the year-round representative of G-town I am not only going to the ceremony/reception but I'm also singing a solo. (Amazing Grace - because that's symbolic of international cooperation...)

People from the same delegation are coming around to watch me teach at Takamatsu-sho. That means I'll have to dress up to go to elementary school, which sucks because this time of year I try to wear clothes I don't mind getting dirty and sweaty since just standing around is hot and my teaching style usually includes a lot of me jumping around and acting like a clown and then playing games that have me running until my legs feel like they're going to fall off.

With any luck they'll actually replace me with another Georgetown College graduate and I won't be the last of my kind. No one tells me anything though.

Now my main concern is convincing the Board of Education that they shouldn't charge me to haul away everything in my apartment but that it should be left to the next ALT (unlike me who had to buy everything new.) I'm trying to appeal to the Japanese dislike of wasting things. I've used the word waste at least twice in every conversation regarding this topic. So far all I've gotten is that they have to talk about it and they'll let me know. I can't decide if they are really talking about it or if this is their way of saying no. It will be nice to be back in the land of yes means yes and no means no and by that I mean America.

Only six more weeks to go!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Japanese medicine

There is a reason I have my mom ship me my allergy meds from the States and that is because I don't like taking things when I don't know what's in them. But sometimes I go with convenience over complete understanding. Especially here in Japan.

I ran out of both zyrtec and benadryl two weeks ago. My mom had just sent me a package so I didn't feel like bothering her for another one so soon so I went around the corner and asked the little old lady at the pharmacy to give me something for itchy eyes and throat. She picked up a box and very kindly read it for me to confirm that was what I needed and then she even threw in a free vitamin drink that tasted a lot like cough syrup.

I called home afterward and tried to sound out the ingredients on the back of the box while my mom translated them into real words. If you've ever tried to read words written in katakana then you will understand what this conversation sounded like.


"Pseudoephedrine. That's a decongestant."

There's also belladonna in there along with some caffeine. Yesterday I started noticing I was having vertigo and dizziness. I'm sitting on the couch and suddenly the room will spin. At first I thought it was because my ears have been stuffy. It still could be that. It's happened before when I haven't consistently taken my decongestant. Fluid builds up in my ears and my balance goes out the window.

But I took two sudafed this morning and I'm still dizzy. I also took another one of my allergy pills. I'm starting to think I'm having an adverse reaction to the belladonna alkaloid in the allergy medicine. Actually another call home to Nurse!mom brought that out as a possibility. Either way I stayed home from school. Riding my bike and teaching 5 classes didn't seem like a good idea when every 10 minutes or so the room shifts position. At least I don't have hallucinations...that's another side effect of belladonna. Although that one might be more fun that this.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hamamatsu Kite Festival

On Monday May 3rd my friend Marie (Mah-ree-ay) and I headed to Hamamatsu to see their famous kite festival. It was Golden Week so it was packed. The line for the shuttle bus from the station to the festival was over an hour long and wound around two blocks! Marie is much more patient than I am and when I complained she just said, "It's Golden Week. You have to wait everywhere now." But it turned out to be worth the wait.

It was the perfect opportunity for people watching. Almost everyone was wearing hoppi - the jackets worn during festivals. Most people had the pants and split toe shoes on as well. And almost every girl I saw looked like she had been to the salon that morning to have her hair done. This is no small festival! It's really billed as the Hamamatsu Festival rather than the "Kite" festival per say but the kites really are the biggest draw. Even so we also saw some taiko drummers and nearer the station we saw some floats that I imagine are carried around town in much the same way they are in Tahara.

But we were there for the kites. They weren't battling that day but instead each neighborhood kite association would gather around one of their enormous paper kites. Each kite had the name of any new babies born in the last year emblazoned in the corner. Those same babies were hoisted up on the shoulders of one of the men and then a small band of elementary school children toting trumpets would play and the adults would cheer. It was really cool to see each group welcoming the new child to the community. And because Hamamatsu is a large city there were lots of bands and lots of babies and lots of kites.

Once the ritual welcome was performed then the kites were ready to fly. The wind wasn't being very cooperative at first but eventually the sky was filled with hand-painted paper kites. Marie tested my Japanese reading skills by making me translate the kanji (or hirigana) on each. After some festival food and a nice time watching the kites we stood in line again for the bus ride back to the station. We spent more time getting to the kite festival than we did at the kite festival!

Kite Festival
Marie and I pose in hoppi.

Kite Festival
These cute old ladies are taiko drummers. They were so nice to let me snap their picture.

Kite Festival
Everyone was wearing their festival clothes.

Kite Festival
They are big kites.

Kite Festival
They took several people to move.

Kite Festival
You can see the baby just under the flag. The adults are dancing around him.

Kite Festival

Kite Festival
There were bands of children everywhere playing their instruments.

Kite Festival
Getting the kite ready to fly.

Kite Festival
A view from a small hill.

Kite Festival
These guys had a better vantage point though I think.

Kite Festival