Saturday, September 29, 2007
First Day of School and More...
Monday was my first day of school. I was fairly nervous, but it went really well. Normally, I would only go to one school on Mondays, but because I needed to be introduced during the school assembly, I went to 2 of them. Gave a little speech, had a bunch of kids cheer and bow to me and that was about it.

(there is one of these statues at every school, some type of guardian of multitasking)

After school was over, I went with Janet and her friend visiting from the States to a popular local onsen. In case you don't know, an onsen is basically a natural hot spring where everyone bathes naked (yeah, naked). Males and females have separate baths of course. Was sorta strange, but it's a very popular Japanese activity, so I decided to try it out. The onsen is up the mountain that the Fruit Park is on and provides an excellent view of the whole of Yamanashishi. It was quite relaxing and not nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it would be.

Up Next: Private Tutoring

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posted by am at 9:10 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Fujiyoshida Fire Festival
What, you thought my weekend was over with just Tokyo? Think again! About an hour after getting back from Tokyo, I headed for the base of Mt. Fuji on the other side of the prefecture with Fred, Lynn, and a few others for the Fujiyoshida Fire Festival. This festival marks the end of the official Mt. Fuji climbing season and is basically where people set giant pillars of wood on fire.

We started off at Fujiyoshida Shingen (a big temple) where they were handing out free sake. In a stunning display of internationalization I was actually invited to drink by a Japanese women. She came up to me and explained to me what was going on with the sake, helped me get some, and we kanpai'd (basically like saying cheers and clinking glasses while drinking) together. Afterwards with chit chatted and then said our farewells.

Next we went down to the main street, where people were building the giant log structures that would be set on fire, and walked around. Like any festival, there were a ton of various food booths setup, so we grabbed something to eat. While walking around, we ran across several other JETs at the community center, where they were doing some traditional dances/ceremonies for the festival.

Then the fires started. And let me tell was HOT. And you walk right beside the flames too. I felt like I was cooking all night and couldn't help thinking that it would be a much better winter festival! A few of the fire pillars even fell over, but luckily there are fire fighters running around all night keeping things in check. You just have to be careful when walking past the pillars.

Also watched some taiko drumming and even got to participate by banging on a drum that one of the girls was having people in the crowd use! Picked up some really tasty sweet red wine as well.

After the festival, we tried to head home, but it was harder than it seemed to accomplish this task. It seemed like EVERY road we went down was blocked off, with no sign pointing you in the right direction. About an hour into our trying to leave, we finally found the exit, which was through a creepy, dark, forest that seemed to go nowhere. But we did make it home. All in all, a very fun and eventful weekend.

Up Next: A day of firsts

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posted by am at 10:41 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Tokyo: Round 2
The rest of the week following the fireworks festival was fairly uneventful. Did some bill stuff, had some meetings at the BOE, and got internet setup in my apartment (which apparently required 2 maintenance workers, the IT guy from the BOE, a cherry picker, taking apart my AC and then putting the AC back together). Nope, not much going on at all.

Then came the weekend and my next trip to Tokyo! This time with Janet and Natalie. Day started out kind of crappy with me getting on the wrong train and making us late getting there. But after that embarrassment, it was all win! We started off in Akihabara, the electronics capital of Tokyo, where I picked up a rose colored DS, DS kanji dictionary, a new PS2 memory card, and an SD card for my camera all at the Yodobashi Camera. I also picked up my very first point card there, given how much I spent! Picked up my first Japanese manga while in Akihabara as well. Vol. 1 of the Ouran Host Club to help me with studying Japanese. Everyone seems to recommend reading manage to help study Japanese, so, now I have one!

Then, it was off to Asakusa to see the famous Sensoji Temple and walk down the Nakamise arcade. Nakamise is basically just a really long walkway of tourist and sembei shops. While there I picked up some grape ice cream, mochi, and also, a Tokyo spoon for my grandmother (can't believe I found one...yay!). She collects them and really wanted one. I looked for them everywhere and just randomly ran across the ONLY stall selling them.

At the temple, there is this fortune telling system. You basically pay 100 yen, shake this container of numbered sticks, pull out a stick, go to this wall of numbered boxes, open the box with the number that matches your stick, and.... voila!.....when you open the box, there's your fortune! Janet got a good fortune, I got a regular one, but Natalie got a bad fortune. When that happens, you have to tie the fortune to these pole things and they are supposed to blow away after time (taking the bad fortune away). We checked when leaving to see if it had blown away yet, but it was, sadly, still there.

There was also a samba festival happening at the temple, so there where all these crazily dressed people wandering around and doing performances. It was great!

After the temple, we went to Shinjuku for some dinner and then headed to Kabukicho, essentially Tokyo's red light district (scandalous, huh?). No, I didn't go to any of the bars, or ummmmm, other places there. Just went straight to the internet/manga cafe where we would be spending the night. What's a manga cafe and why were we staying there and not a hotel? Well, hotels are super expensive in Tokyo. The most affordable options available are capsule hotels (which usually don't allow women), love hotels (I think not), and hostels (didn't know where any were). Janet had previously spent the night at the cafe we went to, so we kept it safe and decided to stay there. The way it works is that you show up, buy a package for a certain number of hours and you get your own cube w/ internet, gaming systems, access to as much manga, anime, novels, movies, and magazines than you could ever watch. They also have free drink and soup vending machines and ice cream until 10pm. All for about 2500 yen (that's $25). You can't really beat that for shelter and entertainment purposes. Plus, the free onion soup and cold grape tea is great. I'm pretty sure that I got the equivalent of what I spent to stay there in free vending machine goodies. The only catch is that you can't make a reservation, and if they are full, then you're out of luck.

Anyway, the next morning we headed to Harajuku. I went here my last time in Tokyo, but apparently all the cosplayers and lolita dress up on Sundays, so we went to go check it out. Harajuku is also really well known for having great crepes (go figure) so we all grabbed one. The line to get one was huge and took a good 45min. to get through. Crepes were worth it though! We stopped at a few stores to browse and then went to the bridge where the people dressing up usually are, but no one was there. They were holding some type of traditional dancing competition, so we watched some of that and then headed home.

Up Next: A new type of festival

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posted by am at 9:17 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Yukata Gals
So, the day SETY finished, was the Isawa Fireworks Festival. Not as big as the last one, but closer to where I live and me and Tiffany were invited to it by her JTE. We also invited Janet and Natalie to come along as well.

After SETY, the four of us decided to the festival proper style with yukatas and ran over to the nearest departments store. Normally, you get the yukata put on in the store and just go straight to the festival. Because the start of the festival wasn't for a while and we didn't really have on good clothes to wear underneath \it, we decided to put it on later. Janet, having studied tea ceremony at her host families house the last time she was in Japan, said she would help us into them. The lesson we learned: never give yourself only an hour to put on 4 yukatas and then get to a festival. IT AIN'T HAPPENING! So we were a bit late, but called to let the JTE know and she waited for us.

Now, beyond being late, it gets even more awkward. We thought that Tiffany's JTE would pick us up from the train station and then drop us off at the festival and walk around a bit. Apparently this is not how Japanese people operate at festivals. Instead, we were taken to the JTE's house where her family was hosting a party and feed a wonderful assortment of festival foods. Now the problem was that we didn't really tell her about bringing Janet and Natalie cause we thought she could just drop them off, so they ended up joining us for dinner as No one seemed to have a problem with it, and everyone had a good time, but I did feel a little guilty.

Above and beyond the food, were the people. Apparently in our rush to get out the door, our obi weren't tied properly, so one of the older women (who happened to study kimono) retied all of them for us. This worked out well for me because I managed to buy a fancy, long, obi meant for doing fancy double bows.

There were also a bunch of old men there as well, who were quite amused at seeing four gaijin (aka. foreigners) walking about in yukata. They wanted to take pictures with us, and so we did. And a few days after the festival, we go copies of the photos because one of them printed extras for us. It was a super sweet gesture and the photo looks great! If I ever manage to locate a scanner, I'll have to post it.

So, later we head to the actual festival and part ways with the JTE. After standing around and watching some fireworks, we wandered about and found a group of JETs to sit and hang out with. There were a few other girls who showed up in yukatas as well!

After the show, we went back to the JTE's house, ate some more, chatted with her various family members and friends, then headed home. All in all, a great night.

Next Up: Tokyo, Round 2

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posted by am at 9:12 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, September 17, 2007
Where o' where did the weekend go?
So, in between the SETY conference was a weekend. And quite a good one at that. Went up to Kiyosato with friends to try some of its famous fresh ice cream and do some hiking. The ice cream was excellent and the hike was gorgeous. The mountains here are much more picturesque than the ones I'm used to. More like huge moss covered rocks than the jagged, un-green, Rocky Mountains. Makes for a much more enjoyable hike. Took a ton of pics, so here is a small sample.

Day started off with the ice cream. There was a huge line for the stuff! Went quick though as they had a pay while in line and then get the ice cream system stet up. Then the hike. Hit up a nice waterfall, ran across a heard of cows, a random farm, a road block (which sent us the long way around the mountain), and then a random restaurant. We ended up finishing our hiking adventure early because while we were taking a momentary break at the restaurant it started raining. Was still a very satisfying hike and I would definitely be up for doing it again.

After the hike we headed to a local restaurant where I had the best Hawaiian burger ever and then went to check out Tyler and JDs apartments (which are HUGE and super nice! I'm so jealous!). While there I got to check out JDs hand made full body chain mail which he made to look like a white mage (hehe...I earn myself 100 yen for guessing that right....I'm such a Final Fantasy geek). Also played this awesome button pressing to music game. Think Guitar Hero, but with 9 buttons. It's madness!

Up Next: Fireworks Festival #2

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posted by am at 7:02 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, September 14, 2007
So, immediately following local orientation, was another set of mandatory meetings. The SETY conference. Its a 10 day conference for Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) but us JETs only have to go for the last four days. We are there to give the JTEs a native speaker to talk and do activities with. Oddly, the conference spans over a weekend, so it was split. Two days one week and then two days the next.

I'll spare you the details of the conference. Was your basic conference with discussions, skits, debate, brainstorming, games, and all that good stuff. While a bit boring, I actually quite enjoyed getting to speak with JTEs about various issues. Everyone in the group was rather forthcoming and I feel we all made a connection. Yay group!

Up Next: Kiyosato Hike


posted by am at 9:11 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Local Orientation
Once again I have failed to update and am seriously behind in my posting. I should catch up soon though cause I've been taking less pictures and thus should be able to post more speedily.

So, let's see...the beginning of week 3 in Japan was dedicated to attending the local orientation. All the JETs in Yamanashi head to Kofu for 2 days of meetings and visiting local places of interest. Last year, everyone had to climb up some 300 stairs, in suits, in the middle of summer, to some temple, and I feared that we'd be doing that this year, but then discovered we would be going to the........wait for it.......Fruits Park! So, yeah, I went to the Fruits Park for the second time. Though, this time we actually went into the museum at the park (yeah, there is apparently a museum.....who knew?).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The first part of local orientation was to essentially meet the head honcho of the prefecture. There was lots of introducing and bowing and talking in Japanese, which means I had no idea what was going on. But a picture of me at this meeting did make it into a news paper. Look, I'm famous! (in case you can't tell, I'm the one with the piece of paper on my lap)

After the meeting is when we went to the Fruit Park, suits and all. And it was hot! Besides just wondering around, I also grabbed a pineapple ice cream to munch on, and it was great! Real chunks of pineapple and a nice, strong, flavor. After the park (which really isn't much more exciting the second time around) we went out for some sushi.

It was my first time eating sushi while in Japan and it was quite good. It was also my first time doing the whole eat while sitting on the floor thing, which isn't as fun or as easy as it looks. After the food we went to the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum. Wasn't too bad for a museum. Had a lot of interactive exhibits like a strange map of Yamanashi printed coming off the floor, and these hanging vine things that you could pick up and listen to. And a bunch of video game type things, a video booth, dress up area, school room, tatami room with old Edo games, etc., etc.

Then we went back to the hotel for a nice rest and some dinner before hitting the town! Most people headed to karaoke, but I decided to go out with a smaller group for some drinks at an izakaya first. Good times. We were going to go karaoke next, but everyone was heading out to a bar in Kofu called the Rink, which was quite a ways away, so I decided to head back to the hotel for some shut eye along with the rest of the lazy (or responsible depending on how you look at it) people.

Anyway, day 2 of the conference was all inside at the international center. Lots of helpful meetings and advice on house cleaning, travel, and daily living, along with a calligraphy lesson.

Next up: Oh No! Its Another Conference!

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posted by am at 6:55 AM | Permalink | 0 comments