Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reasons Why I Love 日本 #10

おにぎり (onigiri). I saw these being eaten in cartoons and video games growing up--a white rice ball wrapped in nori (seaweed). It wasn't until I came to Japan two years ago that I tried one of these for the first time. The nori took a while to get used to, but I love it now... and, I discovered that there's more to onigiri than just rice--there's something inside the rice ball, too (whether that's fish, chicken, or even plum). This is a very simple snack, easy to do when you're pressed for time, and quite portable--several can make a filling meal.

Reasons Why I Love 日本 #9

もち (mochi). Rice that has been pounded into a large chewy ball. It's really tough to describe why this is so good, but it is--perhaps it has to do with how filling mochi is, or how mochi absorbs the flavor of the dish it is in (I had an udon dish with a curry base that had mochi in it, and it was amazing). One caution--don't bite off more than you can chew. Apparently, people do choke to death on mochi on a more-than-occasional basis.

Reasons Why I Love 日本 #8

Rainy days are almost immediately followed by clear and sunny days. Maybe this is just something that stands out to me (being from Washington, where 20+ days can pass during the winter without a break in the clouds or rain), but I love how the rainstorms here just don't last that long. You can assume as soon as it starts raining that within a day, two at the most, you'll have really nice weather again.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reasons Why I Love 日本 #7

You can buy cheap umbrellas just about anywhere. Great option on a rainy day, especially when it starts raining rather unexpectedly part way through the day, and you're caught without an umbrella. Most conbinis have umbrellas available, as do shops in the ekis (train stations). The one down-shot is the fact that it is very easy to accumulate tons of umbrellas this way.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

We will not be shaken

It's been quite a month. The most obvious reasons happen to be the most important and so that's what I'll stick to in a brief timeline format:

1. Mar. 11: 9M earthquake hits near Sendai and a devastating tsunami follows.

2. Mar. 24: 6.8M earthquake hits Myanmar, causing significant damage in surrounding villages

3. April 7: 7.4M earthquake hits near Sendai. This was only minutes before I wrote this note, so I'm not sure as to the damage caused by this, though a tsunami alert of 2 meters has been issued for Sendai.

I've had the unique experience of being relatively near each of these earthquakes. After the second one (which happened exactly two weeks ago during the Senior trip to Northern Thailand), I was pretty shaken up and scared. I've spent the last few weeks processing and would like to share the comforting realizations that I've come to:

God is in control. It's as simple as that. We live in a fallen, sinful world and bad things happen. Natural disasters happen, and because of them, people get hurt, lose money/possessions, loved ones, even their physical lives. The pain and sadness in the world can be overwhelming and even confusing at times, but the ultimate answer is found in God alone. He will protect us, even though our homes may crumble into the sea, or our bodies die--He will protect our souls. We were created to be in relationship with Him. God loves us and desires that relationship even as we reject it. I mean... He even sent His son to die so that we could be brought back to him. What wondrous love is that?

I believe with all my heart that this relationship with God is infinitely better than anything else in the world, because it is what we were created for, and that no matter what happens to us--no matter what injuries or misfortunes may befall us, God will preserve and protect us so that we can have that relationship with Him. Keep in mind that this protection does not necessarily guarantee a lack of physical discomfort, pain or physical death--but also keep in mind that those things are ultimately irrelevant to our souls being in relationship with God.

Though I feel this inner peace, my heart cries out for the millions of bewildered and scared people in the Miyagi prefecture whose lives have been shaken to the core in literal ways that are devastating and figurative ways that are unimaginable. People who haven't heard this Good News and who would likely not respond well to someone saying "Well, God is in control." Pray for Japan... and pray that all of us in this country who have the ability to reach out and help WILL reach out and help, and will show selfless love and sacrifice to the victims of this disaster modeled on Christ... love and sacrifice that will turn heads and cause people to say "I want to believe what they believe. I want to know more about this God who they say is in control."

Reasons Why I Love 日本 #6

  • 俳句 (haiku). Somehow I missed out on this in school (or for some reason, don't have a clear memory of learning to write haiku). In any case, my Junior classes are currently working with haiku, and I had headmaster/family friend Brian Vander Haak come in to teach my class how to write haiku/work-shop with them a little. In the process, I learned that I really enjoy writing haiku. Haiku is a fascinating style of poetry--it appears simple on the surface due to the length and at times minimalist language, and yet haiku address some incredibly complex and abstract ku (or ideas) in a powerful way. Here's a haiku I wrote earlier today inspired by the sakura:

Pinkish petals lay

undisturbed on the concrete

Earth slumbers once more

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reasons Why I Love 日本 #5

桜 (Sakura). Yes, the United States and other parts of the world have cherry blossoms, too. However, nowhere else in the world is the blooming of the cherry blossoms quite so rich a celebration as in Japan. Whoever designed the parks in Tokyo (and whoever is responsible for planting cherry trees along certain rivers) was thinking ahead. For one week out of the year, typically at the very beginning of April, it is a joy to see rows and clusters of cherry trees all seemingly exploding into Springtime. The pinkish, white blossoms reflect the sunlight in spectacular ways, so if the conditions are right and it is a clear day, the entire world seems a lot brighter. At CAJ, there are several cherry trees in the school plaza and it is great to see so many of the students and staff alike enjoy meals outdoors on the picnic tables beneath these blossoms--often during lunch but sometimes even later that evening. It's a spectacular way to kick off the Spring season.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Teaching without a voice

I've had some nasty colds before, and undergone vocal fatigue, have always been fortunate enough to keep at least some semblance of a voice through it all. This morning, I woke up without a voice. My options were piannisimo croaking, if I tried to talk normally, or whispering.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize my lack of a voice until I got to school. I hadn't had occasion to speak with anybody until I set foot on campus. The high school principal wished me good morning and as I attempted to reply, I found that I was incapable. There was a momentary rush of panic as I tried to evaluate what this would mean for my teaching that day. The principal wished me luck and I dashed off to make some copies for class (which was 20 minutes away at that point).

I ended up using the data projector in the classroom to display my laptop on the screen, opening up a blank Word document and typing instructions to the students. It worked out all right, and there was certainly some novelty to the whole thing. I was able to have a little bit of fun with the format (changing fonts, underlining/italicizing things I'd already said to emphasize my point or respond to students who asked me to 'repeat' something). I did learn that sarcasm doesn't translate in print very well... especially not in a cultural environment where sarcasm is fairly rare to begin with.

All in all, it was a good day. However, the novelty was wearing off by the end, and I don't know if I can put up with another day of typing in front of the class. I am hoping my voice comes back...

Reasons Why I Love 日本 # 4

Hot drinks in vending machines. In addition to standard vending machine drinks, such as iced tea, vitamin water and pop, most vending machines have several hot drinks to choose from (typically coffee, お茶 (tea), and sometimes even hot lemonade). This option is particularly nice on cold days and even better on days when you have a cold and need something warm to drink.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reasons Why I Love 日本 #3

Everything has a season... including food and drink. It took me a while to get used to this, but the selection of food items and drinks offered at the conbini, grocery stores, coffee shops, etc. changes with the season. I'm sure there's a rhyme and reason to when/why things change, but it does seem somewhat arbitrary (Mar. 4 was the day this year). This can be frustrating if you've found a particular drink that you really like (for me, it was the Tiramisu latte at Tully's--now replaced by the Orange Marmalade Latte which isn't nearly as good), but it also means that the selection that you have to choose from is constantly changing and expanding. You can't help but try new things, which adds a layer of excitement to life.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Reasons Why I Love 日本 #2

ラーメン (Ramen). Technically, this is Chinese, but Japan has adopted Ramen over the past few centuries and taken ownership. Before coming to Japan, my understanding of Ramen was limited to Top Ramen and Cup Noodles--cheap meals that helped me avoid bad cafeteria food in college. Turns out it was a limited perception--there are tons of varieties of Ramen (often based on local specialties), and there are Ramen shops EVERYWHERE. My personal favorite is ねぎ (onion) Ramen with a miso base.

Reasons Why I Love 日本 #1

たい焼き (taiyaki). A traditional Japanese cake/pastry, baked in the shape of a fish and containing some kind of filling. Bean paste fillings are common, but my personal favorite are the custard-filled taiyaki.

The purpose of this blog

Well, mostly I started this one because my email address for my old blogspot page (nator-gator14.blogspot.com) has been expired for about two years, and blogspot finally realized that I was logging in using expired info... and they wouldn't let me update my email address since they required the old address/password so that they could sent a confirmation email to the old address... which had expired... yes, totally convoluted and I'm not sure I understand completely.

So here it is--I'm setting up a new blog and the purpose will be two-fold: one, it will be a place for me to keep up with the writing that I was already doing on the old blog. Since I started teaching, my postings have gone from occasional to infrequent, but I do make a point of sitting down and writing every so often (even if I'm too busy :P). I'll repost as many of my old writings on this new blog as I can, and hopefully will add lots of new stuff too.

The other purpose of this blog is to chronicle what life is like in Japan. In this sense, I hope to be more regular about posting new material. I'm going to start, quite simply, with a daily update of different things I love about Japan. This is practice for me to start writing more regularly (even if it's only a couple sentences a day), and in the meantime will hopefully serve as interesting reading for you.

So, I think that about sums it up... oh--and I should make it clear from the get-go... I don't actually eat natto that often. (Natto, for the uninitiated, is a gooey, chewy fermented bean dish that is relatively popular in Japan). I don't hate it, like some gaijin (foreigners) do, but I'm not about to make it a part of my balanced breakfast, either...