Sunday, December 6, 2009

Long-distance Longhorn Fan?

As if rooting my Alma Mater on today's game, I spotted this dude rocking a Longhorn cap in a store today:

It seemed out of place for Kuji City, but who knows, maybe he's really just a long-distance Longhorn fan.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mexican Food in Japan

This is what I'm used to getting when I order a burrito in the states:

So naturally, that's what I was expecting when I ordered one here for 420 Yen ($4.75). Instead I got this:

That's a 1 yen coin--about the size of a US Penny-- next to it for reference.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Onsen Mishaps

nother day, another onsen misadventure.

But whereas last time I was walked in on by 2 little girls, this time I walked in on an older lady.

In my defense, I had been to this onsen before but they switched the rooms' genders in between visits. Had I paid attention to the signs, I would've realized that something was amiss, but instead, I figured my experience was as good an indicator as any. Boy was I wrong.

Fortunately, I didn't see nor show anything. I first went into the (un)dressing room's bathroom and then came out to to see an elderly lady just before she started stripping. Thank God.

We stared at each other, jaws dropped from the shock, for what felt like an eternity before I started profusely apologizing. I swear that hentai was at the tip of her tongue but my confusion must've looked authentic because she regained her composure and then pointed me in the direction of the men's onsen.

Close call.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Japanese Honesty

This unmanned produce stand sits on the side of a busy road about 20km from where I live. The owners keep it stocked with fresh crops and depend on the honesty of passerby's to pay for whatever they take and not steal whatever money has accumulated.

I'm not sure how long this would last in most parts of the world. But bless Japan for it being able to survive here.

Surprise, we can sing!

Sometimes things just catch you by surprise. Yesterday, during the school culture festival, I was walking near a boy's bathroom when I caught the faint sound of singing. Investigating further, I opened the door to find 5 ninensei (11th grade) members of the baseball team standing in a semi-circle.

They looked up at me, startled, and slightly frightened.

I looked at each of them and then asked "Did I just hear singing in here?"


"Were you singing?"

One of them started grinning.

"Ah! Please, continue! dozo!"

They looked at each other, said some things in Japanese, and then began on what was one of the best acapella performances I have ever heard! They some minor bass, altos, sopranos and the pitcher was even doing a little beat-boxing. They killed it!

As I picked my jaw off the ground and regretted not being able to record it, I was reminded of this Lean on Me moment.

No doubt, I was just as surprised as Morgan Freeman was. But sometimes--especially in cases like these--I really like surprises.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Morikaze Cafe

Morikaze is a famous nature school especially known for its ecological and environmental education programmes. Located in Kuzumaki, they've been featured in magazines and people have come from all over Japan and the world to visit. In addition to the school, they also have a cafe that stays open to the public. A friend took me there for lunch this past weekend.

Morikaze Cafe - Homegrown food in a homegrown building

Furniture built from scratch

Outdoor barbecue area

The whole place was cool but this was my favorite part

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ballroom Dancing with Old(er) Japanese People

I joined a friend at a local "dance party" on Monday without really knowing what was going on. As it turns out, it was an annual social dance party and had enthusiasts from as far as Sapporo. Even though I was about 25 years younger than the average party-goer, it still ended up being a ton of fun:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Morning mist in Kuzumaki, Japan

It looked a lot better in person than through my cell phone's digital camera

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

One of my most awkward moments in Japan

Fact Number 1: Most people don't directly stare at foreigners here. But there are 2 exceptions: old people and little kids.

Fact Number 2: Onsens can be unisex or gender-specific. However, it's generally accepted that in gender-specific onsen, little kids can go with their parents, regardless of gender. So, there are sometimes little boys with their moms and little girls with their dads.

Fact 1 + Fact 2 = My most awkward moment in Japan

I was at an onsen a few days ago when Fact 1 and Fact 2 collided. I had just stepped out of the water when in walks a man and his 2 daughters. They had been playing with one another but after catching me in their peripheral vision, they turned my way and start staring.

Now, I'm pretty sure the fixation was due solely to my being black. That happens a lot and doesn't really bother me.

But this time, it was different. This time, it was incredibly awkward. Because this time, I was naked.

I hopped back in the water and then headed out once their dad interrupted their gazing. The whole ordeal lasted for under a minute, but I can definitely say that to date, this has been one the most awkward things to happen to me here.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Westernization of Japan

So maybe Japan is getting just a little westernized. We came across this monstrosity at a festival last night:

Yes, those are Lamborghini doors and 30 inch rims on an imported Buick. And who was driving this westernized western car? This young fella here:

Yes, that is a grill in his mouth. And if memory serves correct, he was also wearing Jordans.

I read the news today, oh boy

And where I live, foreigners partaking in chaji, a a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, constitutes news:

The pictures were taken at English Night, a cross-cultural event for English speakers and practitioners of all ages. It's just interesting that the pictures that ended up in the paper all contain foreigners.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Priceless Summer Vacation

20 blank CD's: 750 Yen.

4 full tanks of gas: 12,000 Yen.

Taking a solo, multi-day road trip with only a vague idea of where you're going while blasting your favorite tunes, exploring Northern Tohuku, peeping Nebuta, sessioning with the Akita Lockers, doing all public hygiene in convinis and onsens, sleeping on the beach, blindly pointing at menus and eating whatever comes out, talking to strangers and otherwise putting 4 months of Japanese study to the test: PRICELESS

Friday, August 14, 2009


Sometimes life can keep you down, with your face all in the dirt
Now if you feel that left behind, need to get up and go to church
Church by Outkast
It had been over 3 months since I had set foot in a church. Then one day, one of the English Teachers whom I had recently met casually mentioned a local one during a conversation.

"Whoa, hold on, what was that? There's a church around here?"

Indeed there is. 40 minutes away, in the beach hugging city of Kuji, resides Allen Church. And as if trying to prove a point, it even rests on top of a hill.

Despite not stepping inside one for a while, the church had an instantly familiar feel. Some call it an aura while others the Presence of God. Regardless of what you call it, the impression was undeniable to me.

After sitting down in the back row, glances in every which way immediately took me down memory lane. With it's beautifully stained glass windows, jumbo church bible and perfectly aligned pews, this building fit the church archetype. I could've been in Kuji City or the Bible Belt.

Stepping outside, I took a moment to stare at it's steeple, the epitome of the common church blueprint. Towering and cross-adorned, it unapologetically stood out for every passerby to see.

I had found a church.

...but that was the easy part. Attending was another story completely. Though the building is familiar, the service is not. It's very traditional and conservative, unlike the one's I attended in San Francisco and Austin. And though they have a monthly English service, the Japanese one is hard to endure.

However, all of that was put to rest, recently, when we sung Jesus Loves Me. I hadn't realized how common that song was but any one spent more than a few years going to church in their childhood knows it. I had learned it in English and Spanish (at some point; I've since forgotten it) but now I know it in Japanese. It reminded me that despite the language differences, the same core message is being taught. Here's the romaji:

Shu ware o ai su
Shu wa tsuyokereba
Ware yowaku to mo
Osore wa araji
Wa ga shu iesu
Wa ga shu iesu
Wa ga shu iesu
Ware o ai su

I learned it when I was a kid and this church also teaches it to their children.

The same building, the same songs and of course, the same message. I left America but felt at home singing familiar hymns in this building. And likewise, the youth of Allen Church may one day leave Japan. But even if they initially feel out of place, they'll also be able to find comfort singing familiar hymns in a recognizable church.

I don't make the stereotypes, I only see them

What do many U.S. universities, America's Best Dance Crew and The Debut all have in common? They all push the image that Filipino's are good dancers and love to dance.

It's a generalization I never really paid any mind to until recently. I currently teach some 250 students and offered to teach breaking to all of them. Many wanted to learn but only 2 showed continual interest.

One was a boy who had already been breaking for a while but the other was a half Filipino girl(a large number of men in rural Japan take Filipino and Chinese wives). Of all my students, one of the 2 who was not only interested in breaking, but also a fast learner and very good at breaking, just happened to have Filipino blood running through her veins.

I don't make the stereotypes, I only see them.

Japanese Catalog or the Mark of the Beast?

There's a Japanese e-commerce website at I saw an advertisement for it on TV in a restaurant in Akita. I didn't write it down or make any special effort to remember it, but 2 weeks later, I still do.

It's easy to remember but you would never see such a number in the U.S. for a a general e-commerce site or even a phone number because 666 is associated with the Beast. The site would get lots of hits but even more protests.

Funny how things differ from country to country.

Why are you apologizing?

Apologizing is a fundamental part of Japanese Culture but I think it can sometimes go too far. I was in a museum a couple of weeks ago and, while getting lost in translation, one of the curators apologized to me for their inability to speak English.

Come again? I came to your country so it is my responsibility to learn your language.

There was absolutely no reason why apologizing should have even entered her thought process. I was actually kind of offended for her.

It happened multiple times. Each time I tried to tell her that she shouldn't apologize and that I was sorry I didn't speak Japanese better. Unfortunately, this just put a puzzled look on her face and made her start apologizing more.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nerdy Sports

I swung by basketball, volleyball, soccer and baseball practice recently and realized something. Some sports have more "advanced" students than "regular".

Nearly everyone on both the men and women's basketball teams are "advanced" students and the few that aren't are some of the best students in the "regular" class. The same pretty much goes for volleyball.

But then the opposite is true for both baseball and soccer. Most of the the baseball and soccer players are "regular" students while the few "advanced" students who play quite at the same level as their peers.

I haven't a clue as to why this is. Any thoughts on this correlation?

Learning Japanese

I'm no longer illiterate!
I can read Japanese!
Well, 2 out of 3 at least...

I finally learned how to read kana last month. I had been struggling to learn the alphabet for a while but then took the advice of a friend and fellow English teacher here to use flash cards. I never really used them back in college but am now a huge fan of the learning method because they helped me quickly pick up the 2 alphabets.

They also made it easier to be quizzed. I walked around both of my schools for a couple of days with flashcards and had students quiz me.

I've never seen them laugh so hard.

It really made their day. Here I was, this teacher of the difficult English language, and I couldn't even read simple kana. How could someone confuse '' with 'め'? Or 'は' with ''? Or 'フ' with 'ワ'?

I've often thought the same thing when seeing mistakes between 'b' and 'd', 'i' and 'j' and many other "obviously" distinct pairs. But learning kana has been a humbling experience and I believe I'm more in touch with the plight of my students. Language learning is no joke!

I've been like a kid ever since then, reading everything I see outloud. Sometimes, especially with katakana, I'm able to understand what I'm reading but I'm clueless more often than not.

Next on my plate is basic kanij and verb conjugation..

(Random tidbit: Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of Weezer, has been tweeting in Japanese lately. It's pretty cool to actually have an idea of what he's saying)

Gross Miscalculation

Things Japan has a lot of:
  • Lotion
  • Body Wash
  • Toothpaste (albeit without fluoride)
  • Razors
Things Japan does NOT have a lot of:
  • Deodorant

Things I brought a lot of to Japan
  • Lotion
  • Body Wash
  • Toothpaste (with fluoride)
  • Razors
Things I did NOT bring a lot of to Japan:
  • Deodorant

I grossly miscalculated which items to bring and how much of them to bring

Because we didn't win

Not too long ago, I played volleyball in PE with some of my 2nd year girl students. I had this conversation with one of my students/teammates after one particularly close game that we lost:

Me: "Great game!"
Student: "No."
Me: "No? It was fun. And we had some great vollies. Why wasn't it fun?"
Student: "Because we didn't win"

Japanese ninensei girls are competitive.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Slam Jam!

I was definitely surprised by the turnout last Sunday at Slam Bar's 2nd Annual "Jam". It was described to me as a flea market and dance showcase but I didn't expect this caliber. There was a dancing double dutch group, a freestyle soccer b-boy, 14 year old dutty winers (had many speechless and confused), a friend and I and much more.

I didn't get all the performances of tape but here's a clip I put together of some:

Comfort Food

I didn't know I needed comfort food till I found it. I enjoy Japanese food but after accidentally stumbling upon one of my all-time favorite restaurants in a neighboring city, I realized there was a part of me that needed consoling.

Thank you KFC for lending a helping hand.

I hadn't felt that content in a while. I wasn't even hungry but after making eye contact with Colonel Sanders on a billboard, I had to stop by. I was in a trance and thankfully, the directions were intelligible enough for a non-Japanese-reading fried chicken lover such as myself to follow.

I momentarilly considered the implications (The only black guy in the entire city...found in a fried chicken joint) but laughed it away. And the cashiers didn't even seem surprised. People are typically taken aback when they see me in that city but the people at KFC acted as if they were expecting me!

Great, because they'll definitely be seeing more of me. A couple of old roommates and I used to make frequent pilgrimages to KFC and I have decided to continue the tradition here. I'll be going once a month, minimum. It's about a 1 hour drive but worth every minute.

Slightly Asian-a-fied Colonel Sanders

Smaller portions but it still hit the spot. Combine that with melon-flavored Fanta soda (left) and you have a deadly combination.

Japan furnishes KFC the way it should be. Like a nice, restaurant; none of that fast-food styled ambiance. KFC, IMO, is gormet food that just happens to come out fast.

Field Trips

I must say, for rural Japan, they sure do have some nice field trips. Back when I was in school, we used to go to the zoo. Every year.

But one of my schools here has sent students to England and Germany, not to mention every major city in Japan.

And 2 weeks ago, the entire school went to see John Neptune perform. It was just before 1st term tests so I think it was meant to calm their nerves. Whatever the reason, it was a great show.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Choreographing a dance with a language barrier

There's a block party coming up in June and Ryohei--the b-boy I met at last month's hip hop show--and I are putting a routine together. Despite the language barrier, things have been coming along pretty smoothly. We put this first part together in about 10 minutes:

I find that amazing. Not the dance itself, but the fact that we were able to choreograph it so quickly while not speaking each others' respective language. The routine isn't complex, but we literally only communicated using the music and the moves. It was equally created so we both had to do some "talking" and "listening".

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said that "music is the universal language of mankind". Does that make dancing its sign language?

Phallic Fixation

I can't think of any other way to put this: the male students at one of my schools have a penis obsession. But not with their own...with others'.

These kids are down with O.P.P. and groin grabbing is a regular occurrence. Its like the equivalent of wedgies in the states. Except it's not done by bullies, it's done by friends to one another. And it doesn't appear to be sexual. It's just...done.

This has been my first conscious taste of culture shock. Sure, I've been surprised by things here and there, but nothing truly shocking. This, however, was electrifying. And that's even after living in San Francisco for a year and a half.

But I'm not one to judge. And I really wasn't paying it any mind at first. But in the last few weeks, some of them had been setting their phallic fixation on me.

On 2 separate occasions, students reached for my crotch. Thank God for my quick reflexes, because had they succeeded, I may have lost my job. And on 3 other occasions, students tried to ask me about my stature. One guy just kept saying "You. African American?" and throwing an exaggerated cack in a b-boy battle manner. And then another one brought out a ruler...

Anyway, its rare times like these that I'm glad some of my students don't speak English particularly well. Because the bits and pieces of their broken English were so dilapidated, I could easily act like I didn't know what they were asking me.

But I'm staying alert. Because if I do my job well, then they'll be asking me with grammatically correct sentences in no time.

Driving in Iwate, Japan

Jamosa Show in Morioka

This past weekend, a bunch of us Western folk met up in Morioka, Iwate's Capitol. We kicked it in the city (its 300,000 population seems huge in comparison to my town), traded city/school war stories and hit up a show. I didn't know much about the line up but was pleasantly surprised: 4 DJ's, 2 rap groups, 2 3&B groups, 5 dance acts, including one that was half And 1 mix-tape/half hip hop troupe.

One dude, MPG (apparently stands for "Mack, Player, Gangsta") was able to complete the unfortunately difficult task of getting the crowd moving. He also looked like Ice Cube back in his gheri curl days:

Not sure what I was expecting out of this singer, but definitely not that voice

And finally, the headliner, a J-Pop/R&B singer by the name of Jamosa.

Good times

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hip Hop is World Wide

There's a regular hip hop night hosted not too far from where I live every other month. It's great that such a small, remote area can have a decent hip hop scene. There were DJ's, b-boys and emcees there representing 3 out of 4 elements.

They played both Japanese and American Hip Hop (Biggie, Nas, etc..) and even dropped some classic b-boy joints (e.g., DJ Shadow's Organ Donor) when we started breaking.

Hip Hop is world wide.

Event flier. I obviously don't know how to photograph one

Two of the emcees of the night. They had the hypest show. Wish I knew what they said...

Cold chillin' in his b-boy stance

Usual hip hop show Suspects from left to right 2 left: hip hop head, a coffee bartista from my local shop, two youngin groupies and a b-boy

Dude was breaking in those shoes. True story

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Warn the town the beast is loose...

I had a heart attack yesterday. I was driving to school when I saw what every American dreads while driving: flashing lights in my rear view mirror.

So many questions went through my mind...

What did I do wrong? Was I speeding? Did I not stop long enough at the turn? Did I run over a baby?

How do I deal with this? Pull the gaijin card ("Wakari masen. Nihon ga hanasemasen")? Play dumb?("I'm sorry officer, I didn't know I couldn't do that")?

And what's worse is that I was by school. My 2 towns are so small that word would get around anyway BUT getting it just before school and next to school, well...that was just the icing on the cake.

So I turn into the next street expecting the worse. And the cop drives by! All that worrying for nothing. Turns out that in Japan, cops drive with their lights on. I have no idea how people know when to pull over but that's how they do it.

I've heard a lot of tips about surviving in Japan. A lot of the "single most important thing you should know" type advice. And I don't know if I'd say its the most important thing to know, but I' definitely would've liked to have known this sooner.

Do not freak out. In Japan, cops always drive with their lights on.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My hood away from home

Everyday it's been the same old thang on my block
Ya either farming or ya work for the state on my block

I took some pictures of my neighborhood/town/village after the sun came out and melted the snow away. The naturalness of it reminds me a lot of West Austin and Mill Valley. That's probably why it was easy to settle in.

One of the "main" intersections off of "Main" Street

A dope looking house owned by some local farmers

Another dope house owned by local farmers

Farmland - there's lots of it. My city has an agricultural based economy so the farmland is vast.

Mountain view of town

Local Ski Resort turned golf course in the absence of snow.

Artwork at the ski resort

Lovely view from the ski resort. Its a great place to relax and clear your mind

One of the many "Beware of Bear" signs posted at forest entrances. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!