Mini-update (Real Updates Coming Soon!)

Yep, I fell off the boat with the updates again. I went to Hong Kong for a week and since I got back a couple weeks ago, I`ve been spending all my time editing pictures and posting them on my facebook. I shot about 50gb worth of pictures and video and its been like a full time job working on everything. I`ll post some of my best shots here soon though.

In other, local news..the new school year has started. That means new first years and new co-workers. Lots of novelty and excitement. It`s also sakura season (well..it has been for the past week and a half, but the sakura petals are quickly blowing away) so Japan is really beautiful right now.

Looks like JET acceptance notifications will probably be released this week. Goodluck everyone. The wait is almost over.

In more international news..There haven`t been many adverse developments in the nuclear situation up in Fukushima. Thank goodness for that. Those brave souls are fighting tirelessly day and night so that the rest of us can keep on living normally. We are all truly indebted. There have also been lots of powerful aftershocks in different parts of the country lately. It seems that not a day or two goes by where there isn`t at least a small earthquake. It`s a bit unnerving sometimes, but at least now I have faith in the way Japanese people build their structures and buildings. They are really built to last through anything.

Lastly, in relation to that, there is one more thing I wanted to share – this amazing and heartbreaking video of the struggles that the northeast is going through right now. Please, please try to give.

If you watched the video, sorry if this post turned out to feel kind of heavy. I will post some more updates soon (sooner this time). In the meantime, thanks again for dropping by my blog, and leave some suggestions in the comments. I have a ton of ideas but I would love to hear what you, my readers would like me to talk about as well.

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Sports Day…懐かしい!

Way back last year around October, my school had a big sports day festival where the entire school, including teachers and parents, spent the morning and afternoon doing competitions and playing games. It was tons of fun. I made a video but never posted it on youtube because I was slightly concerned with privacy issues. However I went back and took out most of the closeups and I think it should be okay now.

It was one of my favourite days of the year and I want to share it with you all because now that I look back on it, it fills me with nostalgia.

In Japanese, you might say 懐かしい or natsukashii, which means to feel nostalgic of a fond/sweet memory. This is definitely 懐かしい

Recent Re-cap

I`ve got a bunch of stuff to recap from the past few weeks so I`ll just post some pictures of the more interesting events.

At the beginning of the month, my girlfriend(left) came to visit Japan. She came two days before my birthday. I had a small gathering with my friends in the building and had a potluck dinner.

Went snowboarding at Shiga-kogen, the olympic slopes of the Nagano Olympics in 1998. It was awesome.

On March 11th, the earthquake and tsunami hit after I got home from graduation. It was the saddest day ever.

A week after the earthquake and tsunami, my girlfriend suddenly left Japan, following the wishes of her family who feared for her safety. I went with her to Narita airport and we had to stay overnight. It was the worst day of my life. Narita airport was absolutely packed. This is the line at 6am, an hour before the check-in counters even open. I`m going to have to face it all over again when I go to Hong Kong next friday to meet up with my girlfriend again for spring break. Not looking forward to it one bit.

We`ve started having rolling blackouts, as I`ve previously explained. My friends Jess and Kenji are super fortunate because the area where they live is exempt from the blackouts. So a few nights ago, we had a potluck at their house to escape the blackout.

I went to the flea market yesterday. I bought a guitar for 30 bucks. It was sweet. The flea market itself was very interesting. Vendors set up shop on a big dirt field/parking lot and sold stuff out of vans. This guy (along with many others) were selling antique weaponry. Yes, those are real authentic Japanese katana that go for at least $2500 each. At a flea market.

At the flea market, I also saw a stuffed tanooki that was all dressed up. It was the weirdest thing ever.

Last night we gathered at Jess`s house again for a night of Settlers of Catan. It was tons of fun. Might become a regular thing now.

Today, my GoPro Hero HD came in the mail. I love amazon.jp. I ordered this like 3 days ago and it came on a holiday. This afternoon, I went and shot some video with it which I will be uploading soon.

Phew I guess that`s about it. I`ve got some videos I`ve been putting on the backburner for awhile so once I get those posted, I`ll be pretty much caught up. Then I can start posting about what`s going on day to day more consistently again.

The day of Graduation

Friday, March 11 2011, was a very sad day. It was the day of the earthquake and tsunami. It was the end of a lot of things.

But it was also a happy day. It was the day of graduation for my Junior High School students. It was a day of new beginnings.

 

It was a bittersweet day. It was a day they will never forget.

Time is always fleeting. Cherish the moments you have.

Update on the Situation in Japan

Hey everyone. I wrote this out on facebook for my friends and family last week, but haven`t gotten around to posting it here as well.

Thank you to everyone who sent me messages with concern over my safety. I`m okay. Please read the following:

TL;DR version;
– I`m okay, all JETs in Gunma are safe
– We won`t likely be too affected by any more major quakes
– …but I`ve prepared for the worst anyway
– contrary to media sensationalization, I believe the nuclear reactor situation is under control
– things are a bit weird as it`s kind of normal here, even though it`s a disaster zone 250km away.
– we will start having scheduled rolling blackouts starting today.
– please help out a bit and donate to the relief efforts if you can
– much love to all my friends and family. Go hug your loved ones.

Okay, so if you`re still with me, this could get a bit long so I hope you are comfy. As you guys are no doubt aware, Japan has been hit by its greatest crisis since WWII. I know a lot of you are worrying about me and are kind of in the dark about what the situation is like here “on the ground”, so I`m writing this note to clear things up and hopefully provide a clearer picture of what its like. Hopefully it will alleviate a lot of your worries as well.

First off, I`m so grateful to everyone for the outpouring of love, support, thoughts and prayers. I am seriously touched and thankful to have friends and family like you in my life. As to my general safety, well, fortunately Gunma is quite safe relative to the rest of Japan. My prefecture; Gunma, is a landlocked (surrounded by other prefectures on all sides) in the center of Japan. I live on the southern tip of Gunma in a city called Fujioka. Fujioka sits on the Kanto plains and is surrounded by mountains. It`s position makes it insusceptible to Tsunamis, and much less susceptible to earthquakes, especially from the area where the 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit off the north-east coast of Japan. In Fujioka, when the earthquake hit, my furniture moved around a bit, and while scary and unverving, the most damage I suffered was the loss of a single drinking glass, which itself was perched precariouly near the edge of a table (although my fridge had moved a solid 2 feet and my TV almost fell off it`s shelf).

From what I have read and heard (I have been doing a lot of research on this), it is extremely unlikely that a major earthquake will hit my region, and that any earthquakes that hit off the north-eastern coast of Japan will dissapate significantly by the time they reach Fujioka. That`s not to say that I haven`t been preparing for a worst case scenario, though. The earthquake reminded me of the importance of preparation and to that end, I`ve been trying to do what I can. Some of the precautions I`ve taken include packing emergency bags and leaving them in my car, stockpiling some water, energy drinks, canned food and nonperishables, taking breakables things down from shelves, and buying emergency supplies like flashlights, batteries and candles. I keep an unobstructed path to the front door, sleep with my shoes outside the bedroom and all the doors open, and make sure that there is space to dive under a table if necessary. It`s probably a bit much given where I live, but I`m going to have things set up like this for a couple weeks just in case. Currently, there is a 70% chance of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hitting the same area as last time within the next 48 hours. While it will most likely just be felt as tremors and noticeable shakes where I live, I think it`s good to be prepared and err on the safe side just in case.

Currently, the major topic of concern is the fear of a nuclear meltdown at the reactor in Fukushima. There has been a lot of coverage on this in the news and there have been many conflicting reports. The news is getting more and more sensational, and I feel the possible danger of a nuclear meltdown is being inflated to sell headlines. However after doing lots of research myself and reading tons and tons of articles, I have reached the personal conclusion that we are not in grave danger of a nuclear fallout or radiation poisoning, and there is no immediate need to evacuate the country, especially from where I live.If you are interested in the details, please, please read this piece on the nuclear situation by Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT. It is extremely concise and well written and is currently being shuttled around the internet as a credible and understandable explanation of what is going on:

http://theenergycollective.com/barrybrook/53461/fukushima-nuclear-accident-simple-and-accurate-explanation

For those who are too lazy to read through the (admittedly rather long) article, the gist of it is that there is no immediate threat of a meltdown, and the (very little) radiation that has been released into the air poses no long term health risk to humans. In addition, the winds are blowing east into the ocean.

With regards to the general feeling of thigns in Japan, over here where I live in Fujioka, it sort of feels like there is a strange disconnect from reality. Everyone is already going about their days as if unaffected by the earthquake, even while the news replays scenes of devastation from only 300 km away. However, there is still a sense of anxiety in the air over concerns with the nuclear reactor. People are engaging in panic buying, some supermarkets are emptying their stocks of bread, water and canned foods. There is also a huge shortage of gas. I have been unable to fill up all week due to gas stations closing out after massive lines buy up all the gas. Unfortunately, I hear that this is the situation throughout most of Japan. Hopefully things will settle down as the week progresses.

Another development in the situation over here is that we have started having rolling blackouts 3-4 hours a day so that power can be sent to the affected areas without power. While it will affect things like hospitals and street lights, it’s really a small inconvenience on our part in comparison to the challenges they face up in the heavily hit part of Japan.

Overall, I have been incredibly impressed with how the Japanese people have handled this overwhelming national catastrophe. Everything has been very orderly and even with all the “panic buying”, I haven`t seen any rushes to buy out everything, with people trampling over each other in the process. Whereas back home if this situation broke out, riots would be on the street and people would be looting stores…over here, people are patiently line up outside supermarkets that are full. It just seems like grocery stores are emptier than usual and lines are longer at gas stations so gas is a bit short. Most essential services are back up and running, and trains and busses are slowly coming back on, although right now the schedule is really irregular.If you want to follow along with the situation in Japan, I`ve found NHK`s english streaming coverage to be quite good. Here`s the link:http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nhk-world-tv

BBC`s coverage is not that bad either, and they also have live streaming at www.bbc.com. However, I would take their reporting on the nuclear situation with a grain of salt.

This note is already pretty long, but I don`t know how to end it really. I`m sure I`ll come back and edit as I think of stuff I missed but for now I`ll just finish it off. Thanks again so much for all your concern. I am very fortunate to be okay, but the the north east coast is a complete disaster zone, and they are still bracing for more tsunamis and earthquakes. If you can spare a little, please donate to the red cross. Even $5-$10 would go a long way, and they need a lot of help right now.

UPDATE:

Some of my friends/fellow JETs have left the country. Hopefully only temporarily. There`s a lot of fears on the news right now about radiation contamination reaching the food supply. It`s kind of scary, but right now it`s not supposed to be at harmful levels. Hopefully it will be okay.
This whole situation is crazy. On one hand we have the inconveniences and some looming threats overhead. On the other hand, it feels like I`m living through history.
I really hope things settle down soon. The Fukushima 50 at the reactor site have been making great strides. For now, all we can do is pray and hope.

It`s times like this that really make you realize what are important in life. Cliche, I know but its nonetheless completely true. Go tell your friends and family you love them, and be with them – just spend some time together. Many, many people are not fortunate to have that opportunity, and it`s probably a good idea to remember that from time to time.

Thanks for reading.

The Most Devastating Kancho in the History of Japan

I have a story to tell you. It happened just over an hour ago. But let`s start at the beginning.

Today began like any other day. I woke up a bit late, rushed to fry bacon while pulling my pants and socks on, and drove 10 minutes to my 8 minute by bike commute to work. After discovering 3/4 of my classes were cancelled due to preparations for Graduation, I spent the morning and afternoon studying Japanese and reading.

Shortly after lunch, preparations for the Graduation ceremony tomorrow reached full steam and the entire school banded together to clean the classrooms, halls, and set everything up in the gym. It was a frenzy of activity, and I bounced around from area to area, chatting with students while helping out with whatever they were doing.

Set up in the gym took the remainder of the afternoon and in between positioning row upon row of chair and tables, I joked and chatted with all my students. It`s been a good year – the students who previously didn`t like me have all come around and my fanclub is now large enough to carry political influence should I see fit to use it. However, the opposite side of the coin with regards to having this kind of rapport with my students is that many of them have become embrazend enough to joke around with me on some rather NSFW topics. I can`t say I mind that much really. I mean I remember being a punk at that age, and anyway, I believe that if I were to evade their comically perverted questioning all the time, My job wouldn`t be as much fun and some of my students wouldn`t be as motivated to interact with me. I`ll explain why.

New and Aspiring JETs and prospective ALTs will be shocked to discover the level of sophistication that Japanese students possess with regards to the carnal knowledge. On any given day, as soon as there is some free time to chat, all the boys come crowding around me to joke around and ask me questions, most of them a little risque (read: completely, surprisingly, and rather impressively perverted).

On one hand, maybe I should be actively discouraging this and playing the dumb card. But..well..on the other hand, it is freaking hilarious when a group of students crowd around me and nominate one of their fellow peers to ask/say “Your pen, is, um..er. how big?” or “Do you play essuh-ee-ekesuh, like..eto..eto..everyday?” or “Please, Mr. Aporro, raise stick.”. Even more hilarious is that after I give them blank stares of non-understanding, they will discuss among themselves how to make the correct sentence, and then will ask again in perfect english. Hey, if this is what it takes to encourage my students to use English, then so be it! I can always reframe the conversation anyway (My favourite way to evade is to turn the tables on a student is to ask them which girl in the classroom they like and tease them incessantly in front of their friends.)

However, what`s even more amazing than this brazen cultural difference is that these are the students who always give me the “Eigo wakanai!!!” (I don`t understand english!) stock line during class, and they suddenly turn into impressively eloquent lotharios under pressure to come up with something dirty. Groupthink at its finest, ofcourse. I am always torn between congratulating them on their tenacity, resourcefulness and raw english ability and bopping them on the head for being a bunch of baka hentai (stupid pervs). Usually I end up doing both. Nevertheless I am proud of these punks, although I would never admit it.

Anyway back to my story. So today was one of those conversations.

I was having a particularly interesting conversation with one of my students (mortal enemies), a ni-nensei whose peers call him “Ichiban Baka Hentai” (Number One Pervert Moron of the school) or “Ero-Sama” (Lord Ero). We were talking about his dream, which is to open the Number One Adult Video Company in the WORLD (my kids are charmingly ambitious huh). Conversational content nonwithstanding, I was quite pleased with how far his English ability had come in the past year, and so I had obviously let down my guard..because..without any warning whatsoever, mid conversation, he reaches over and pats my crotch.

Pokes the boys,
the frank n` beans,
the golden scepter and family jewels.

He had been attempting this throughout the year (WHAT IS WITH THESE PUNKS IN THIS COUNTRY), but due to my special gaijin-sense, I was always able to evade since his little nublet skills are no match for my jedi powers. However I guess I had really let me guard down since it was the day before graduation. Without missing a beat, he nods his head towards a group of female students listening in on this whole ridiculous scenario and remarks “Hm. Sugoi.” (Wow. It`s great.).

As I slowly crank my head while processing what just transpired, his friend (or apprentice??) sneaks up from behind , goes for gold and in one swift motion successfuly delivers a kancho to one of the most troublesome locations imaginable. It was pretty devastating. Probably the worst Kancho in recorded history.

Do you know where the taint is? If you don`t, you probably just googled it. Yes, this just happened. Japan: +2, Apollo: -999

Prospective applicants to the JET Programme with an aversion to comic mischief sekuhara need not apply for the upcoming programme cycle.

Anyway, I`m pretty sure the normal human response would have been to curl up into a ball and rock back and forth in shame while waiting to die of humiliation, but not for this Apollo. No, your intrepid narrator held his ground, and I chuckled like I didn`t feel anything. I nonchalantly glanced back and said “Oh, You`re dead.” and bopped him and Ero-sama on the head with a rolled up newspaper, and berated them on their ero-related incompetence. Public failure is one of the most embarassing things a Japanese person can experience and it was important to shun these punks in front of his peers.

…However…I will have my revenge.

It will be sweet. Those punks will not get away with bruising my ego (among other things) that lightly!!!

…Yep, just another day at work.

DISCLAIMER: In Japan, kids are punks. I rough house with my students all the time, and I think it improves the relationship between the school`s ALT and the students when the ALT can take a joke and dish them out too. It`s really just in good fun. Before I came to Japan, I heard of this stuff happening and also of ALTs freaking out because their precious little sensibilities were too rocked by some of the more brazen cultural differences. Admittedly, there is a line that they sometimes cross, but it`s important not to freak out if they inadvertently cross it. I later took these two aside and explained to them in no uncertain terms that there is acceptable and unacceptable levels of behavior.I wrote this out to point out to prospective ALTs that your students might screw around with you or test you. Remember, it`s always you who hold`s the authority, so don`t crack and show weakness.