Search Box

Links to Culture Cafe Episodes!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Back In Fine Form

Episode 10 - Pocari Sweat

After yet another break - due in large part to some hardcore overtime in preparation for the recently completed English Speaking Contests - we're back! This week is all about the Sports Festival, also know as, Undoukai. We break it down for you and talk about our most memorable moments from the past couple years worth of them. We also pay tribute to our (formerly) one-eyed daruma halfway through. Here's hoping he's pleased!

Show Notes

-This week is the electrolyte-fueled Pocari Sweat; it's like Gatorade with the 'ade'. Definitely not fun going down and the milky consistency coupled with "sweat" in the title only add to the unpleasantness. Pick one up at your local grocer today! Cheers!

It's got everything plants need!
-Let me throw you to the previous article I wrote about my school's Undoukai, which covers that day in great detail:

-Here's a picture of Mitsuko's glass sliding doors.

You sunk my battleship!

-So here's the Daruma we purchased from the local shrine in Ebi on New Year's Day this year.

This is the state we left him in.
In modern times the practice of filling in an eye is either for the purpose of setting a goal - to be colored upon achieving said goal, or for wish fulfillment. In the case of the latter, the eye is colored in upon fulfillment of the wish in question.

Somehow he just looks angrier. We're sorry!

The practice of using Daruma is fairly recent in Japan's overall history (Late 1700s onward) and is rooted in Zen Buddhism. The design of the Daruma is based on Bodhidarma, a man with a mysterious history who is credited as the founder of this particular sect. Not much is known about him these days beyond conjecture and myth, but the Daruma dolls remain a popular yearly tradition.

They started off as a way for priests to encourage patrons to revisit the temple on a yearly basis to buy new charms - as they would magically last exactly one year, requiring one to repurchase annually. In a funny old way, you might think of Daruma as the inspiration for the Ford Motor Company, but I digress.

The peasant masses were well aware of this it would seem, and the practice of using Daruma was originally invented as a way of handling the high yearly demand for new charms. The temple most closely associated with Daruma, Daruma-Dera, in Takasaki, Japan offered visitors wood blocks with which they were meant to cut out their own charms, thus lightening the load on the priests. Hrm, IKEA too it would appear, anyway!

Editor's Note: There was a video I was about 99.99% sure I uploaded to Youtube featuring the burning of the Daruma. I'll investigate the old hard drive and see if I have it backed up there, which I will promptly upload if I can recover it.

-Musical recommendation for this week comes by way of Morgan Kibby as White Sea! 

Really has that Abraham Lincoln touch going on.

Editor's note: I mistakenly referred to it as the 'title track,' but I meant to say opening track. 

This song felt very much as though it could be an Undoukai anthem when that chorus hit. Driving along to the enkai that night I must've looped it a dozen or more times constantly imagining how I would've filmed my own music video for it. Speaking of which, I had never see this one before; It was kind of pleasing to see that whoever directed it also felt that high energy slow motion shots were good imagery for the song. 

I think that's about it for this week! Here's some links! Everyone loves those!

Subscribe on iTunes!
Get your head in the cloud!

No link here but find me on Instagram at:

Check out "nothing interesting" right here!

As always if you have thoughts, comments, suggestions,
critiques, or maybe you want to find out how to be a guest on the show, send us an email at:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Speaking The Truth

The speech contest has officially ended and now it’s time to write some thoughts about it. 

Close but no cigar

     It is true that we didn’t come home with a prize, but despite that there’s still much to write about. We’d been practicing for over 2 months by the time our regional contest came around. I felt extremely confident in all my kids. It's probably hard to believe that I was being objective about their abilities but we honestly had a good shot at it this year. I never put any pressure on them though; above all else I told them that we should go to have fun, do our best, and be proud of the work we put into the competition. I can safely say that we accomplished all of these. It’s a huge achievement - something they’ll probably remember for the rest of their lives, and I’m thrilled that I was able to be a part of it.
     Watching them improve their abilities as the days went on was incredible. I’m positive that their self-confidence has improved dramatically, which is a hard-earned award of its own. One of my girls in particular, who I will call R here, made a complete transformation from her shy cocoon.  
     R was always one of my favorites because she's just a bright kid and damn near everything a teacher could want from a student. She was always very timid though; most of the work we did was to crack that shell so she could feel comfortable in her own skin. I think we nailed it too. I remember the first day I was able to make her laugh while we were practicing. Eventually she was smiling regularly during our sessions. One day, when I was in the gym waiting to start practice, R approached me and said that she had already worked with one of my JTEs earlier so she would just be doing club activities. I said that was fine and gave her a "頑張って"* for her practice. During one moment of downtime she walked back over to me where I sat along the edge of the stage awaiting the other three students: 

     "It was kind of lonely with only the two of us working together today." She said with a half smile.
     "Yeah, it is more fun when it's the whole group of us isn't it?" I replied. She smiled.
     "Yeah, like when it's the 6 of us..." She trailed off as practice demanded her attention once again. I leaned back on the stage feeling as though I were doing something right.

     Those kinds of small moments are really what spelled our time working towards that contest. Every single one of them had an effect on me. K was our comic relief, A was and is ever studious about English and I enjoyed having grammar conversations with her, Ka is the veteran, having competed last year. I knew her the best from the start. 
     I still can’t believe how strong the four of them were. I know what a nerve-wrecking experience it can be to stand amongst one’s peers and perform before a panel of judges. Rather than shrink with fear or lose their voice to nervousness they courageously rose the occasion; standing tall they confidently gave their speeches and performed admirably by all standards.
            Our small band of five applauded with uproarious cheer after each speech, never failing to support one another. In the break periods between these moments we huddled together and congratulated those who had finished their performance and offered encouraging words to those whose time had yet to come. They were amazingly brave and poised throughout their speeches. If the tables were turned and I had to speak Japanese I can’t say I would’ve done as well.
            In all honesty I felt very confident about taking home a victory this year. It’s hard to be objective when one is one as close as we were throughout these months but I thoroughly believe they performed in a manner worthy of accommodation. When their names were not announced, I felt my heart sink. They accepted this loss with great dignity but I was left feeling as though I had let them down. When the ceremony had ended I made sure to tell everyone how proud I was of them.
            The next day I asked how they were doing and they all seemed fine. I was glad that they were handling it well but I still felt a bit bad myself. While I was working on my English board, rearranging a few things, A came and handed me a letter. In it she thanked me for all help along the way and said that despite not winning she felt we all gave it our best shot. While I was still riding down the happiness from that letter R later told me that she had fun.

And then it struck me: that was the goal wasn’t it? In the end, that’s all it took to make it better.

Well that says it all doesn't it?


 * 頑張って (ganbatte) is an expression that one hears quite a bit in Japan. It's sometimes thought of as being synonymous with the English saying "good luck!" but I tend to disagree. "Ganbatte" means "do your best" and would therefore imply that the person it is told to must put some effort into their happiness. "Good luck" on the other hand feels less contingent on the agency of the person involved in the fortune. But that's just me!