Monday, August 29, 2005

first day

all in all i can say that i had a succesful first day experience at the Ogimi junior high school. I had three classes today, two 2nd graders and one 1st grade class. In elementary school kids go through 6 grades and then 3 grades in junior high school and i believe 3 more in senior high. So a 1st grader in a junior high school is on the average 12 years old. In Japan, kids are not asked how old they are, they are asked in what grade they are in. School is everything--they inhabit it almost the entire year. Kids get to school around 8:00am; they have meeting with their homeroom teacher around 8:15am and then there are 20 or so minutes for them to hangout in their homeroom until the first hour class starts at 8:50am.. that schedule may change daily. There are two schedules my school follows: the A schedule allows for 50-min classes and the B schedule is for 45 min classes. The type of schedule is chosen depends on the activities that have to happen after school. Or so is my understanding. Right now all junior high schools are in the midst of preparing for a Sports Day, which is a huge event, and they stay after school to practice and i am told that certain classes during the day might be canceled as we get closer to the event in a couple of weeks to allow for more practice time.
but back to my first day. The students are generally excited to meet me, but are reserved, as is understandble with meeting any new authority figure (although, honestly i don't know how much authority i really have). Some kids have already seen me around the school in the last couple of weeks, but most i met for the first time today. The 1st graders were more enthusiastic and outspoken then the 2nd graders. The introduction plan was generally boring. I stood in front of the class and told them about myself with the help of visual aids (pics of family and friends and milwaukee i put together on friday). Then it was recapped for the students by Chinen sensei in Japanese, and students were then allowed 5 minutes to review their own introductions. Before the summer holidays they were given a worksheet to fill in the blanks for "My name is:...My favorite food is:....My favorite sport is:....My hobby is:... I like:....." It turns out that most kids like basketball and their hobbies are "games" and they eat nothing but apples. :))) A few students took the initiative and looked up actual answers and it was awesome to hear a student say that his hobby is "taking pictures" or another student say that he likes "grilled meat" and some girls found a way to say, "i don't have any hobbies". that cracked me up the first time i heard it, 'cause i don't have any hobbies either. :)
then the students were supposed to ask me questions, but it was like pulling teeth getting anyone to ask anything. I think in general they were afraid of mispronouncing any words in the questions they formed. From what i understand, they don't do a lot of communication activities in junior high school, so no wonder they're intimidated by an english speaker. But a few were brave and the questions were good. My last class, 2-1 (2nd graders, 1st russia that would be 2A), were really fun, actually and asked quite a few good questions. I even got asked whether i had a "special boyfriend" and whether american kids wear braces.

at the end of the day there was a teacher meeting, but i spent that time working with speech contest students. Teacher meetings will be entirely lost on me; i foresee being told of what is happenning 5 minutes before it happens, and i'm accepting that. I do know, however, that tomorrow morning i get to give a short speech of introduction to the entire school. I'll be reading it. :)

Although amusingly enough, i am learning japanese words here and there, so there is progress being made and i'm looking forward to understanding a 10th of what is being spoken.

Went to a mall today to get an air con. The suckers are expensive and the installation is not cheap either. The whole thing is costing me 500$ and will be installed on Wednesday...hopefully. there are rumors of a typhoon approaching the islands, but it might be that it will bypass the main island and go for the islands near Taiwan.

i have also been wondering about the power of packiging. What will make me, a person who can't read a lick of japanese, buy a certain product versus another one? And i'm a sucker for labels to start with; give me the funkiest looking bottle with the most colorful or imaginatevely designed label and i will pay that extra 200 yen to have it. but seriously; advertising is everything for me right now, and i can't even read it. i do like the fact that most japanese items will have pictures on them of what its intended use is; so that's been saving me so far.
however, i did buy something that is not yoghurt but reminded me more of sour cream that's been watered down.. so it had to go down the drain. I'm still on the lookout for yoghurt.

i've got to get these blogs to be slightly shorter, eh? some new pics are up on the fotki page and check out Craig's blogspot--he's got a few pics of what an awesome archy site looks like (i'm so dang jealous) and a pic of yours truly.


Friday, August 26, 2005

Here it is--my pride and joy. Mind you it's not first thing i've had to construct for my apartment, but this one deffinately caused me more grief and joy. And i included a pic of my two sided garbage can just for fun.

Trash in Japan has to be separated and taken out on different days and the system of days and garbage bag colors differs from prefecture to prefecture. So here in the north for instance, the burnables go into "red" bags and have to be put outside on Mondays and Thursdays. The non-burnables go into "green" bags and come out on Wednesdays. I have no idea what happens to the recyclables. I think there is a separate bag and a day, i've just been collecting mine and dumping them into the recycle cans near stores. Oh, and there are no litter boxes anywhere on the streets. They are only outside convenience stores and supermarkets. Some times random recycle cans appear on big streets but they're useless if you have some paper to toss. It's all a bit weird, really, but good entertainment.

tomorrow i'm off to the waterfalls again; JETs from the south are up here exploring so i'll be joining them. Then we're all off to a beer and Aisa festival in Okinawa City and then on sunday, Chikara's party at the beach. One more "vacation" weekend before school starts on Monday.


Whoever decided to put pictures in instruction booklets was a smart person. Who needs to know what it says, when you can look at a picture 100 times to make sure that you deffinately have the part with one groove and three holes and not two grooves and no holes. Wow. I never thought constructing something could be so painfully fun. I guess now i can tackle any IKEA project. But seriously folks, if you know me at all, you know that this is the last thing i want to be doing; however, for the lack of any willing company, i spent 2 and a half hours sweating and grunting and laughing and swearing, but i only screwed up once and it wasn't a big deal and i'm very proud of myself in the end. I'm going to sell this baby for twice the price i bought it for, 'cause the time i spent putting it together is certainly worth it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

what a wednesday is for

wednesdays have always been a day of the week i liked the most.
wednesdays in japan are proving to be the best.
actually i haven't really had one bad day in Japan yet, so i suppose it's hard for wednesdays to stand out but yesterday's wednesday managed just that.
and i don't want you to expect anything extraordinary in this post. it was just a good all around, interesting day with an ultimately accomplished feeling at the end.

i took a day off yesterday, 'cause i "worked" (hung out with friends in Naha for the conference) on Friday and Friday was an Okinawan holliday, so i get to take a day off for that anytime within the two weeks after that happens.
I decided to do some shopping and maybe put together the kitchen cabinet i bought.
the later plan failed as soon as it started when i realized i would need a screwdriver (good call, mom) and lacked one. Gabrielle didn't have one, so i decided to drive north to another village and see if i can locate one.
i discovered that a lot of little, tiny, grungy shops sell exactly the same things but they do not sell hardware supplies.
by the time i found a screwdriver (at school) i had decided to drop the idea of any handywork and drive to Nago to do some shopping for the apartment and maybe hang out with Mike (a canadian ALT).
I found quite a few things that i liked and bought; spent a couple of hundred dollars, actually. but it's all useful stuff, i'm sure.. it's still sitting in bags at home.. so i'll get to find out today after work how well i did yesterday.
towards the evening i got a call from two Group A JETs. One was in the north with his teachers and students and was wondering if i'd like to come out for dinner with them. and another called saying that she was heading north and was meeting a few people for dinner in Nago (where i already was). So i decided to stick around and 8 of us ate sushi at a mall in Nago. Good time. It's fun being surrounded by different English accents; i could most of time understand new zealenders and australians...but the irish can still be a bit difficult.
After dinner and then doghnuts at "Mr. Doghnut" (is that an American company?) Ben said he'd show me where his friend, the kite surfer aka hairdresser, has his shop.
Mind you, it was already 9pm.
So we get to the shop..which was by far the most interesting hairdresser shop I've ever been to, a little after nine. I play with the dog, a customer is seated and we wait. and wait and take the crazy puppy on a walk...and wait a bit more, and i sit down in the chair around 10:30pm.
Chikara is a cool surfer dude. His shop is celebrating one year in existence this Sunday and i'm invited. There will be jetskies and surfing and food, of course.

His shop is decorated with surf boards of all kinds, crazy, menacing comic book models, mountain goat's head hangs over the mirror in front of which hair is cut.
Equipment and decor are placed around the room on large, yellow barrels. The bathroom is a "dangerous" place, however. I thought of the show the "Young Ones"--their bathroom would probably look like the one i went into at Chikara's shop (although, if i remember correctly, the crew on the "Young Ones" managed to destroy their bathroom very frequently).

My hair was washed after it was cut. Ishikara took time massaging my scalp and i almost fell asleep...The haircut turned out to be great, i love it; and it only cost me a 1,000 yen (~9 bucks) and there's no tipping anywhere in Japan.

i left with such a good feeling, i can't even put it in words. It felt that I was at the right place at the right time doing exactly what i should be doing.
it was perfect.
now i have a new haircut in a new country that teaches me something new daily and it won't stop until the day i leave. yes!


Monday, August 22, 2005

Tokashiki island

long weekend away

drove to Naha last wednesday night for a new JET orientation..first time driving a long distance (two hours) but it went well.. was stuck in traffic in Naha for a while (it's the capitol of Okinawa and quite busy) so i don't regret being placed in the north where it's calm and quiet..the conference went really well.. saw some JETs i came in with almost a month ago.. some of them are on remote islands so i haven't seen them since the airport and won't see most of them again until the mid-year conference in November..
the seminars and workshops were very useful..conducted by "old" JETs they were geared towards classroom activities, school culture and miscommunication that is likely to happen.. dealing with teachers of English and other teachers in the school..a bunch of questions about vacation time and sick leave were answered..and lots of other info was given.. we partied in Naha thursday and friday nights.. there's a bar run by two canadians in Naha called "Paul and Mike's" where JETs and other foreigners gather...good spot for strong drinks and conversation.. met an Israeli guy who's in Naha studying karate for a few months.. he might be coming up north mid-week to check out the waterfalls and i offered to drive him around the area..
checked out a dance club in Naha thursday night.. japanese kids are funny about dancing.. they all sort of line up in front of the DJ and never really face away from him, dancing in one spot without too much movement.. some kids were getting a bit crazy..but mostly just faced front and some even lit their lighters to really good breaks in the music..
the DJ played a lot of american hip hop and some reggae..

saturday 64 JETs took for the island of Tokashiki on a's about an hour and a half trip..gorgeous green island.. sandy beaches, blue waters.. good snorkeling.. not even close to what i experienced in the Sinai but still good...
lots of good time was had.. there were block games on the beach.. (our block came in a strong second)
there was guitar playing (which i missed out on), drinking games of all sorts, rain in the night, sleeping on the beach, skinny dipping in the ocean (which i didn't miss out on) and lots of good conversation
got back on the main island mid-day sunday.. drove three people home and stopped by to get some kitchen stuff on the way.. checked out an English bookstore in Okinawa city.. it's near a lot of bases so it has a lot of stores geared towards americans.. the bookstore had some good books about okinawa and learning the japanese language, as well as lots of magazines and fiction books.. but all of it is way too pricey and i think i'll be ordering most books on-line..

still feels like i'm not in Japan some days.. feel like i'm on an extended vacation with no set rules or schedule.. although today i spent some time tidying up my apartment so it's starting to feel like i'm settling..
think i'm going to invest in an airconditioner.. it's a pricey venture but it'll be useful as a de-humidifier and a heater as well.. so might be worth it..
for all those that are wondering about gas prices...i filled up a 34 liter tank for 4200 yen today (about 40$) do the conversion..i'm too tired right now. :)

pics are up for the island trip and also some from Naha..i'll add descriptions over the next couple of days.. sorry..i'm lacking on time to do all of it at once..

will write more soon.. i'm told i'll have plenty of free time once school starts next week.. :)


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

an island life for me

short blog, 'cause i'm tired.
internet has been out for a few days and before that i was too busy relaxing on the island to bother with posting.
started working with two students on the speech contest. "th" sound and "v" sound seem to give them the most trouble, so if anyone has any ideas of how to teach that, aside from showing how the lips, tongue and teeth move while making sounds, please let me know..
the past weekend was a really good one, although it has been hot, it's been fun.
saturday went to check out waterfalls in the north and went swimming there. beautiful spot, lots of people, and a few marines in the bunch. was kind of weird seeing other "gaijin" (foreigners) checking out the spot where so many japanese feel that we're invading their territory.
saturday went to the Ogimi matsuri (festival) which was nice but nothing special. that evening went to Okuma navy resort, which Gabrielle and I, as residents of nearby Ogimi are allowed to enter. the resort is for all branches of the American military.. it is basically a vacation spot for the the forces on the island. there's golf, restaurant, nice beaches, water sports, activities for kids, a small store, etc.
we had mongolian barbeque there, which was very good and then watched a few drunken marines make fool of themselves by dancing in front of a live band..
a bit strange, once again, to have the ability to "enter" so to speak American territory and see young american kids everywhere..
i don't know if i exactly like having it so close, but at the same, it really makes the Okinawa experience that much more unique. One the one hand, Sunday night i enjoyed watching very traditional Okinawa drum dancing and ate Okinawan food..and the night before that i listened to an American band play "Sweet Home Alabama" while drunken boys swayed to the rhythm.

tomorrow night i'm setting off for the south. We have a conference for the new Okinawa JETs and then we're off to an island called Tokashiki or better known as "paradise" for Saturday and Sunday.

tonight we went to see the film "Island" at Camp Schwab. 4$ will get one into a newly redone movie was an interesting experience in finding settle advertisement hints.. oh wait.. they weren't subtle..were they? no... quite blatant, in fact.. the film was entertaining and the acting was decent. I especially liked Boromir as an evil scientist.

the air is cool outside my window. it rained tonight and brought the temperature way down. last night it was hard falling asleep in the heat, even with two fans going at top speed. tonight will be nicer.


it's a rough living out here

Saturday, August 13, 2005

my new car.. the minivan is Gabrielle's

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Japan's schools: now too lenient? |

Japan's schools: now too lenient? |

I signed up for the Anthropology Special Interest Group within the JET community. This is the first article i was sent; thought it was interesting enough to share, especially if you're inclined towards the education field. I would love any responses to this. I'm hearing lots of different opinions from JETs about the Japanese Education system; none are too positive, but until i experience the classrooms on my own, i will decline to make a judgment as of now.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

ketai away

"ketai" means "cell phone"..and i've got one and it's spify..and boy oh boy does it have too many functions and buttons and options and camera and e-mail and just way too much stuff!!
and you can be a cool kid by e-mailing my ketai directly by sending a message from your computer to
and if you want the number, e-mail me at gmail.


oh and photos are up and more photos will be added shortly of my apartment in dissaray..

Monday, August 08, 2005

and now we're off

internet at home! what a brilliant idea...
got it hooked up today with the help of a vice principal.. the NTT (phone company) guy showed up and brought in the line and the adapter and said something in Japanese about not being the person to hook up the internet. So i thought, hey, no problem.. i'm computer savy.. i can hook this thing up. Opened the instruction booklet and started following along with the pics, ignoring all the japanese go.. got stuck on the third picture..some sort of fault occured..but i couldn't understand what..very irritating to have the capability but not the ability to accomplish something.
but now it's up and running and is at a decent speed.
if anyone has Skype, let me know. My nickname is huliganjetta and i will have microphone and headphones in a couple of days. i'm also considering establishing a phone number with a Wisconsin area code for Skype so that anyone without the software could call while i'm on-line, or leave a voicemail if i'm not. brilliant, eh? (that's a mix of british and canadian for ya)
very few american JETs on Okinawa. I'm making friends with aussies, kiwis, brits, canadians, and there's even a woman from Turkey somewhere on the island. No russians, i'm afraid.. there's only a handful in the JET program and they're all on the mainland.

Block 1 had a party on saturday. First we had an athletic event that took place at a children's playground like i've never seen before. Huge constructions, made it really challenging and fun. We raced in teams and unfortunately my team did not win, but we finished at a very strong last place. :)))

Then off to the beach and grilling. Swam in the ocean for the first time. The water was quite cool because of the departing typhoon that never hit, and there were still some waves. Very nice swim.

Later there was eating and drinking and off to the bar for a late night cocktail.
The bar, interestingly enough (for anyone with any hebrew knowledge) is called "Sababa," and for others not in the know, it means "all good" or "cool" or "allright!" ..kind of like "dajobu" on Okinawa.
The owner is a Japanese surfer dude who lived and worked in Tel-Aviv for a few months. Very nice establishment with a full size pool table and fussball table.
Fun was had. I lost several games of pool and won two..

check out my photos website..the link is provided on the right. Now that i have home access, i'll be putting up all the ones i've taken so far.


Thursday, August 04, 2005

russian musings

bit of a lag in posts, i'm afraid.
got back from the south sunday, vacuumed up some roaches, and stayed up late into the night finishing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Good book, btw, if anyone's interested. Very saddened by the ending.

my apartment is still bare but i have most of the big essentials. On monday picked up a washing machine and a rice cooker at a resale shop for 1000 Yen. (the U.S. dollar right now is at 112 Yen). now i just need to unpack my luggage and buy some storage bins to put it all into.

last night went down to Naha to meet the group B JETs. Actually i just wanted to go to the party that evening for all JETs but had to come down earlier with our Block's leader, Ben (check out for explanation of the Block system...i'm in Block 1). Don't think i mentioned that it's traditional to hand an arriving JET an Okinawan beer, Orion, as soon as they walk through the arrival gates. Everyone gets one whether you drink or not. So Ben and I handed some out, and I had one as well. NOt the best beer but doable. All the new JETs were whisked away by their supervisors, as I was the previous week, and Ben and I drove into Naha to check out an underground Naval base that the Japanese marine units fought Americans out of. Close to two hundred of them died "honorably" in the end, which in Japanese means they committed suicide as I'm sure some of you know is required of a soldier/samurai.

The shindig was held in a huge hall called appropriately "The Beer Dome"--another all you can eat and drink festivity. Lots of JETs came, old and new. I spent the evenings chatting with my group's JETs, catching up on the exciting first week's experiences. When JET programme people say "every situation is different" they really aren't kidding. Not one story is the same. Some people had homestays with supervisors. Some are sharing apartments. Some live in posh places, some are on secluded islands. Some have started teachind already, others, like me, have only been to the school once or twice. But the stories are good and fun to hear. And everyone has picked up some important Okinawan words: "dajobu" and "sugoi"...the first one has many meanings, but mostly means "all's good" "allright"...and the second one means, "excellent"....

ah. perhaps you're wondering why the post is called, "russian musings"...well, my dear is because i experienced something entirely surreal on Tuesday.
I met most of the teacher that day, they invited me to go kayking with them. Fun! A very chill way to meet the staff of my new school. My JTE (japanese teacher of english) and I were partners in a was his first time and we chatted a bit about this and that. He seems very nice and his English is decent. All the teachers were super nice and excited to see me. Most have some English ability and we were able to communicate with gestures and facial experessions.
In the evening I was invited to their little get together .. i think the reason for it was to thank all the teachers for their hardwork during the first term and to look forward to the second term (the school year here starts in March/April, so even though the summer vacation is long, its end does not indicate the start of a new year, only the start of a new term in the middle of september).
It is traditional at these get togethers to order numerous plates and then share them by passing them around the tables. I'm glad Gabrielle and I stopped by to have a bit to eat at an Okinawan restaurant, 'cause the portions at the party were small.
The principal was getting slightly tipsy and we talked and he found out that I speak Russian, and am in fact from the former Soviet Union. So all of a sudden he starts humming an old russian tune...and then another one...and then a third one...and i'm sitting across from him with my mouth open wide in amazement. what is going on?!!?
hillarious, right? turns out, russian music and culture were very popular on okinawa a couple of decades back and some Okinawans learned russian music in junior high schools. The music teacher at the table also new a bunch of songs and composers. And then i asked if the principal knew the song "katusha," the only older russian song i could remember the words to..and lo and behold.. he is directing the whole table of teachers into singing "katusha" in i'm singing along in russian....
that's pretty sweet!...and funny..and really unique, i think.. so i have a total "in" with the principal now...they love that I eat anything, drink almost anything.. 'cause Gabrielle is a vegan who doesn't drink, so she has a hard time eating when they're all out..but it seems that they've gotten quite used to it after three years..
knowing sushi terms has been very helpful as well. at least i can order a dish and know that i'll get something i like.

wow.. long post. lots going on.
my car is in front of my apartment..but the paperwork has not been completed as of yet, so i can't drive it.
today the phone company was supposed to stop by to install my new ISDN phone line, but because of the approaching typhoon canceled the appointment. So next week i'll have more time on the net.
Right now i'm at Camp Shwab and the computer here is not allowing me to log into the mail servers.
Next week i'll also get a "ketai" (a cell phone)...and they're very cool here. can take video, pictures, download different media files..just lots of cool stuff.. i'll probably get the cheapest one available which would still be more high tech then my little Nokia at home.. :)
the typhoon is bypassing Okinawa; it hit some islands to the south and is heading for Taiwan. It's windy here and has been raining on and off, but not a real typhoon by any means. Ogimi village is holding a welcome party for me tonight and it's at a restaurant right on the ocean with a patio, so hopefully the rain will subside and we can be outside for it....i'll take pictures.

oh..and i had a question come in, so i'll answer it here. The question was from Rosemary, and she asked if i was the tallest among little people.
The answer is that i am as tall as some men..and taller then most women. Okinawan people are not Japanese for the most part..they look a bit different and some men are quite tall....but boy oh boy..the women here are extremely tiny...i've never seen so many petite here is going to do a lot of harm to my self-image.. :)) i'm a "LL" or "extra large" in most's quite funny actually. and i'll never be medium..'cause medium here is size 2 or 4.
it is amusing though to see people like Ben (our blockhead) stroll through town. He's gotta be at least 6'5'' so he towers over everyone! at the underground naval facility he had to bend in half in order to walk through the tunnels.... :))
i should have taken a photo of him doing it.
and i've noticed how the japanese will stare up at his height. very amuzed.

So thanx to Rosemary for the question..keep 'em coming.

hope all's "dajobu" with you'all..