Saturday, September 29, 2007

Halo 3 in Japan

My first month of teaching English in Japan has finally come and gone, and I am glad that I was able to get the hang of living in Japan again so quickly. I am still a little nervous sitting in the teacher's lounge at school but I'm sure that will wear off too. I leave work daily with a mild headache for some reason and it mysteriously dissapears when I get home. I'm not sure if its exhaustion or if I'm just going crazy, but it really bothers me a lot.

I've finally made some progress with one of the female English teachers at my school. On Thursday afternoon she asked if she could talk to me alone, I was fearing the worst like she was going to criticise my lesson or something. To my relief, I was wrong and she asked me if it was ok to get to know each other better outside school. We exchanged contact information and our cell phone email addresses and have been messaging each other ever since. I'm not exactly sure what will happen through this but I'm not expecting much. The main reason we exchanged information was so I could be her English conversation partner and help her improve her spoken English. If anything else comes from it, I'll be purely surprised. Hopefully we'll start to do stuff together in October. She seems very excited about our new relationship so maybe I'll have a new friend at least.

In other news, I broke down and bought a Premium XBOX 360 and Halo 3 Limited Edition today. I was originally going to wait for the Elite version with HDMI and 120GB hard drive but I figured I probably wouldn't keep my 360 when I finally do leave Japan so HDMI isn't that important right now. I can use the D-Terminal connection instead which goes up to 720p which is absolutely fine with me so I'll probably end up buying a used 30 inch TV with a D-terminal connection for 100 bucks or something the end of October so I can better enjoy my system.

Halo 3 is pretty cool but I have the Japanese version so the voices are in Japanese but the menus, subtitles, and screen commands are all in English. Its not bad but I am more used to hearing Master Chief and Cortana's voice in English, but I'm sure I'll manage. I bought my Premium 360 at "Kaimasu" used for about 29000 yen which is a steal considering new ones go for 39000 yen, I also saved about 1000 yen on Halo 3 because I found a store that had a promotion sale or something. So I ended up saving money in the long run. I was eventually going to buy a 360 anyway, I just ended up buying it a little earlier than planned. Unfortunately I am currently playing my 360 on my tiny 20 inch standard monotone Sharp TV. The TV came with my apartment so its better than nothing I suppose. Hopefully I can play on XBOX Live with my friends back in San Diego because I suck at games like Halo and have much more fun playing with friends.

So that is about all that's been going on lately. I am going to go into ultra frugal mode for the next three weeks before pay-day to play it safe after my game system purchase. I still have a lot of money, probably enough to live another month, but I want to start sending some back to pay off student loans and my credit card. Once November rolls around I'll be back in the money again and hopefully planning my holiday travels in Japan.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Good news arrives unexpectedly but way too late.

This morning I had an extra hour to get ready for school because I have a long block of teaching periods today. So I took advantage of the extra hour and rested my eyes for a little bit. I would have fallen asleep if it weren't for this odd urge to check my email. Apparently, I was given an offer by the JET program for an ALT position in an undisclosed location in Japan. This news came about two months too late because since then I've been working for another ALT service called Interac.

I guess it is nice to know that I finally did get the offer and that I did actually have the 'right stuff' to become a JET. Although I'm not absolutely sure what that 'right stuff' is, Interac saw it in me first I guess. It would have been nice to become a JET ALT because I would have got about 500 more dollars a month to burn along with free round-trip tickets and possibly subsidised housing. Oh well, I'm absolutely happy with Interac and I am fairly certain I wouldn't have received such a cushy position through JET. Getting just one school is very rare, especially in a fairly urbanised area.

So there it is, smack dab in my face. I made it but I had to decline. For all that effort and time spent working at FedEx Express not knowing if I'd ever go to Japan or not, I finally find out long after I had given up any hope for JET. I'm sure the path I've taken is just as good, if not better. Hopefully I will be able to live here long enough to find a special person to spend my time with too...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tokyo Disneyland with Maki

Last week, over a few drinks with Maki, I brought up my desire to visit Tokyo Disney during their Halloween festival. Maki seemed pretty excited to hear I wanted to go to Disneyland because she had wanted to for a while but hadn't had a chance till recently. So without any real delay our plans were set in stone and we decided to go on Monday the 24th. It's really cool that she can be so flexible as to make plans like that without much trouble.

I woke up without fail around 5am on Monday mostly because I tossed in my bed for six straight hours. I psyche myself out so badly that I might as well not sleep sometimes and find a book to read or something... If I actually had a book to read. I'll have to order some books from or something for nights like that... Anyway, we ended up leaving little ol' Minami-alps around 6:00 or so because Maki really isn't a morning person and she had a little trouble getting ready.
The morning was a wet one as we drove through three separate prefectures to get to Chiba, where Disneyland is located. The drive went pretty good and I can't recall any awkward silence or anything which is unusual with Japanese people usually. The drive to Disneyland took about two hours and cost about 4,000 yen or so because all highways in Japan use a toll system which is really inconvenient and explains why many Japanese rarely travel cross prefecture/country distances by car, not to mention fuel costs are substantially higher.

We arrived at Disneyland just in time for opening at 8:30am. The weather seemed to be better in Chiba because the clouds were lighter and there weren't any puddles anywhere to be found unlike my city. Tokyo Disneyland is a little different to the one in Anaheim I am used to. For example, the basic layout is different and it's missing a few key rides like the Matterhorn and Indiana Jones. Those other rides are in another adjacent park called Disney Sea which is probably a lot like California Disney but with more stuff to do and 100 percent more Asians. I've been to Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland in California many times before but I have never been to a seasonally themed Disneyland before. Japan is really into "The Nightmare Before Christmas" with Jack Skellington and it shows, because the whole place was decked out in Tim Burton fashion stylish cutesy goth I guess. I don't remember that film being done by Disney but maybe they bought the rights or something... Either way, I love Halloween and Disneyland, so it was a good choice to check it out because most rides were spiced up and reworked with Halloween themed regalia. Maybe next time I'll hit Disney Sea, hopefully with a girlfriend or a girl soon to be my girlfriend haha...
We spent a lot of our time in lines because fast pass tickets became useless by noon as all line waits were a tad shorter than grabbing a fastpass ticket. We got to ride Big Thunder Mountain, the canoe adventure, Mark Twain Steamboat, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the haunted mansion a couple times each. I took about 100 pictures and got to screw around with my shutter speed and flash settings a lot too. I still suck at taking pictures at night but my camera helped a lot. I will probably invest in a tripod so I can get night shots without moving my camera and screwing up the exposure.
Maki and me ended up leaving Disneyland around 9pm thoroughly satisfied and exhausted from non stop fun and standing in line all day. Maki wants to try Fuji-Q (roller coaster theme park in Yamanashi nearby) or Disney Sea some time which means I did a good job not boring her at Disneyland.

I have to go back to work on Wednesday, so I will spend all day Tuesday resting my body and do a little grocery shopping for the week. I was kind of looking forward to getting paid this month but I won't be paid till the end of October. I'm glad I saved a lot of money before I left or I'd be absolutely screwed and hating life right now. I'm amazed at how little I've spent over this month despite all the stuff I've done and 6-packs I've devoured. Here's to another good month in October and hopefully some more female prospects.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Nature gave me a summer shower...literally.

Today I woke up a little groggy because I boozed it up a little before bed and didn't drink any water before I went to sleep. I spent most of the morning figuring out how to send media stick format videos to my cell phone but couldn't figure out how to get them to work after I figured out how to save them... At least I can use 95 percent of the features my phone came with, which is pretty good seeing as how it is a 2GB mp3 player/Wide screen 2mega pixel camera/day planner/voice recorder. After I added some more music and a couple of new desktop screens to my phone I decided I should get the heck out of my house again. In the end it took me a few hours to motivate myself to go outside again because I didn't want to get caught in the rain just in case the forecast was worse than anticipated.

I ended up riding out about six or seven miles south to another town across the 'river' called Kai-city or something. I checked out a somewhat large pair of department stores and only managed to grab a burger for lunch. I wanted to buy a good pair of cargo pants or shorts but I couldn't find anything that suited my tastes. After I got tired of looking for clothes, I decided to head back home before sunset.

About half way back home I came across a big recycle shop called "kaimasu" which literally means "we buy". I couldn't resist going in again because I am a big anime geek and love spending time looking for collectibles and such to put into my room. I ended up spending about two hours in there going through aisle after aisle of anime and video game collectibles. I left Kaimasu with three more Haruhi Suzumiya figurines and a 104 piece puzzle. Now my Haruhi mini figure collection is complete, now to move onto the bigger figures...

As I stepped outside of Kaimasu I was greeted with a light drizzle and black skies. I spent too much time in the store and the forecasted rainstorm hit my city. So I jumped on my bike and rode back towards my apartment as quickly as I could, but it wasn't fast enough. By the time I got home I was about eight or so pounds heavier and absolutely drenched from head to toe with rain water. At least I was wearing my hat and glasses I purchased the day before or I would have been in bigger trouble because I wouldn't have been able to see during the big downpour I got trapped in.

Today's little adventure was well worth it and I can really feel the burn now in my abdomen and legs from pedaling so much. I am glad I bought a good mountain bike with full suspension or I'd probably not be able to see as much as I already have. From what I can tell, I've explored most of the valley surrounding Kofu city, which is pretty impressive.

Tomorrow I will be at Tokyo Disneyland with Maki. I will get to experience their Halloween festival and get a chance to escape Yamanashi prefecture. It will be a good change of scenery for once. I hope it doesn't rain tomorrow at Disneyland because I want to take lots of pictures and ride Splash Mountain!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

27+ Mile round trip bicycle ride from home to Isawa.

I seem to be reaching every goal I set when it comes to riding my bike. First time out it was only about two-three miles, next week five miles, last week eight miles, and this time I spanked my most recent records with a whopping ~30 mile ride. You may wonder why one would be so possessed as to ride so far in the middle of Japan's humid summer; for adventure I say. OK, maybe it wasn't pure adventure but its a good way to kill a day and keep boredom at bay.

Before I get into my long bike rides details, I should share a little bit about how the teacher's party went a couple of nights ago. First we met at a small pub where we were served endless rounds of beer and sashimi (finely sliced raw fish that's kind of like sushi) which I had no problem abusing as much as I could since I did pay for it after all. During the dinner some speeches were given by other faculty on how the school festival went and such, and then they asked me to do a speech too. This is the fourth time I've been thrown into a speech unprepared since I started working at their school. I did a pretty good job because every body was really impressed at what I said and how good my Japanese was. I thought the speech was crap but I'm probably a little too critical of my own skill. Either way, I think I got even more brownie points with the principal and staff, which is good for my longevity at Midai JHS. Another good thing that happened was that one of the female English teachers seemed to take a liking to me that I didn't expect. Its been a long time since a woman fed me food via chopstick and boy was it a good feeling. Maybe I can use that experience as leverage toward a closer relationship beyond teachers and maybe friends... Who knows. All I do know is that she'd make a pretty fun friend.

After the dinner/drinking party we went onto round two at the local bowling alley/karaoke house. I sucked majorly at bowling since I had maybe one too many to drink that night but I tore up the karaoke mic with some of my favorite songs. The party broke up around 1am which was good enough for me because I don't like staying up late anymore. All in all the party was good fun and I look forward to the next one which should come up in another couple of months.

Now back to this entry's original topic, around 11am, I set out with my trusty water backpack and super awesome cellphone/mp3 player in hand, for Don Quixote which is about 10 miles away from me. Within thirty minutes of riding I'm pretty far into civilization and can feel my country isolation complex peacefully drift away. Leaving the clutches of tractors and rice paddies for a more urban setting is my kind of day.

Along the way I stopped at a department store called Gran Park where I stopped at Mc. Donald's for a 200 yen Big-Mac and a tiny coke. I don't think I've ever seen or tasted a Big-Mac of such quality before; I'd swear I was eating the prop from the commercials and not the real flattened mass produced one we usually get. After my small lunch I went upstairs to the video arcade where I blew 400 yen on Initial D 4th stage. After I felt refreshed and cooled down I decided to continue my long journey.

The time passed relatively quick as I rode down route 20 with my headphones on (well just one because I want to hear cars and other things coming up on me). Before I knew it, I made it to Isawa where Don Quixote is located. This particular Don Quixote had an Arabian theme which was pretty neat. Inside was nice and cool thanks to God's blessing to all mankind, air conditioning. I think its the air conditioning that keeps riding out so far bearable. If I get too tired or hot I just stop in a convenience store or a shop and leech off their ac for a bit.

Don Quixote is a flea-market style, jack of all trades store. It has a mish-mash of things from food to clothes and adult toys... I ended up buying two cheap t-shirts for about 700 yen each and a neat trucker hat for 400 yen, which isn't bad at all. After I had my fill of girl oggleing and window shopping I decided it was about time to head back. It had taken me about three hours to make it out that far with all my stops and side trips, so I wanted to beat sunset if possible.

On the way home I stopped by another shop and found some really nice glasses. They remind me of something my friend Heinrich would wear. I think they look decent on me and more Japanese-ish. Eventually I'll blend into my surroundings again just like last time.

When I got home, I found that I had gone through about four liters of water, two there and two back. My water backpack is pretty handy and keeps anything else I need to carry along sweat free and safe. My shirt is drenched in sweat from just where my backpack sat on my shoulders and small of my back. I think my body has finally gotten used to the punishment I've been giving it on a weekly basis. Despite gaining about a pound since I got here, I feel better than I did before I left for Japan. Last time I was in Japan I lost pounds like crazy and looked kind of bad by December. This year I want to loose maybe five pounds if possible because I really don't like my mini beer gut. Hopefully the bike riding will help this out.

So that's about it for my long ride out to Don Quixote today. I might go out again tomorrow if the weather is still as good as today was. Here is a full picture for my mom to prove to her I am not dieing and haven't changed much. At least I don't think I've changed much but maybe I'm wrong...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Extended weekend plans...

This week has been great so far. I’ve had regular sleep and more than enough food every night mostly thanks to Maki and her mom’s hospitality. As a matter of fact, I feel as if I’ve gained a little weight since I met Maki. Over the past couple weeks since we met, we’ve eaten dinner almost every other day together. My stomach feels particularly out of shape compared to usual which probably means I should start doing sit-ups or something to offset all the food I’ve been eating lately. If I don’t do something about it I’ll break my promise with Naoko to loose my stupid love handles. I’m not about to disappoint her since it’s a nice goal to reach anyway.

I am just about settled into my school now. I’ve learned almost everybody’s name in my office and I don’t feel as much as an outsider anymore. The other teachers that sit near me are including me more into their conversations, especially after we broke the ice at the culture festival. They probably realised I wasn’t there to mess things up or force the to speak perfect English or whatever they may have been worried about.

My Desk:

Lesson plans and worksheets don’t seem as impossible as they appeared to be only two weeks ago. My lesson plans may not be the best; but they work and the teachers seem to appreciate the amount of work I put into them. Maybe I’ll link a sample PDF file to show you what a lesson of mine is like… if anybody actually cares that is…

Tomorrow night starts a long five-day weekend for me. I have been invited to the first teacher’s ‘party’ of the semester and it seems like the teachers will be a fun bunch to spend some time with over a few drinks and dinner. One thing that is really cool about Japanese culture is that they love drinking-communication. Drinking-communication is their way of getting to know their co-worker’s better and to blow a little steam without any real consequence because they don’t talk about how they partied the night before. Anyhow, I look forward to tomorrow night because it will be a good start to a long deserved break from teaching. I also won’t have to plan any new lessons over the week because I didn’t teach all my classes this week so I can re-use this week’s plans for next week!

I’ll bring my camera along to the party tomorrow night but I’m not sure if I will be able to post pictures or not. We’ll see…

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Blood, Sweat, and Tears :Midai JHS Sports Festival

These past couple of days have been long and restless. I've been at my school this whole weekend watching my students hold their culture/sports festival. The first day was non-stop dramas held by each class. For the most part I was fairly bored, mostly because I couldn't understand a lot of it since Japanese is my second language after all. I was super tired all day Saturday because I didn't sleep at all the night before. I blame my lack of sleep on the weather and ridiculous humidity.

Anyway, there's nothing really to say about Saturday's festival besides I would have preferred sleeping the whole day off. It's not that I wasn't interested in it, but it was super hard to keep my eyes open and my head up. The worst thing I can do right now is totally disrespect my school and students by sneaking off and taking a nap. So I just sat there as straight as I could and stuck it out. Right after I got home I passed out and didn't wake up till the next morning.

Sunday, today, was the sports festival. My students have been preparing for this sports festival for the past three weeks and it really showed. It was a whole day of wacky drills and relays where I didn't have to do anything but sit and watch. I did connect with most of the students today though, they now know me as "hijouguchi-san" which translates to "emergency exit man". I wore my cool little Japanese emergency exit t-shirt today to school and got a lot of attention for it. Everybody was surprised to see me with such a shirt on but I see everybody else wearing shirts with strange English on it all the time. So what gives? Either way, every body who saw it enjoyed my t-shirt and even asked me if they could have it. Chalk one more brownie point for me and the 3rd year girls...

As you may have noticed; my title was blood, sweat, and tears. Well, I saw a lot of all of the above just at the sports festival. Almost every event the kids had to participate in were borderline dangerous. For example, a lot of the events required the kids to bind each other's legs together which caused many falls and trip-ups. Nobody broke any bones but a couple girls spent most of the day laying on their backs in the nurse's office and I saw more skinned knees and elbows today than I can ever recall seeing. The kids were great sports and took their efforts seriously during the sports festival; so seriously that a lot of them cried when they lost or even cried tears of joy for being wrapped up in every thing. Japanese middle school students are leagues ahead of American students when it comes to maturity. I feel as if I am working at a high school sometimes.

All in all, I think my first school festival experience was a good one. I'll just completely forget about Saturday and remember the best day, Sunday. I took a lot of pictures. Unfortunately I cannot share most of them because I am not supposed to really have pictures of my students in the first place. So I will just be posting shots that I took from afar which should obscure their faces enough to retain anonymity. Tomorrow I plan to do nothing but sleep. Sleep I will! Yeeeeesssss......

Saturday, September 15, 2007

School Sports festival this weekend.

It’s been a while since I can remember sleeping as well as I did last night. I didn’t do anything differently to sleep so well; so I can’t really figure out what makes me sleep. I know the night before I pigged out on cheese based foods like nacho chips, pizza, and string cheese and I felt crappy the next morning. Food used to never affect my sleeping habits but I guess it does now…
Well, enough about my sleeping/eating habits, let’s get down to what happened today. Another Friday has come and gone and my first month of living in Japan has also passed. I’m still getting used to the fact I am living in Japan again. Every day, I have at least one moment where I am shocked I actually got to work in Japan as an English teacher. I actually got to do something I wanted. Things actually worked as I planned them. Of course, just about everything I’ve done to get her e wasn’t by chance I suppose. A greater force is behind everything I’ve done up to this point. If I were really in charge of what I was doing, I wouldn’t even be in Japan; I’d probably still be sleeping on my Mom’s couch.

By nature, I am one of the worst procrastinators I know. I live for the day when I can put off all important things and just sit around doing absolutely nothing, without any responsibility. But for some reason I pulled myself out of my usual stupor and ended up in Japan. I think that’s pretty cool and I am happy I made it. So yeah, my being in Japan wasn’t by chance, it was because of my prayers and motivation to actually do something with my life straight out of college. Until about a year ago, before I worked for FedEx Express, I hardly even gave a second thought about prayer. But ever since I started praying, things have somehow worked out for me better. I think prayer also gives me a level of optimism and hope that pessimist like me wouldn’t normally have. So good for me.

Moving onto school matters, I had a relatively good week. I managed to hold all my classes confidently and got good feedback from all my faculty members. I suppose the worst part is over, getting started, so now I can focus on improving my teaching style and better aquainting myself with my students. This weekend my school has their bi-yearly school festival. The festival they will be holding this time is the sports festival, which are always held at the beginning of the fall semester. I’d like to snap pictures and such but I’m not sure if that’s ok or not. It’s something that doesn’t happen in American schools, so I’m sure it would be interesting for my readers to see just exactly what it’s like not only through my writing but through pictures. Oh, well.

I’ll be attending both days, Saturday and Sunday, although I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing all day. I am relieved I won’t have to wear my formal business wear this weekend at school. I really don’t like wearing slacks and collared shirts, especially during the humid Japanese summer. I’m hoping for mild weather like I had today, I’d prefer not to marinate in my own clothes for once. Hopefully the festival will be entertaining enough that the time passes quickly. I get Monday off this week because its “Respect for Elder’s” day in Japan. It’s something Americans should try to celebrate and maybe dump Cezar Chavez day or Columbus Day, or something else in their stead. Actually, next week will be super short, only three days long, because we will have another holiday weekend that will go from Friday all the way through Tuesday the next week. I’m really looking forward to that!

So, that’s it for this week. I’m sure the school festival will be worth writing about at the least, and if I’m lucky I’ll be able to have a picture or two to share. I’m looking forward to October, I’m supposed to get my car and insurance straightened out by the middle of next month. Being limited to where I can go by bicycle is starting to bore me. At least I have a couple of friends that have been taking me around and stuff. I wonder what I’ll wear tomorrow for the festival…

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lots of prep time during school.

Life at work is pretty boring for the most of the time. The teaching part is the best but I spend about 60-80 percent of my time sitting in the office. I’m really getting worn out every day, not from teaching but rather from sitting quietly at my desk. I’d talk to the other teachers but they have more classes and are usually a little too busy to talk or my lack of Japanese ability prevents me from having interesting advanced conversations with them.
I quickly run out of things to do during my prep periods. Usually they are back to back and on Wednesday I have five before I even get to have my only class of the day. I try to stay busy by working on my lesson plan layouts and content in Adobe Photoshop but there’s only so much I can do at school with my own laptop that isn’t allowed to access their network. It’s nice to have a lot of free time at work but I’m not really sure if I should be doing something every free minute I have in the faculty office or if I can zone out and read a book. I’ll have to ask my scheduler if it’s ok to bring in books and other diversions to keep me sane during my office free time.
I probably wouldn’t be so bored if I actually had an office computer at my desk that worked. Just last week, one day after I got used to using my assigned faculty laptop, it died on me. If it weren’t for that I’d surf the internet for news and stuff. I’ve alerted my head teacher about my problem but it seems like there isn’t much they can do about it. I hope they have some plan to replace or fix it, or I’ll be pretty bored for the rest of the semester. If I want to use the internet or print out my worksheets in PDF format, I have to plug my USB memory card into a public office computer and quickly finish so somebody else can use it. I am capable of using the internet on the two communal PCs but they are still running Windows98 which means they are nearly unusable for anything besides word processing and limited emails.

It sounds like a petty thing to complain about but it’s the only real “problem” I currently have. On the other hand, my company, Interac, is taking pretty good care of me. Before joining Interac I read many internet entries, mostly negative, about how Interac worked treated their employees and stole jobs from JETs. I can gladly claim that my experience has been a good one, contrary to what others online may say. I feel most of their opinions are merely just opinion after all but that is about as far as I’ll comment on this subject. Or maybe not, I think I might as well finish this train of thought to kill some more time in the office. There are many who think Interac steals ALT jobs from JET program candidates, but that’s not absolutely true. The JET program, the other program I applied for and was placed onto an alternates list, is mainly to expose foreign English speakers to the Japanese culture so they can take back their experiences and share with their friends that Japan is a good place to visit. Of course, when it really comes down to it, we inheritly have the same job no matter who we work for. College graduates are college graduates, so you’re going to get a mixed bag of work ethics and life styles no matter what program you enter.

In retrospect, I think my decision to go with Interac was a good one. Maybe if I were going to live in Japan for the first time the JET program would have been a better choice because they hold your hand through everything. But the last time I lived in Japan I learned the hard way how things work and how life is in Japan, so a lot of the things that might have driven me to depression and endless weeks of binge drinking don’t anymore. Therefore I live a generally healthier lifestyle and am more prepared to figure things out for myself rather than relying on others to tell me what to do. I guess that is what growing up is all about…
Wow, talk about train of thought derailment! I really went off on a silly tangent there. Bottom line is I am doing pretty well and what I complain about really isn’t anything that bad after all. If anything I get paid to sit on my butt for an extra three hours a day so I should be happy about it rather than beg for five more schools or something like other JETs and Interac teachers get. I got the easy life here and this is about as close as I can get to being a real teacher without having my credentials and the full responsibilities of a real teacher. I think it’s a nice balance I got here. If I had to travel between different schools I think I might have more trouble coping with bouncing between different campuses and such and would probably feel really insecure and restless.

So I guess that’s it for today. My entries aren’t as frequent because there really isn’t anything interesting enough for me to write about daily. At least I’m learning how to be a better teacher. I just got to keep my energy up and my mind open and ready for correction and input from the other Japanese English teachers I work with. If I do that, then I should be able to do this for a long time even though it might be boring. Did you enjoy the clear pictures of Mt. Fuji?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lesson planning isn't so bad after all.

I completed my first lesson plan Sunday evening before dinner after putting it off for almost a whole week. I ended up using Photoshop to design the handout worksheets and they turned out pretty good. I also used my first home-made lesson plan/worksheet today in two 1st year classes. From what I could tell, the classes seemed to go very smooth and felt better paced compared to my introduction classes. My head teacher also seemed to like the worksheet mostly because it was relevant to that week's grammar point.

Today during my prep periods I ended up making my second lesson plan for the second year students. It took half as long as my first one because I know how to do it now. I think I'll be fine teaching classes now, especially because I have so much office time to do my preparation. I'm glad I won't have to take my work home very often which doesn't allow me to procrastinate if I want to. At least I get the job done on time.

Over the next few weeks starting Monday, I'll be having a few days off from work due to national holidays. Its pretty nice to have days off so early in the game and it looks like I get at least one even in the least interesting months. I think I may leave town for a day or two next week when I have my extra days off. I just need to re-read this entry to remind myself or I'll end up rolling around in my room all day doing nothing...

Time to head off to school for just one class... Today, Tuesday is my longest day because I spend most of my time inside the office at my desk. At least starting next week I'll get club days on Tuesday and Thursdays. I hope I can do something good in the club and maybe make an even better connection with the students.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I finally got to Kofu city!

Instead of working on my lesson plan like I should have, I decided to go out on a little adventure. I like to set goals for myself daily just to keep myself happy and sane so I don't feel like I wasted a whole day doing nothing. Today I decided I had to ride my bike somewhere, preferably somewhere I haven't been before. So I checked out my little personal map on and found that Kofu is about eight miles away. It may seem far when represented as a number value but if you are really bored you tend to ignore it. The ride to anywhere from where I live is the easy part, its getting home that is the real workout.

Around noon I hopped onto my bike and coasted down the hill for about three miles and hit Ryuo station. Apparently there is a closer station a little further north of me but I figured I will save it for another adventure day. I can make it to Ryuo in about 30 minutes by bike which is pretty good considering how far I travel and how little I have to pedal. Because the day was so hot, maybe around 90 degrees with humidity, I decided it would be safer to take the train to Kofu station. So I did, and it took literally minutes to get there.

Upon arrival, I could tell Kofu was the city that has everything a younger guy like me could need. Restaurants, bars, video game arcades, and lots of attractive women around my age. Minami-Alps either hides their 20-something women or there aren't any that live here. It would be nice to meet another woman and through her meet more friends my age but I'll just have to wait till the weather gets cooler or I get a car. I wandered around the shopping arcade near the station for a couple hours then decided to go home since I didn't really want to get caught there after dark without a car.

When I got back to Ryuo, I rode my bike to Sushi Ondo for a little sushi lunch/dinner treat. There is nothing like authentic Japanese sushi, and I eat as much as I can afford as often as I can do it! Finally, I decided to check prices for LCD computer monitors at Yamada-denki before I headed home. I think I may end up buying one at the end of this month before payday since I still have a lot of money left over from the move and I really haven't spent any of it. Its rare that I go on shopping sprees or make impulse buys so I think I'll be fine with the monitor. I want to use the monitor for the XBOX 360 and possibly PS3 that I plan to purchase in October for Halo 3. Gaming is a big hobby of mine so its important that I get to play the game before somebody spoils it for me on the Internet or something or I loose interest in it like Halo 2 the last time I was in Japan. I never played Halo 2 and finished it.

After window shopping at Yamada-denki, I finally crept up the hill back to my home in Minami-alps. I only managed to really start sweating when I stopped to buy a cold water at a convenience store. So I guess I am getting used to riding around but I still end up pouring sweat regardless of how I feel. Later, Maki came over and we watched Fellowship of the Ring together during dinner. She seemed to like it which is good. Her English is pretty good so a movie like Lord of the Rings isn't too hard for her to follow which allows me to enjoy the movie without explaining much or worrying that it isn't good for her.

Anyway, that was the day. It felt a little short, but that's probably because I actually did something. I still haven't started my lesson planning and its already noon. I have managed to sift through three boxes of stuff another local ALT left for me and found a few good things I wanted to keep. I think I ended up throwing out 80 percent of the stuff I received either because it was too old, too confusing, or didn't apply to my students. I think the main reason I threw out so much is because a lot of it was already in my desk at school (which I also organized and purged of useless things). I really appreciate having stuff I can already use but a lot of it just seemed like a bunch of unsorted papers. The trash company is going to love me for putting so much out but at least I sorted it according to types of trash.
Now, I guess I will start my lesson planning. I still want to go out for one more ride today. Its not as hot as yesterday so I might be able to make it to Kofu by bike. That's one of my biggest goals. Actually, making it to Don Quixote (its kind of like Frys and Wal-mart stuck together) which happens to be about 10 miles away. I know the roads to get there but that would be a 20 mile ride which is pretty nuts. That would be like me riding from Coronado to Hillcrest or something. I think I'm just crazy enough to do it. Though I may wait till next week for that so I have more recovery time over my three day weekend. Yay!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Finally, my first well needed weekend.

I finally finished my first week of school in Minami-Alps, Japan. The week had its ups and downs but all in all I think it went well. Some of my classes may be a little shyer than I would have liked but most of them are willing to try to speak some English. Even students I pegged as uninterested or apathetic to me being there do a complete 180 out of class and approach me to say hi. So, I am very relieved that I am being received this well. My sleepless nights in the beginning of this week were for nothing. Now I have to fix up my lesson plans for this week now that I know the strengths of each class I have.

As far as my social life is going, I had another dinner with Maki and some of her friends Friday night after work. Its really nice to be able to go out and do something with somebody. But don't misunderstand the frequency of our meetings, its purely friendly. She thinks of things mostly as an older sister younger brother type relationship so there really isn't anything going on at all. Plus, she is just a bit beyond my age group I'd go after and shes also not really my type. Tonight (Saturday) she is coming over to my place for dinner. Apparently I'm supposed to cook something but my kitchen is super small which limits me to very simple dishes.

On Thursday night we had an awesome Typhoon hit Japan. It was my first typhoon and it was pretty cool, although not as impressive as I expected. I should be happy I didn't experience the full fury of a typhoon though because people on the coast get flooded out and blown away by crazy 25mph gusts of wind and horizontal rain. It was so bad in my land-locked town nestled between some of the tallest mountain ranges in Japan that we had to close school early. So if it was that bad here with mountain cover, I could only imagine things weren't so fun in a coastal town. That will probably be the last typhoon of this season too. I guess thats nice, now I have heavy winds and cold days to look forward to starting next month! YAY!

It is still early here so I have a long Saturday afternoon and evening ahead of me today until Maki comes to visit me. I think I might ride beyond Ryuo today just to burn some more calories. I've been eating and drinking beer more than I would normally do alone these past couple of weeks because of Maki and the other people I've recently met. I am starting to notice my waist size is improving and my little love handles are starting to recede again. Probably by next month I'll be able to visit Naoko again and fulfill my promise to her to get rid of my annoying beer gut.

Speaking of "beer guts" I had another Japanese beer tasting last night. I bought a can of Asahi Clear-Black. It really tastes good with smoked cheese and salami. Asahi Clear-Black's flavor reminds me a lot of a smoother Guiness without the heady fizz. Plus its a clear black and tan which makes it a little strange. Either way, it tastes good and makes it onto my keepers list. There are still at least 10 more varieties of beers for me to try. I'm just going to take my time because I'm not really into drinking alone anymore. I think this is a nice improvement over my last time in Japan.

So, that's it for today's entry. Maybe I'll do a double post today if I see anything interesting during my bike ride.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Half way through my first school week.

It feels like every day drags on forever. This feels like one of the longest weeks I've ever lived through. Nothing is wrong with this week. On the contrary, the past few days have been fairly simple and without much real stress.

I had my first senior level classes today. Senior class 3-3 is really cool, they all seem pretty active and much more advanced in English compared to the other levels. I wish all my classes went as smoothly as that but then they wouldn't really need me there I guess. The English teachers I work with all seem to be glad I am there although they all have varying levels of English. I hope they don't feel self concious or scared to have me in the class. I know the head of the English department probably isn't as pressured but the other two younger female teachers seem a little shy and have a little trouble expressing themselves to me in English. Maybe between classes I may communicate with them partly in Japanese to take the edge off their days.

I spent dinner with Maki and her family. They seemed very happy to have me there and pushed me to speak more Japanese than I probably have used since I arrived here. Its good practice for me but it also makes me super tired using my Japanese non-stop for a few hours. During our dinner a typhoon finally hit our area and we've been having steady downpours ever since last night. The typhoon is supposed to stick around until Saturday afternoon I guess. We'll see about that though, since I am as inland as any Japanese person can get, I doubt we'll see any truely serious weather.

Thats all that really happened Wednesday. I typed this entry right before work because I like getting ready early. I hope today, Thursday, is faster and easier than my first few days. I finally have hard copies of next week's new lessons so I can finally prepare for something. If I can get next week's lessons off well enough I think I'll be able to do this for a long time. At least I have another dinner tonight with some new friends I've met over the past few weeks. I'm happy I'll be able to eat well again tonight. I hope I don't get rained on when I walk to work today!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I think I'm getting the hang of it.

I've been absent for the past day mostly due to my exhaustion from being up for about 24 hours. I couldn't get any sleep Sunday night because I kept tossing and turning dreading my first day with my new students. I'm pretty good at mentally beating myself up over stupid stuff like that and this time I was especially exhausted. I got to school 30 minutes early because I was worried I'd be late even though I live ten minutes away by walking. How pathetic of me! I really have to work on finding a way to sedate myself in times like that.

Anyway, my first day was incredibly long, or at least it felt long to me. My working hours are only from 8:45AM-3:33PM Monday through Friday and most of the time I am in the teacher's office having my prep period. On average I have about three 45 minute classes a day which is pretty easy when I think about it. Although I may only be teaching three classes a day, it takes a few hours of planning per class (right now) to get a decent lesson plan going. This week I'm kind of lucky, since I am new I only have to do a 45 minute introduction lesson per class. Even the introduction lesson wears me out because I have to be so animated an exaggerated in my gestures and pronunciation for the kids. The 7th graders (1st graders in Japan) seem to be a little shy and less cooperative but the second graders are pretty good and they are more interested in me. As for the 3rd graders (9th graders US) I still don't know how they are but I expect them to be even more receptive since they're the most experienced of the bunch.

The girls seem pretty excited to have me in their classes, especially today's 2-3 class. They kept asking me personal questions like, "who do you like the best (girls in the class)", "are you dating Ms. So and so", "do you have a girlfriend", and other equally embarrassing questions. I expect probably more of the same the rest of this week. Japanese female junior high school students are pretty wild and giddy. I don't remember girls in my middle school being so full of glee and energy. Maybe its the air? As for the guys, they think I'm pretty cool though some are kind of embarrassed to speak any English so they either zone out or put their heads down on the table which is fine since I don't have to discipline them. Hopefully they'll find something interesting in one of my classes eventually. The faculty at my school are also very nice, especially the principal. Its nice to be on the Principal's good side, hes always so friendly to me.

That's all I have to share about my school for now. The real teaching doesn't start till next week but at least I am getting a feel for time and how each class is. I'm really hoping that I can make my activities and lesson plans work smoothly enough so I can start to be more comfortable and relax at school. Getting off of work before 4PM is pretty cool, though by that time I'm burnt out from too much Japanese exposure. I guess I'll leave it at that. Tomorrow night I eat dinner with a new friend of mine Maki. I met Maki though a local ALT just like me about a week ago. Maki is a pretty nice lady and seems to have ties with the town mayor either through relations or connections I forget. Anyway, that's about it. Wish me luck at school!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

My first ride to Ryuo station.

Today I decided I would ride to Ryuo which is the next town over from Minami-Alps. On a map it doesn't seem like its a very difficult drive but when you do it for real its all down hill from my apartment. I probably wouldn't wander out that far but I needed to see for myself how long it actually took to get down to the station by bike since I don't have a car yet. It took me about 3o minutes to ride down to the station because it was ALL downhill.

The station appears to be going through a renovation of sorts and a lot of the roads nearby seem newly made which is good for me. Ryuo station looks like its going to be my station of choice to get out of town to visit Tokyo or something. Maybe I'll take a train out next week but the only catch is I would have to ride back home in the dark which would probably be fine since I have a light on my bike. I'd take the bus but its rarely around enough to wait for it.

After I visited Ryuo station I continued down the road till I found a familiar kaiten sushi restaurant chain called Sushi Ondo. Unlike the Sushi Ondos I visited when I lived in Japan last time, this particular one was all automated even down to the custom orders. Instead of pushing a button to talk to a chef, you can just use a touch screen PC to select a few dishes you want and it will come down the conveyor belt within a minute of ordering. I think its pretty darn cool and it also makes the whole experience a lot easier as I do not really need to speak into a microphone to make an order, rather I can just push buttons with pictures of stuff I want. The only downside I can see is if I didn't know Japanese I wouldn't know what button to push to order... If all else fails you could just wait for something you like to come down the line instead but that may take a while. I'm always willing to try new tech out. Big thumbs up!
After filling my stomach with about 600 yen worth of tasty sushi, I rode a little further down the road to Yamada Denki. I would have went further but I figured there was nothing else worth seeing that far out. Now, the ride back was the tough part! I didn't get a break until I made it home. I didn't really sweat or get that hot, probably because I am getting used to riding long distances again.

So that's about it for today. I'm a little nervous about having my first classes tomorrow but at least I can use the same lesson all week since I have to do an intro lesson for every class I meet. I don't really need to put much planning into this week which is a relief and hopefully I'll get a good idea how each class is so I can prepare better next week. I wish I could shadow somebody for a week to see how they do it but I guess that's impossible now. Here's hoping for the best!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Battle of the Seasonal Beers

Not much happened today. I slept till about 8AM in anticipation for a phone call from Kyoko. Kyoko offered to take me back to my local electronics store to exchange my malfunctioning wireless router for a better known working brand. She didn't call till around 11AM, but that was OK because I cleaned up around my house and straightened out my bedding. Kyoko came for me around 12:30PM and helped me exchange my wireless router for a Netgear wireless router just like my old one back in the States. Unfortunately, I found out that its not the router that isn't working but rather my cable modem which has a static IP . So I'm going to have to call the cable company to see if there is some way to work around this issue.

After I figured out tinkering around with my wireless network was futile, I decided to take a leisurely bike ride down ol' route 52. Route 52 is the main road of Minami-alps, and its also fairly hard to safely navigate on a bike due to its very narrow "side-walks". There isn't any other way to get downtown by foot or bike so I am kind of forced to take this route unless I want to sweat to death on the new Route 52 which is about a mile to the west and extremely boring as far as scenery goes. Minami-alps is about as well developed as Ramona, California's main drag was 10 years ago, which isn't very good. Either way I made it to downtown and picked up a few goods I needed for my home. I saw quite a few cute girls about my age around the main shopping area so the ride was well worth it. Maybe I'll find a way to talk to somebody at random just to change things up. Its not common in Japanese culture for complete strangers to participate in idle conversation so it may be interesting to test this out. I'll probably get away with it just for the reason I am a foreigner which is reason enough for me to try it when the time is right.

The ride back up home wasn't as easy. The main reason for this is that my apartment is on the highest point of the city, which means its all uphill to me no matter what direction. I would be riding my bike further and faster toward the nearest cities but it takes a lot of effort just to get home. I may strike out to Ryuou tomorrow afternoon if I figure out my intro lesson plan for the week before noon. I am kind of looking forward to my first day of school but I'm also just as worried about how I will do. Its really not my place to worry, so I try not to think of it as much. I'm sure every thing will turn out fine in the end.

Now to explain the title of today's entry. I bought a couple new seasonal Japanese beers that are only sold in Japan so I decided to see which one tastes best. There are quite a few out there at the moment so I have decided to carry out a little nightly "taste test" until I have tried every variation possible. I'm not drinking to get drunk because that's too expensive and I am a little conscious of my health so I'll be keeping it to two cold tall-ones a night. So, for today's line-up we have Sapporro Brewery's "Sapporo W-Dry" and Kirin Brewery's "Autumn Taste". I decided to drink the "Autumn Taste" (from here on referred to as Akiji) first because it had a pretty design on the can. Akiji had a sweet and slightly heavy taste but it went fairly well with my Four-cheese pizza I ate for dinner. Japan's idea of an instant home cooked pizza reminds me more of a flat bread with some light cheese sprinkled on top. As for the Sapporo W-dry, it went down smoothly but had a little bite at the end. It reminded me a lot of Asahi's "super dry" except without the higher price. From a value stand point the Sapporo W-Dry does a better job of pleasing my palette and wallet while the Akiji seems to be a tad bit expensive and not as tasty to me. I may start to drink the Sapporo W-Dry instead of Asahi "Super-Dry" due to a similar taste yet a vastly lower price.

So that was my day. Not that interesting on paper, but I wasn't that bored. I suppose not being too bored is a good thing, especially since I don't really have any real friends to fall back on nearby. Tomorrow I plan to lay out a little lesson plan outline so I can spend the rest of the day relaxing before my first day of school.