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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Year In Music

I know I haven't posted in quite a while, but this was something I could not skip out on. It's December which means it's time for my annual "best of" albums list. I would've had it up much earlier but I stay pretty busy these days. Anyway, here's the list for now with full write-ups to come later.

25. Candy Claws - Ceres & Calypso In The Deep Time

24. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe

23. Superchunk - I Hate Music

22. Beach Fossils - Clash The Truth 

21. Washed Out - Paracosm

20. Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety  

19. Deerhunter - Monomania

18. Mikal Cronin - MCII

17. Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse

16. And So I Watch You From Afar - All Hail Bright Futures

15. Volcano Choir - Repave

14. The Civil Wars - The Civil Wars

13. Eleanor Friedberger - Personal Record

12. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

11. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

10. Savages - Silence Yourself

9. Foxygen - We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic

8. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - II

7. James Blake - Overgrown

6. Deafheaven - Sunbather

5. HAIM - Days Are Gone

4. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

3. CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe

2. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

1. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Reward Within

For this entry I shall post the article I wrote for my school's newsletter

The article contained my reflections on the Chubu Regional Speech Contest


A Reward Within

I had a little bit of experience working in a speech contest environment before this past one. One of the things I did while I lived in Kofu-cho was work with students on their speeches. I showed up for all their practices working on pronunciation, flow, and rhythm among other aspects. We worked hard but came out of the contest without an award. It hit me hard but it was important to understand that hard work in and of itself is valuable, though it may not seem like it at first.
This year I worked with my own students for the Chubu Regional Speech Contest. They worked hard. I cannot stress that point enough, and no amount of words I add to that statement can make it more powerful. They simply worked hard. Over all those sessions I witnessed great change in all of my students. They all started off impressively and worked towards becoming incredible. I cannot thank or congratulate them enough for all their outstanding efforts over the past weeks.
At the contest they performed without fail. Each executed his or her speech flawlessly and with the kind of confidence in their abilities that was truly admirable. One by one I applauded as I was both impressed and proud of their recitals. I knew the students were proud as well for I could see the smiles upon their faces after each finished.
Alas, the judgment time came. As we all sat with bated breath names were slowly called one at a time. And in this moment I was perhaps the most proud of my students. Their names were not called, but they applauded with all their might, and kept their heads held high for the remainder of the ceremony.
We came back to the school not with awards, but with the spirit of competition burning brighter than ever. For that I thank them and for that I will never forget this event.

Thank you Souhei-san, Hikari-san, Hayato-san, and Kana-san.


I couldn't be more proud of you guys.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tears For Success

Once again so many things have happened that I have yet to post about but I am being very diligent when it comes to the journal, so at the very least I can always call back to those entries later on.
We figured that if we were going to rock the "Rookie" sticker we might as well do it in style
Last week, I was in Yonago with Ryan, the exceedingly nice ALT who lives in my town just a couple of train stops over. We had arranged a plan to go into town via his car and do a bit of shopping to sort of have a breather after a couple of busy weeks. I can't believe how much time has passed already, and how many things I've already done. . . but I'll have time to reflect on that later.

The drive up there was as incredible as Ryan led me to believe. Route 9, the route that is basically both vein and artery to Tottori-ken, will take one to Yonago without having to do much other than drive straight for about 30-40 minutes. This length fluctuates depending on how willing one is to bend the suggested speed limit. I adhere to it religiously, but other people [Japanese People] seem less inclined.

After reaching Yonago, we parked at the small AEON (sati) near Yonago Station and took to the streets on foot. Ryan suggested a crepe shop earlier and truth be told it was a place that I passed many times on various walks through Yonago. I was excited at the idea of eating there because I feel there's a real literary quality to the idea of a shop one passes yet never dines in. The only thing better than that is the girl a boy sees everyday in passing -perhaps at a bus stop?- yet never talks to.

Anyway, the food was great but it sounds strange. We had an Ebi Crepe Set. Ebi being shrimp, it was a crepe that wrapped around a couple pieces of breaded shrimp stuffed with lettuce that also had a mayonnaise and spicy sauce. Oh yeah there was also a bag of french fries on the side too. It sounds bizarre, and I make no arguments against that disposition. Honestly, it was a really delicious combination of sweet, spicy, shrimp-y goodness. You'll have to forgive my very professional sounding recount of it but that's the best I can do for that meal. 
I was surprised at how good it was

After hopping around to a few more stores here and there we managed to make a jaunt over to Sargent Pepper's, which is a record store that I was very keen on visiting once again. I believe it was about 7:40pm when we walked in, twenty minutes shy of closing time. I had wanted to pick up a record to show my students since most of them hadn't ever seen one. Within a few minutes of crate digging I went up to the register with Rubber Soul and two Beatles EPs (Australian Pressings).
I talked to the owner about how I had been to that shop before; he couldn't remember me, which was okay. I don't think I look foreign enough to be recognizable, especially after 6 months. We talked about records and my collection back at home in America. He asked if I was a Beatles fan too, and I said of course. I do have all the Beatles studio albums in a nice boxed set actually. I explained that I couldn't bring my records let alone turntable over here because it's just way too much stuff to ship. At that point, almost in passing, as I was paying for the records I asked him if he knew where I could get a turntable. He paused. He thought for a minute before finally saying what I expected. Recycle shops, used stores, second hand, that kind of stuff. Then he looked across the way towards a very nice Denon turntable I had seen earlier in the shop. I figured it was the one he (or the customers) used to test records on before buying them. He said he could sell it to me. At first I was excited, then a little bit realistic because I suspected it would be pricey. He didn't stop there though. Among the things he listed as part of the "set" he could combine and sell at a discounted rate were: the turntable itself, speakers, receiver/amp, cd player, and a mini disc player. He said he would cut the price. The only logical thing to say after hearing that is of course, "how much?"

That's when he floored me.

4000 yen. About 40 dollars.

I looked over at Ryan who was beaming. His eyes told me that if I wasn't going to buy it, he probably would've hit me for being such a fool. I asked Ryan if he wouldn't mind, and his response was, "We've got a car." So we loaded up, the owner helped too. It felt like we were ripping the place off, with the owner's help, and paying that much for it I think we just about did.
The haul in Ryan's car
As we were about to drive off, he gave me some final words both alarming and comforting. He said he hadn't tested it but he didn't believe it wouldn't work. Alarming. Then he told me that if anything were wrong to bring it back to him. Comforting. He said he couldn't fix it, but bring it back. Alarming. But in the end he seemed like such a good guy that Ryan and I agreed he would definitely refund me if it didn't work in the end. And the fact that it worked is almost the point of this whole writeup. We'll come back to that later though.

After the record store we went to the infamous Kaihousoko.
Do you remember when you were little, and sometimes in elementary school, or maybe at the doctor/dentist when you'd do good or the day would be over and there'd be that little treasure box of goodies from which you could take a present. Kaihousoko is that second hand version of that treasure box. It is really is just the most extreme mix of previously owned items catering to anything from fashion to gundam and video game to manga. I walked out without a purchase but there were a couple things I had my eyes on. I'll wait for the next paycheck and gift myself something small (or two) perhaps.
From the outside

Super Mario Advance 2, I'm coming for you next time

There's just... all kinds of stuff
Now to the point of this whole story:

After our shopping extravaganza (which included many more stores other than the ones I mentioned here) Ryan helped me unload my newly acquired turntable and stereo equipment (Thank you again!). It was about 10pm when I walked through the door, and the first thing I did was call up Mitsuko to tell her about the stuff I found.

She picked up over FaceTime and we both marveled at what a good deal it was. She asked if I had checked it yet and I told her I wanted to hook it up that night, despite how late it already was. I just had to know if it worked. I fumbled through the cords, and plugged in the speakers, making sure which was positive/negative, had the amp plugged, made sure the switch for the type of cartridge on turntable was set to the right one, and other such things. I placed my record on the platter, the Rubber Soul one, and hit the switch. It powered on, and moved by itself, dropping the needle on the record, creating a fuzz that I could hear off the record itself, but not from the speakers. I tinkered with a few more knobs, double checking to make sure I had set everything correctly. There was a mute switch that had been hit, and a few more things that I needed to flip on, but it the end it worked.
All You Need Is Love - and a turntable

I rolled back and forth on my floor as, "Drive My Car" started up and resonated in my modest apartment. Mitsuko asked if I was happy, rhetorically.

Then she asked what was wrong.

I was still rocking back and forth, but my eyes had changed. I didn't think what was about to happen, would have happened. But after she asked me I realized how emotional I had become. I was crying.

She got worried and continued pressing, "No… what's wrong? What's the matter?"

After a couple of seconds I explained to her what had just happened in my head. I'll do the same for you now:

Music is really important to me, I said. This kind of stuff, the records, the turntable, it was important to me back at home too. Two years ago I applied for the JET programme and I failed that first time. Whether or not it was my fault or just bad luck is irrelevant. In the end, I didn't get in and it takes that kind of circumstance for one to understand how meaningful something can be. I was crushed more than I could imagine. It was the most hurt I'd felt in my whole life. This thing, this meaningful thing, failed to come together and it hurt. Sometimes you'll go to the store and pick up something that you think is neat or something that's a deal. When you get home to try it out, it breaks, or doesn't work at all. That feeling is pretty depressing, but we don't make those decisions with all our eggs in that basket. I made the mistake of doing that for JET the first time, and I paid a price. Everything after that seem far less inconsequential as a result. When something didn't work, it hurt. When I bought something that was a lemon, I got depressed. It just felt like everything was collapsing onto itself. I doubted myself all the way through the next year. I never once believed that I could possibly come into the program, and that things would continue their downward slope. Lo and behold, I was accepted.

So what does all that have to do with discount turntables and a copy of Rubber Soul at 10:40pm?

Well, quite simply, it worked. I suspected that at least something would be wrong with the system. A speaker that didn't play, a knob that wouldn't turn, skipping, cracking, something, anything. But it was fine. It was perfect. I took a chance and tried something that would be meaningful to me if it worked. And it did. Suddenly I was reminded of where I had come, and what I had done, and that goodness that comes in kind to those who wait. That's why it affected so.

I was just really happy it worked.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Rainy Day

It's raining; it's pouring
The old man is snoring
He went to bed and bumped his head
And couldn't get up in the morning

Classes have been canceled today due to inclement weather.


(Who else feels like playing Monopoly right about now?)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Opening Ceremony & The Dawn Of The First Day

Once again there are no pictures to accompany this moment but I felt like I should make note of this before too many other things passed.

As the title alluded to, today was the opening ceremony for the second term of my junior high school. As ALTs we arrive in the middle of summer vacation so it's more likely than not that we won't have much to do for our first few weeks. It actually works out for the better I suppose because it allots an appropriate amount of time to get used to our new surroundings while also providing a buffer in which we can take care of all the important paperwork that needs doing.

So that being said, I had moments of spare time interspersed with sudden bursts of things to do. I think my initial advice for the next ALT (hopefully years from now) will be: prepare to have nothing to do until you have too much to do.

(editor's note: I had started writing this at my apartment yesterday but was too burned out and a bit fatigued from having the long day and small head cold to finish it up.)

So the day of the opening ceremony was interesting for me. I'd like to think it went off mostly without a hitch. I got to work dressed and pressed (minus the jacket because: seriously) on time then sat for a while before I was asked to move to the gym. Sono-sensei was kind enough to guide me there as well as explain what was happening to me. All the teachers lined up on one side of the gym while all the students sat on the floor in the middle. Normally the teachers circle the students - evenly spaced on all sides - which I had seen before while volunteering in Kofu, but today was a special day.

The principal gave some remarks, which were followed by the vice-principal's remarks as to what was going to happen next. There was an odd mix of formality for formality's sake and lighthearted jabs from the principal every now and again towards the ends of his speeches. Even though no one was there to watch the event, just students and staff, it was all orchestrated as though we were being filmed.

Not too long into the speeches and announcements, the vice-principal (hereinafter Kyoutou-sensei) walked up to me and said that we'll walk together to where I need to be next. He took me to the other side of the gym across and told me that they would signal when I was to walk up on the stage for my speech.

Eventually that time came and I was beckoned from across the way. I scaled the steps and almost made it all the way to the podium before I heard Kyoutou-sensei's voice telling me to stop, and to sit in the chair next to the podium. Apparently I wasn't to speak just yet. Kouchou-sensei (principal) came up on the stage and offered a few more words - though he had just done so - on my behalf before I was told to get up on stage and speak. The speech part (the part I was worried about) went off without a hitch, and I think everyone was very happy with how I spoke.

I started walking off the stage and was once again being talked to from across the gym. This time it was because I was taking off too fast. Apparently I was to stay there while another student came up to the front of all the students and spoke in English and Japanese to me. It was their small introduction speech to match mine as read by this one particular female student. Though we were both required to make speeches to one another I cannot help but feel that we captured every ounce of sincerity that we could within the confines of a planned task.

The ceremony was basically over after that. A few more words from a few more people. We all filed back into our offices and rooms for a day of testing and no classes.

Or so I was told.

As I sat in my chair planning out what I would do for the rest of the day Fuketa-Sensei (Science teacher) came to me and asked in Japanese if I was ready to do preparations. For what, I inquired of him. To show all the movies about your home later today, he replied in kind. I was so not ready for this because I thought I would be showing movies and doing lessons the day AFTER this one. And as much as I insisted that I didn't have anything ready, only small things, he felt that those would be okay.

The lesson in this situation if there could be said to be one is: don't try to be diminutive of your non-work. That being said, he seemed like there were more preparations made for this moment that I had anticipated so I immediately jumped into my laptop - which I had brought that day so I could work on what I was planning to show the next day. I pulled pictures, videos, and recycled a powerpoint presentation that was meant for an English Camp but would work well enough for this occasion. I emailed my brother and asked him to take some quick videos of our house and send them via email so I could try to slip them in. The videos I wanted to show to the kids however weren't exactly the kinds of things that Fuketa-sensei had in mind.

I had dug up footage of Disneyland, which came out upside down on his laptop (thus useless) along with footage from things around my neck of the woods. I would've shown it on my laptop but I didn't bring the cables and adapters to plug it in because I hadn't planned (nor was I told)  that I would be doing something like that, that day. Disneyland aside, I tried to pick interesting things like the Red Bull Flugtag event in Long Beach.

While doing my preparations Fuketa-sensei saw it and said, "Is this... your hometown?"

To which I responded, "No, but it's in Long Beach which is very close to where I live."

Turns out this is not what they wanted, interesting footage of stuff that goes on where I live. So I scrambled once more to find a video of something that was partially, tangentially, related to me. It was a bit hectic that first day. Running downstairs to plug in a flash drive dump some stuff I got in an email from my brother, then running back up, putting it on Fuketa-sensei's laptop, videos being upside down, trying to install VLC so I could flip them, that not working, rinse, repeat, so on.

In the end I pulled it off by the skin of my teeth. I spent the rest of my day preparing more poster boards because I wanted to use those for the rest of the self introduction lessons. I didn't want to let anyone know about videos until I was absolutely ready and prepared to show a properly cut video of things I wanted to show.

That was the first day. I left without my bento (which I didn't eat because I spent my lunch hour trying to piece together a presentation) so I had to walk back to the school afterwards and get it. I wouldn't be able to eat it the next day because I would be eating school lunch with the students from that day on.

In other news I found out that my office has rats. Cool.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Maybe Jet Lagged, Definitely Backlogged

Too much has already happened and in an effort to not fall further behind I'll do my best to quickly hit the major plot points of my first couple of days as a JET participant

The place where all journeys begin

I arrived at LAX sometime before 1PM and found a ridiculously long line that could only belong to our flight on Singapore airlines. I saw some familiar faces as I made my way to the tail end of it, which seemed daunting at first, but moved at a very brisk pace largely due to the coordinated efforts of all the JET program people involved.

After checking in my bags (which were thankfully not overweight) I sat down with my family on the upper floor of the terminal where all the food courts are. They got up to get something to eat. I told them I didn't want anything, probably because I was full of anticipation more than anything else. I watched the table while they were away and that left me ample time to stare out into the sea of people who were destined for anywhere but the place we all stood.

I'm a fan of people watching in general. But there was something altogether different about the way I was looking on at the activities below. Today I wasn't mindlessly viewing random people. I was thinking.

As I paused and leaned over the railing I saw many things.

People reuniting. Families saying goodbye. Friends embracing. Lovers kissing. Farewells. Long time no sees. Excitement. Tears.

Everything that had once seemed mundane before had suddenly become magnified. Today was different. Today I was one of those people. As I looked on, I felt as though I were a part of something bigger than the program even. Whatever it was, I was glad that I felt it. Airports fascinate me for reasons such as these.

Skipping ahead a bit to the flight, I sat in the middle seat (which normally would be the pits) next to another JET named Matt Frazier. Matt is a super awesome guy who if memory serves me correctly flew in from Kansas City to Denver to have his interview and come time to leave the country he made the same journey once more: Kansas City to Denver then Denver to Los Angeles and naturally LA to Narita. He told me there were 40 people at the Denver Bon Voyage meeting, which adds up to the other numbers I had heard floating about in the weeks leading up to departing. Apparently there were 138 people accepted from LA, but the total number of people leaving from LAX was going to be 178. So there you go. Matt and I talked for a long time during the flight about all kinds of stuff. Hopefully we'll get a chance to hang out sometime when we're all traveling.

Not too many JETs in our section of the plane

Here's an example of how first class I am: We were given this zipper pouch before takeoff and Matt and I looked puzzled. What was inside we wondered. I unzipped it and discovered a couple of items.

Mysterious complimentary zipper pouch

Okay, the first thing I did was try to stick them on my hands. I admit it! And I thought to myself: These are the stupidest gloves ever! For shame.
Hah! Socks! I get it now!

 So I dug deeper into the bag, and this time I knew exactly what I was pulling out. A toothbrush and quite possibly the smallest tube of toothpaste ever. 

For when you need to scrub on the go!

After a while Matt decided to watch a movie, and I saw they had some games. As soon as I saw Earthworm Jim 2, I knew exactly what I would be doing for an hour or so. Or so I thought. It was buggy, slow, and after the first level it thanked me for trying the game. IT WAS A DEMO! DEMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

It would've made my day had they not been demos
So after we land and get all our luggage sorted out we decided to walk outside for a bit to enjoy the incredibly hot and humid summer Japan has on offer. 

On a humorous side note: My predecessor's name was Ian, Mitsuko's was Kyle. My two roommates were named Ian and Kyle respectively. 

That night as Brianna, Ian, and I rode the elevator down we ran into my new buddy, Morgen, who looked super burned out that night and just wanted to catch some sleep. Poor guy. There was a mix up with luggage so had to take care of that. 

You can't see it in this picture, but this is me holding up an Ajitsuke Tamago in front of the Lawson sign, which was located about 3 minutes or so from the hotel. Ajitsuke Tamago how I've missed you!
I'll bring you another one when I visit Keiko-san! I promise!

Ajitsuke Tamago in all its glory

So we all went to sleep horribly that night, despite our best efforts. Oh well, at least tomorrow was only going to be back to back meetings. Meetings all day. All day long meetings.

The orientation book was nicely designed at least

 I couldn't help but shake the feelings of how important and seriously Japan treated our arrival when I walked into the main room where we had our preliminary keynotes. It was impressive to say the least.

That's not the 25th year of the program. It's the 25th year in Japan Emperor Years.

After all the meetings we went out again that night to see Akihabara. Even though most of it was closed by the time we got there it was still pretty cool. I'll have to go again though, during the day when we go on a trip to Tokyo apropos of any official plans. 

Here's some more pictures for you:

A little inside shot of the Yamanote Subway Line
Ian flexing his guns.

A karaoke place

After the next day's meetings we went out again for our last hangout as a group before we'd split up and sent all over the country. That night we were: Brianna (radiantly smiling too), Morgen (the visible gentleman in plaid); and behind them, Yeelly, Therese, Euan. We went out to Harajuku, and walked from there to Shibuya, had some food and drinks at an Izakaya, visited some wacky arcades, and ended the night with a ramen shop.

I wish we were all closer together. But we do get to visit all kinds of other places now

Here's my dinner that night.

We all squeezed together in there and enjoyed each others company

The next morning we were all set to depart to our various locations. I was shipped off to Tottori airport, where I was picked up by my supervisor Tanioka-san, a super nice guy, and another BOE member named Iwafune-san. We talked the whole ride back as they were super relieved that I could speak Japanese to them.

So that was the first couple of days in a really fast overview. I'll try to post as much as I can as soon as things settle down.

I know there's more story to tell, but this will just have to do for now! I think my next post will pick up with Tanioka-san and the first day(s) in Kotoura-cho.

Also, I mostly took videos of all the places I went to so I'll have to make a quick video later that highlights all of that.

Until then!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Joshua In Japan Episode 2!

Okay okay, I realize that I'm a little bit behind on the posting. I haven't even written about Tokyo Orientation or even those first few nights in my own place yet! It probably seems like I'm jumping the gun. . . but I couldn't resist the opportunity to get the second episode of my show out there!

Here's some show notes for you:

We open at first by returning from a weekend in Kofu-cho where I was able to say hi to many of the people I met while I was volunteering. Now that I've become a "sensei" by way of the JET programme I was met with congratulatory remarks which I humbly cast aside. In all honesty I was just happy to be back in Japan, a place that had already made a huge impact on my life more than once.

I made sure to come back to Akasaki this past sunday though because I was told there would be a summer festival that included: food, song, dance, an eating contest, and of course fireworks.

In the video I called it the Hakuhou Matsuri, but that's a slight mistake. It's actually known as the Hakuhousai. It's the same kanji, but I got the reading wrong. I apologize for that.

In any case, a literal translation of the event boiled down to: The White Phoenix Festival. Which is absurdly cool.

I captured a few things here and there, but the highlight of the evening was certainly the fireworks display. I managed to record the entire thing! So sit back relax and enjoy the long overdue second episode of Joshua In Japan!

I'll also throw in some pictures of the food I ate as a bonus for you out there.

Steak Stick: I wanted another one so bad

Churro: That cost me 350 yen. It wasn't bad but I could've paid for another steak stick

Takoyaki: I love takoyaki. Mitsuko and I shared this one

Squid: I'm always up for fried squid. A guy I met at the town office worked a booth that sold this one

Melon Shaved Ice: With two pocky! This was a lot better than I thought it was going to be