2004 Archives

Walking on the Moon

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Taking a walk through Suntopia Harbor, I was looking for a better place to fish. Weaving amongst the upscale apartments juxtaposed by overgrown weed lots, I stumbled upon some real exotic crafts rotting away, forgotten and neglected by their owners.

This semi-submersible looks like something straight out of Star Trek with it's dramatically curved pontoons and bulbous design. Not meant to submerge at all, it rides on the surface, but the passengers sit in the hull well below the waterline, and can look out of the domed windows. The aft portion of the craft reveals a small propeller and rudder that suggests this exotically designed take on a glass-hulled boat is only meant to cruise in protected bodies of water, and may be a hint as to why it is still not in use around this area.

Looking like something that might lead the Rebel squadron to an attack on the Death Star, this airfoil is built for speed. Mounted behind the long cockpit is a huge fan, not unlike those used by the fan boats on the everglades. It is sad that these two awesome crafts are left to rot in an abandoned lot just a few feet from the water, but upkeep and storage costs must be prohibitively expensive for items of such limited utility.

As if to match the theme of my walk, I spotted these strange fruit, busting out of fur covered appendages. It's ordinary excursions like these that make wandering around such a rewarding activity.

Horror, Non-fiction

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My father just emailed me an article, entitled "Death By Medicine" about what is wrong with the American medical system today.

It is now evident that the American medical system is the leading cause of death and injury in the US. (By contrast, the number of deaths attributable to heart disease in 2001 was 699,697, while the number of deaths attributable to cancer was 553,251.)

It seems counter-intuitive that our medical system, the one that we depend on to heal us, is the cause (the leading cause of death and injury) of so much unnecessary death and injury. This article explores in detail what is wrong, and more importantly what can be corrected in order to remedy these flaws, with medicine in the U.S.. Who would really argue that they don't mind being (or being treated by) a fatigued, rushed doctor who is administering aid outside of his or her area of expertise?

The practices of the pharmaceutical industry are also carefully examined. Is it beneficial for large industries to put medical journalists on the payroll, or for research to be done by researchers who are anything less than impartial towards anything other than scientific objectivity? Might these interests conflict with the general well-being of society, or are large companies to be blindly trusted in the hope that they will be pillars of ethical righteousness?

The issue of iatrogenic (meaning induced in a patient by a physician's activity, manner, or therapy. Used especially of an infection or other complication of treatment. Until very recently, I didn't know what this meant either) injury is especially scary. If you were a doctor and you screwed up, you might think long and hard about reporting it because if you did it might very well cost you your reputation, career, and a lot of money. The article implies that the vast majority of iatrogenic injuries go unreported. The bulk of those that are reported are done so because they have been discovered by the patient or the family of the patient (after they die sometimes). I am not comforted in how some doctor's superior knowledge of medicine is being used, or withheld in these situations. I see two factors at blame here, one being the medical industry, and the other being our litigious society.

I got sick last year, and my employer insisted that I go to a hospital so they could treat my cold. I refused, and not only were they baffled, but they were also agitated.

Supervisor: "Why didn't you go to the hospital to go see a doctor?"

Me: "Because all I needed was rest, and see, I'm much better already."

Supervisor: "You should go anyways, that's what hospitals are for."

Me: "In the U.S., we just drink lots of fluids, eat foods that are easy to digest, and get plenty of sleep. And it works just fine."

Supervisor: "Next time, you need to go to the hospital."

I am glad that I didn't go to the hospital, because if I had, they might have injured me iatrogenically. Try translating that to your tantousha.

On a side note, Matt once was dragged to the hospital by his supervisor, and they rused him into getting a tube shoved down his throat (without prior consent) while he was still awake. Maybe they were punishing him for being a bad ALT, hahaha!


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This short movie is a fictional documentary chronicling modern social trends and the evolving dynamics of information. Brings back memories of 1984, updated.

Tijuana, Japan

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Japan's Tijuana is just like California's. Everyone wears ponchos and sombreros and drinks a lot of tequila while playing mariachi music next to the saguaro cacti.
The only things missing are the jumping beans and kids chasing after a tourist with Chicle.

There is also a crazy looking zebra tethered by a amidst discarded furniture and cinderblocks.

Sadly in Tijuana, Japan, there are no cheap tacos with meat of questionable origin, nor are there any churros.

Gooks in Kitano

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If I were Angry Asian Man, I'd say "That's racist!". This Chinese restaraunt is in the upscale neighborhood of Kitano, Kobe.

"Stick Snack Gookie Salad" is almost as good as "Cheese Flavored Nips".


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Dread Natty Dread

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No, this is not the head of a black mop, nor is it the scalp of a Rastafarian. This walking natty dread is technically a dog. This dog reminds me of some of the voodoo demons that the Jamaican babysitter conjures to scare two misbehaving kids in the 80's TV series, Amazing Stories.

I have seen this strange beast wandering around the streets, like some sort of mutant caterpillar. Today it was sitting right in front of a sliding glass door, and wouldn't budge, so pedestrians were forced to step over or walk around him to get in or out of the building.

He must really stink when he gets wet.

Southern Awaji Sunset

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Taken at Fukuagehama beach while surf fishing. It was a fine beach, but nothing was biting.

The Next Tarantino Scripts?

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I read an interesting comment on my last post on Quentin Tarantino:

The screenplay of Quentin Tarantino's Kung Fu movie has been leaked to the internet. It seems to be some sort of Japanese gangster flick. Link

The linked site contains two scripts:

The working title of the first script, a Japanese gangster/Kung Fu film is GREYHOUND. The second Tarantino script is a teenage crime story called HIGH SCHOOL SKY HIGH.

I think that this was spread by the author of the site, as the name of the author is "Rancor". Does this person really have beef with Q.T., or are the scripts fake? Justin thinks that the scripts might have been put up by an ambitious writer looking to cash in on some publicity through a hoax.


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No, it's really not what it sounds like. It is another example of amusing example of English in Japan, but this time with a high-profile and the potential to make the BJ-League the laughing stock of English speaking basketball leagues the world over, even before it gets a crack at establishing itself.

The BJ-League is Japan's new professional basketball league. The announcement of the league comes after Tabuse's debut in the NBA, so Yuta-san has a pretty good fallback plan if he ever stops playing in the States.

The use of strange mutant English used in Japanese media and goods has been widely documented. For things such as Asse chocolate and cream-filled Collon cookies, it is amusing and part of the joy of living in Japan is spotting mistake-riddled English loaded with unintentional political incorrectness, double entendres, and faux paxs. After having taught English for 2 years, I can tell you that English education is in rough shape in Japan, due to the common fear of speaking and practicing conversation. Interestingly, Japanese students are relatively pretty good at reading and writing English. Let's analyze the name BJ-League, keeping this in mind.

I am speculating that they chopped off the "assketball" from the "B" and grafted it on to "J-League", AKA the professional Japanese soccer league. Sounds good in theory abbreviating "Basketball" and "Japan" to "BJ" and attaching "League", but what they got was a good name for an X-rated video. For such a high profile venture as a professional sports league, why not run the proposed name by a panel of English speakers, or even just one dude who knows English, to check for errors and such? Now they're stuck with it, and I can never take the league seriously. Ah, BJ-League... Those crazy, crazy Japanese.

Take a look at the teams on the BJ-League homepage, featuring the Sendai 89ers, the Niigata Albirex (here's the cheerleader's site), the Saitama Broncos, The Tokyo Apache, the Osaka Deinonychus, and the Oita Heat Devils. The Heat Devils' logo really reminds me of Hot Wheels. How exciting can a national league with only 6 teams be? I guess only time will tell.

Thoughts on Two Upcoming Weddings

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Some people run away from marriage and the responsibilities of a serious relationship as if it were the act of self-castration. I must admit, that when I first heard that some of my friends were getting married I felt frightened for them, as if they had told me that they were going to a far, unreachable place from which there would be no return. But then I thought about it, and it became clear that they were going to become better than they were before. Yes, after they get married, they will obligated to conduct themselves in ways that may not seem so fun, but will hopefully bring a deeper meaning to them as a family.

First, I would like to say congratulations to Chris and Brian, and to their respective fiances, Sarah and Rebecca. You women are doing these two a great service, and they know it, I know it, and all of our friends also know it as well. Building 2 story beer bongs, living in I.V. for three years, doing various dangerous things while enibriated (electric pickle, riding bikes, falling off of roofs, blowing shit up, etc...), and playing cruel jokes on each other lends me a special perspective on these two. It is obvious to me that without you, Chris and Brian would still be a bunch of primates, scratching their rears and flinging poo at each other.

Chris. Brian. You guys are also bringing something into the relationship. You will get to be the chief "male role model" of the house, and the corresponding duties. Countless afternoons spent perfecting your chillin' and grillin' techniques will be passed on to the next generation, as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of both micro an macrobrews. Hurricane punch and long island iced tea awaits, although it will never again be served out of a 5 gallon water cooler. Instead, you guys will drink to get a nice buzz, not until you start urinating on cop cars, in front of cops hiding in the bushes, or anywhere in the proximity of an on-duty police officer for that matter. Having a female partner who wants to help you [as opposed to any guy who would] instead of laugh at you really has its advantages sometimes. It also means that you will be called in to kill any insects, rodents, or deal with any dangerous life forms (Update: Rebecca is the one who takes care of the insects).

Although you two are getting married, I hope that we can all still find some time every once in a while to go out and do nostalgic stuff. You know what I'm talking about- like blowing shit up!!! Do you remember how fun that was? Or sharing a nice keg of Sierra Nevada (that would be Rolling Rock for Chris) while enjoying grilled portobellos and thick chunks of meat. Maybe we can even take a trip into Mexico and go fishing sometime (no, not to TJ to see the spray painted donkeys).

Honestly though, I am truly happy for you guys.

Another Update: Congratulations to Joe "the Muppet" and Michiyo who got married (Mark posted some good photos from the ceremony) down in Kumamoto. Michiyo Fingerhut, hmmm... it's going to take a while to get used to saying that. Best of luck in St. Louis, guys.

Through the lense of T. Utsushigawa

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Last night I found a picture taken by my maternal great-grandfather of the City Market of Los Angeles, over 96 years ago. I don't know much about T. Utsushigawa, save for what my mom has told me.

City Market of Los Angeles, California, 9th & San Pedro Street, August 8th 1910. Shot by T. Utsushigawa (click on the picture for a larger version).

According to my mom, my great-grandfather established himself as a prominent photographer, but like most Americans of Japanese descent he lost everything when he was interred in the concentration camps of World War II.

This picture has great value to me because it is a tangible piece of heritage, part of his life and occupation. Thanks to the Library of Congress photo archive, I was able to see an America that he lived in. If you look closely, you will notice that the cars in the crowded parking lot are, in fact, covered wagons (or horse drawn carriages if you prefer). It almost looks as if he was there right after the taming of the Wild West.

This is the only picture that I can find, but hopefully more can be uncovered with a more extensive search.

How are the police going to deal with motorcyclists that cause a nuisance late at night and pose a danger to other motorists?

Cops will also be armed with paintball rifles, nail guns to shoot out tires and can now use unmarked Black Wing motorcycles to keep watch on the roads. (from this article)

Paintball guns I can understand, but nail guns (this is kind of off topic, but here's another interesting story involving a nail gun-Operation Magician)? Someone's been playing a little too much Quake or something. Hmmm, a cop shooting the tires out from under a young punk with a nail gun while riding a motorcycle. What could possibly go wrong? What if the cop mistakenly draws a bead on the motorcyclist's head and only realizes that what he thought was a paintball gun was in fact a nail gun after he squeezes the trigger (Headshot!)? Does anyone else see anything that could possibly go wrong with these measures? I can already envision some fed-up cops freezing their paintballs and jacking up the velocity past recommended levels.

Does anyone remember The Jackal (the movie kind of based on The Day of The Jackal, not Carlos the Jackal, which is worth watching for the scene where Willis's character adjusts the aim of the remote controlled .50 cal) with Bruce Willis and Jack Black? Well, some Texan is selling 10 shots from a .22 rigged so that it can be used over the internet. I like the idea, but if I'm going hunting over the internet I want to use a larger caliber rifle with the option to toggle between semi, tri-burst, fully-automatic, and grenade launcher settings to compensate for any lag issues.

Leapfrogging Microcosms

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It's crazy what you can find when Googling your name and the name of people that you know. For example, I found out that my high school friends Gary Dote (at Halocrazed) and Daniel Chong (posting at chickennuggets) are also blogging. It's good to hear from old friends, even if just through their posts.

It's interesting to hear stories from people who have read my postings, as I enjoy hearing feedback and exchanging stories and opinions. But my favorite story by far comes from Joe Debiec.

I posted my thoughts about Joe leaving a McDonalds bag full of feces on top of my Civic after going to a cheesy disco party in Miyazaki, thinking that I was just recording a funny (in retrospect, not at that present moment) story for posterity. Well, it turns out that his professor, who has written letters of recommendation for him and whom he still corresponds with, did a search on Google and found this post. The professor then brought the post to his attention, teasingly chastising him for his primitive behavior. Now, that post generated some truly gratifying results and that is part of the joy of posting.

Other thoughts on Google as a social navigation tool:

Ego-googling, and Justin's attempts to boost his page rank under a search for my name, has also made me aware of the existence of another Adam T. Yoshida. I wonder how many people have met or will meet me, only to mistake me for this other Adam T. Yoshida. How many of my former friends and acquaintances were shocked to find out that I wasn't a real American or think that I have transformed into someone who is very vocal about his right wing views.

Many people write insulting things about this prolific Canadian, and though I am not this individual and do not share his political views I can't help but feel disgusted about the lack of good things said about our collective name. I feel defensive of this other Adam T. Yoshida, even though we've never met each other or directly corresponded. It sounds superficial, but that's how I feel. I'm kind of surprised that no Adam T. Yoshida hater has left any comments on this blog, but then again once you read Higo Blog it should be pretty clear that it isn't written by the Canadian Adam T. Yoshida. For now, I am operating under the assumption that I am the only American Adam T. Yoshida in existence.

Yo! Jimbo Blog

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Jamie "Slice Bush" Mackay has started up The Republic of Mackistan, chronicling his experiences as a JET in Aso-gun. Here's a little excerpt:

Imagine you have been sent to a new land, virtually unreachable from the home you used to know. Upon arrival in this truly "foreign" country, you are shipped off like a newly acquired zoo animal (Cuddly Dominion) to a ginormous pit in the earth, put on exhibit for all to see. This massive dent in the earth is surrounded by sheer walls of rock 500 meters high, unclimbable except for a breed of animals known as "shogakkusei," which are mysteriously and ritualistically herded up and down these walls every year. Within the natural barriers of earth lies a giant volcano spewing its deadly sulfur breath into the air as a constant reminder that your existence is at NATURE's mercy.

Jamie and I shared in a fair share of good/interesting times last year. We almost got blown away during a hippie music festival on top of Mt. Aso, went hitchhiking through half of Kyushu (come to think of it, this qualifies as part of the hitchhiking experience), and have dazed recollections of past parties and hashes. Keep on eye on his blog to see what life in Aso as an obvious gaijin is all about.

Mr. Sparkle-vision

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Ed Ricketts (biography) and John Steinbeck are two names that are synonymous with Monterey's Cannery Row. Looking at the pickled creatures in large bottles of formaldehyde, and the primitive scientific instruments and texts with which they were studied, I get goose bumps and feel my enthusiasm flare up just thinking about going out to a rich sea, capturing specimens, and scrutinizingly recording over every detail later. In the Sea of Cortez, you could make more discoveries, see more mind-blowing creatures with vibrant colors and fascinating behaviors, and participate in the noble quest for expanding our collective knowledge.

These experiences sound like a great time, even considering that living on a ship entails certain hardships such as lack of privacy, equilibrium imbalance issues, being confined in a very small space with a limited number of people, and having to post watch in the middle of the night to make sure that the boat is safe. Besides, you get to fight epic battles with beautiful, ferocious fish, hopefully resulting in some seafood to supplement the provisions.

I am only on the first pages of the log of the scientific expedition, undertaken by the Sea of Cortez Expedition and Education Project, and I am already hooked. Bill Gilly's (the chief scientist) statement of purpose seems to really resonate with the image that I have of Doc Ricketts- an approach to studying marine biology that blends the passion of one's hobby(using hobby as the Japanese definition of spending all of your free time and money on) with the uncompromising work ethic for one's chosen profession. The sea is our last terrestrial frontier, and holds many more surprises than we know.

M. Curie Onsen

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Smoking is legal, so why shouldn't taking a radon bath be? It's probably not a wise decision, but people have the right to give themselves cancer. However, it is a stupid thing to do because there are so many other onsens to choose from that have specialties of a more benign and pleasant nature. Why not go to Aso Farmland and bathe in wine, herbs, and flowers, go to Kurokawa and dunk your body in bitter cold mountain river water after soaking in minerals and heat and absorbing the abundant natural beauty, or get buried in sand after relaxing in a volcanic mud bath in Kagoshima? Going to the onsen allows one the sorely needed time to reflect and to analyze and learn from their stupidity (post hash wound examination and cleaning, nomihodai futsukayoi detox, etc). Developing cancer after routinely going to the radon onsen, one would seriously ask one's self "What the f*** was I thinking?" and then agonize over it. Now wouldn't that be ironic- a place of relaxation being the source of worry and stress.

Countries Visited

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Where have you been? So far, I have only traveled North of the equator. Gotta get down south one of these days.

You're Welcome

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HK Cinema, Tarantino Style

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I am looking forward to Tarantino's future Kung-Fu movie, which is supposedly taking precedence over Inglorious Bastards (currently in production). I predict that the dubbed version (the film will be in Mandarin, with English subtitles on another version) will be most excellent. Will Pai Mei make it into this movie???

Runoff Salad

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Round-up, the most widely used herbicide in the world, is nothing but bad news. It is not a long term option for agricultural use, and if you have it you should throw it away, stop being so lazy, and pick those weeds out with some gardening tools or your hands instead. Although the herbicide portion of Round-up has been extensively tested in the labs, the emulsificant that binds it to vegetation has not, and its effects on human health and the environment are yet to be well documented (What happens when it gets carried away as runoff and is absorbed by water, soil, and living organisms?). But lets look at what we do know.

Nature finds a way to overcome challenges whether it be from predation or some other environmental pressure, in this case poison. Most plants sprayed by Round-up will die, but given enough time a plant resistant to Round-up will emerge, crafted to survive and to distribute its code, effectively circumventing this particular poison and thriving in the lack of competition.

Screwing with a crop's genes to make it resistant to the poison gives the crop the unnatural advantage of already having the right traits to survive, but this advantage is finite and will eventually cease to be an advantage when the other plants evolve. It becomes quite clear, that much like any other Green Revolution technology, this is a short-term strategy (Green Revolution agricultural practices are inherently unsustainable because they mostly depend on petrochemicals to develop chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, other poisons, and also to power agricultural machinery. Yes, petroleum is a finite source, unless you don't mind for solar energy to be stored in biomass and then for that to be acted on by geological pressure and other conditions for a very, very long time. When the oil dries up, new solutions or materials must be found in order to continue which will most likely signal the next agricultural revolution, or at least a major innovation).

Alarmingly, the possibility of genetic leakage into the environment has not been sufficiently addressed. To what extent do engineered species' genes spread throughout the native population, and what implications does this have for the environment and us? No one really knows, and the big corporations like Monsanto have no interest in addressing this because it would be an added cost and likely yield results that would advocate a more cautious approach to genetic engineering. Well, it was only a matter of time before such recklessness bit us in the ass. Check out this story about Round-up resistant coca plants. Is this the first clear example of genetic engineering being used by rogue scientists, or is it merely the result of natural selection?

If that got your attention, why not read about the Terminator technology(and here) that Monsanto has developed. Or about stealing the genetic heritage (this is, interestingly an IPR issue) of farmers that don't know any better or don't have the resources to do anything about it(scroll down to no. 4). The bottom line is that Monsanto's products and services are designed and sold in order to maximize profits, as are most successful businesses. I'm not saying that seeking to maximize profits is a bad thing, but when the interests of an elite few compete with health, social, and environmental well-being of everyone else it's time to start paying close attention.

pwn3d Nigerian

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Remember the letter I got from Mr. Folorunso of Nigeria? It seems that one of his colleagues fell for the ol' switcheroo, skillfully grifted by "Father Hector"! Classic.

Interesting MP3 Players

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Check out these 2 new head-mounted mp3 players:

Finis SwiMP3-
This mp3 player conducts sound through your cheekbone. The player sticks to the back of your head and two cable-attached conductors clip onto your goggles, like Lando Calrisian's Bald Cyborg Cheif of Security on Cloud City. Can you put this on a diving mask and listen while you're out SCUBA diving?How deep can you take this thing before the pressure damages it? And how are you supposed to use these if you go out surfing (like it says in this article), do you need to wear gogs? If so, how do you deal with all of the other surfers pointing and laughing at you? Costs $239.95 and holds 128MB.

Oakley Thump-
MP3 player mounted on to the arms of a pair of Oakleys. The buds branch out on a pair of legs into your ear canals, and the lenses flip up so you can let everyone know just how geeky you really are. How does the Thump handle, oh... say, a faceplant (or more likely, several) after botching a big jump, smacking down hard on compacted snow? One thing is for certain: the Thump will give you a very distinctive, butt ugly raccoon mask after a weekend at Mammoth. Costs $495, holds 256MB, and has polarized lenses. A 128MB, non-polarized version is available, but why the heck would you say no to double the memory and polarized lenses for just another C note?

Of course, for the IPod people there is the U2 IPod Special Edition-
A new color scheme and the signatures of the band members on the back, along with a $50 coupon for U2's soon to be released complete anthology. This MP3 player doesn't really make for a good comparison for the ones listed above, but inevitably serves as the mp3 player to which all others are judged. Really, it's just a regular IPod in new clothing- can't easily mount to your skull, doesn't come with polarized lenses, and is not waterproof, but it has 20GB. Except that its the Boooooooner Special Edition. Buy one and stand out from your fellow IPod people, but not really. 20Gigs, $349, white earphones, and Boner written on the back of your IPod!

Awaji Underground

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There is a secret lair, hidden inside of a junk-filled bunker under a seaside hotel/resort in Sumoto City, Awaji Shima. Getting into the cave required some minor climbing and acrobatics, and only when I had gotten inside did it become apparent that someone had been here first, and had claimed it as their own. Someone has obviously spent a lot of time bombing out the joint with conventional painting supplies and the Japanese equivalent of Krylon. Among the layers of detritus left behind by stormy waters and past gatherings were an aluminum boat, a scavenged table with four milk crate seats, a few nasty, funky futons, and other stuff that might have been litter or someone's property. It's always an interesting time when a regular outing unexpectedly turns into a modern-day anthropological/archaeological expedition. I wonder if the masked teenagers who go racing around late at night on their loud motorcycles, leading the local cops on long, dragged out chases are the same guys who chill out here. I think I'll just leave that as an unknown to indulge my imaginations.
*note: the chamber on the corner is separated from the lair by a concrete wall, so if you look in the closest openings, all you can see are the remains of a rusted out septic tank that has been filled with rubble.


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I just came back with a mixed 6 pack of imported beer ready to rock, and just before popping them open I was informed that they were ALL NON-ALCOHOLIC! Damn it!!!

Creative License

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What is that Creative Commons tag that you see on the bottom of many blogs, and why is it important? Check out this article that deals with not only copywrite issues of written word, but also music and video. It is interesting how Hilary Rosen, long percieved as "the Man" incarnate by people who oppose the RIAA, views the potential of Creative Commons in the present and future of the music industry.

When Will They Learn?

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It seems that the engineers at Disneyland in Anaheim are trying to work out a way of restoring the speed to the teacups in an effort to return the Magic Kingdom to its former glory (here's the link over at CNN)This is a smart move, but it is just one of many things that they must do in order to make people want to return there.

Justin wrote about this earlier in this post. I have a hunch that we are not the only native Californians who have grown up with fond memories of blasting cans and varmints with lightbeams with flintlock muskets, getting reprimanded for ramming into the rear fender of friends and siblings while tasting two-stroke lawnmower-grade exhaust in the muscle car inspired Autopia, looking for treasure and living fish while diving in yellow submarines, and seeing that hippo eat some well deserved lead on a cruise through the African jungle (Notice it was the jungle back then, as in a journey into Conrad's Heart of Darkness. It was not the modern romanticized, wussified, tree-hugging, granola eating friendly term "rain forest" because back then a "rich, dynamic biodiversity" meant that there were a lot of different things that were out to eat or pester you.). Like New Coke, the changes to the original formula must go because, quite simply, they suck.

I don't know about how Universal Studios Los Angeles has changed since I've been here, but Japan's USJ has it down. Before Downtown Disney(the mall outside of Dland), the Universal Citywalk was a pretty cool place to go and chill on a free day and provided a good variety of decent places to eat (Tommy's, Gladstones, etc...). This design was successfully copied (or more accurately, interpreted) in Osaka, and I recommend getting some ribs at the Chicago Rib Factory if you are there with a huge mug of porter (this is the first porter I have spotten in Japan, anywhere!) to wash it down with. As for inside the park, it has all of the standard attractions (T2 show, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, etc...) and some things that you won't find in L.A.. The show that they put on right before closing combines dancers, speedboats tugging acrobatic kites, water jets/lights/lazers in syncronized bursts, and lots of fireworks. Their mainstreet is a trip, not even remotely accurate to the Beverly Hills and Hollywood streets that it portrays- it is the material equivalent of what Japanese people think it is after watching a lot of "Beverly Hills, 90210", "Beverly Hills Cop", "Tough Guys" (anyone remember this Heston movie?) type media. I can not describe the sensation brought on by hearing the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" song from the animated TV show blaring in a back alley, next to one of the "studios" The standout rides were (predictably) Spiderman, Shrek (not a ride, technically) and (unexpectedly) Jaws.

Spiderman kicked ass, but I don't like hearing him speak in Japanese. If I had my way, there would be subtitles translating what he said, but maybe that's just me. It's a mix between the Star Tours/Back to the Future ride on a track that changes rooms. Go check it out.

Shreck is set up as a regular movie theatre, but the chairs moved with the movie, and it sprayed water droplets, pneumatic bursts, and fog to bring the audience into the story. These elements combine quite effectively, and the only thing that was missing was incorporating a form of Smell-o-Vision into it (the cotton candy scent of the mist doesn't count).

Jaws is a current version of how the Jungle Cruise was envisioned as being when it was first concieved. In fact, it's a rip off of the JC except that the environment of the ride is a prop for the main star instead of the main attraction in itself. The tour guides, much like those in the old days of the JC, relish in their (intentionally) cartoonish schtick as the apathetic/spazzy/inexperienced/ADD kid who didn't take his damned riddlin skipper, telling corny jokes and blasting away at Jaws with... A huge pump shotgun! Pyrotechnics, a lurching ride, and not caving into the anti-violence whinings of offended PC weaklings make for a refreshing experience. I'm not saying that the Jungle Cruise and Frontier Land should have large shotguns, but that they should return to how they were twenty years ago. In fact, I prefer the nostalgic six-shooter chrome plated cap gun in the jungle context because it belongs there.

Until Disneyland is freed from the tyranny of minority of over-sensitive pansy crybabies, it will continue to wither away and alienate those of us who remember how it was and how it should be.

If you really must have something new and revolutionary to unveil at Disneyland, here it is: Stop serving nasty food at your fast food counters and give us what we will gladly pay for(not all of them are nasty, but the one in Tomorrowland under the rockets is). Return the authentic barbecue to Frontierland, next to the murderous Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster. Nothing ruins a good day like a steamed hamburger and limp, cold french fries and knowing that you paid too much for it. And pass out shotguns for the Small World ride. Now THAT, would generate interest and attract a whole new as of yet untapped demographic to the Magic Kingdom.

Why Sampling is a Good Thing

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Wired has a great article with a big interview with the B Boys, Thievery Corporation, Dan The Automator, Chuck D., Danger Mouse, etc... When is that new Nakamura tape gonna drop?

Hot Frontier Action

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The tiny blanket fails in hiding the Cheif's enthusiastic undertaking.

During a long cattle drive through the arid lands of the Southwest, sometimes cowboys were forced to use what was readily available on the trail to feed orphaned calves. Occasionally, these practices developed into something different.

When I hear the word Taliban my hardwired neural response has brought up images of terrorists, Osama Bin Laden, and Afghanistan catalogued from National Geographic articles, James Michener's words, and old news clips. I hadn't thought about the huge Buddha statues that they destroyed since before the U.S. initiated a regime change, but I haven't forgotten about it. I remember watching the reports about the Buddhas in the Hindu Kush being blown up and feeling a deep sense of despair, even though I am not Buddhist.

It seems that there are plans being made to sort through the broken pieces to reconstruct the Buddha of Bamiyan from the many pieces (check out this article at Discover Magazine). Apparently, some researchers were able to make a 3-D model of the Buddha by using the collective data of digital photographs. Another group is analyzing the distribution of specific materials used to construct different parts of the statue with the hope that this information might help to fit the pieces together precisely how they were to before the TNT.

The article also mentions that it is likely that a statue of a Sleeping Buddha is located nearby, just waiting to be excavated. It's kind of ironic that this Buddha is safe (if it still exists) due to the Taliban's own actions. If further excavation had been allowed in 1979, that Buddha might have been destroyed as well. It will be interesting to see how these archaological projects develop. I think that it would be cool if they could rebuild the Buddha of Bamiyan from the sum of its parts.

This article also reminds me of the Buddha of Leshan story, which any JET will recall reading and repeating to their students, possibly for the speech contest, if they have used the New Horizon textbooks in their Chugakko. That story was one of the rare few which I didn't mind reading aloud 3 times in a row, unlike the one about the aincent tree narating its memory of seeing a little girl and boy die from radiation poisoning at the end of WWII. It is a powerful story, but quite painful in a different sort of way to hear 20 times in a row, narrated by student after student in the same theatrical style.

You are the Champon, My Friend

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Mark just set up Chimpo...er...uh..I mean Champon Adventures, representing the last of us in Kumamoto City. Now I expect he will have something to do at work besides looking for pr0n, but only time will tell.

Recruiting a New A-Team

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Apparently they are planning on making a movie. I always wanted to see someone actually get hit by a bullet, just once. The plan sounds good so far.

Just one question. Who can they find to play the part of BA that won't be a dissapointment? It had better not be Ving Rhames, Bob Sapp, or Deebo from Friday. What if they made B.A. into a white guy and gave the part to Vin Diesel? Expect the worst, hope for the best.

Kyushu Danshi Reunion

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I have been up for more than 24 hours now, and have good memories of meeting up with Luke, Mark, and Manami, who came up for capoeira and sightseeing respectively. The capoeira meet was crazy (Justin put up his pics here)- I can only say that it was like watching contortionist gymnists sparing with eachother pumped up on amphetamines. Luke held his own against all who took him on, despite their initial attempts to haze him. Respect, biotches...

We met up with Mark and Manami after at the after party and after-after party and proceeded to drink like old times. Some choice individual words will give an impression of the night out:

congas and djembes
unexpected huge matsuri in Namba
techno nunchakus
long island ice tea
kinryu (different from the chain down in Kyushu) ramen
internet cafe vs. karaoke (debating where to catch some sleep at 4 in the morning- internet cafe won)

Damn. I miss nights out with the old crew- The Fingerhut brothers, Joe, Danny, Jason, Matt, Luke, and everyone else who used to come out to drink, cause trouble, and find any excuse to celebrate something with a get together or party. We may have all gone our separate ways, but when our paths will cross there is one thing for certain. Some pretty interesting things will happen in quick succession.

The Usuki Magaibutsu

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Oita remains one of my favorite areas of Kyushu to explore. After work, I'd often hop in my car and drive in the general direction of either Beppu (on the Yamanami Highway) or Oita city (on the 57), and check out signs, attractions, unmarked roads, and other promising prospects that would cross my path. On one of these excursions, while driving through Usuki City (near the coast) I happened upon this place.


Osaka Aquarium

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I doubt if I will ever find an aquarium that will ursurp Monterey Bay Aquarium as my favorite,

(Besides being the first ones to successfully keep bluefin in their tanks, right now they have a GREAT WHITE SHARK collected off of HUNTINGTON BEACH on exhibit, and VIDEO of it feeding in captivity. MBA, in my eyes, is just simply put the best aquarium in the world. On a side note, three years ago my sister Merin took her beginning sailing class out of Newport harbor, just minutes South of Huntington Beach, and saw a huge congregation of boats circled around something. She decided to return to the Orange Coast College docks, and found out that the boats were watching two white sharks feasting on the carcass of a dead whale. It will be interested to see if and what white sharks predate on around Huntington, as I don't recall any attacks on surfers around this area (probably because there are not many seals and sealions anymore), or if they just use the area as a sort of nursery or something. By the way, this program that surveys pelagic marine animals is worth a look as well.)

but I have to say that Japan does its aquariums very well. Among the aquariums I have visited in Japan, Osaka Kaiyukan ranks among my favorites. Kagoshima City aquarium is also very well done, and located right across from the still-active volcano, Sakura-jima, which sits in the middle of Kagoshima Bay (my favorite exhibit was the electric eel tank where the voltometer, mounted above the tank, measured the electric discharge that the eel uses to stun its prey during feeding time). My other favorite aquarium is in Okinawa, the Churaumi Aquarium. If you happen to go diving and miss out on seeing giant mantas and whale sharks, you can head over here and see them no problem. In fact, you can see whale sharks (not the largest specimens, but still quite impressive) at all three of these exhibits. One thing I did notice is that 5 years ago, Osaka had a pair of whale sharks, but now there is only one. I wonder what happened to the other one.

Coming To Our Senses, Eh?

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The Canadians seem to be doing something right with one of their waste disposal programs. Using indicators that were traditionally ignored, meaning indicators other than straight economic data, to measure the benefits of their program (and factoring in quantified costs extrapolated from externalities) is a great leap forward on how we measure our environmental and social impacts. I never really thought I'd see any progress in North America for a long time (regarding applied sustainability theory- we always had examples from the small community level that we'd study and discuss- rarely something really big in scale as this), but am happy that the theory and ideas that I studied back in my Environmental Studies classes in Santa Barbara are actually being successfully implemented on a large scale. One of my favorite parts from this article states that the community had a large part in making the program work. Seeing what this community has done together is inspiring.


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Fried chikuwa (fish cake) in curry (yello) and aonori (green) batter.
Beansprout, carrot, and cucumber salad.
Chicken based soup with carrots and gobo (burdock root).
Gohan (rice) with an umeboshi (pickled plum).
Nori (seaweed).

In Japanese schools, ranging from hoikuen (nursery school) to chugakko (junior high school), children are usually provided with meals called kyushoku. Depending on where the school is located, kyushoku can range from factory produced pre-packaged slop (a usual complaint of city JETs) to locally produced balanced and healthy meals. Luckily, my school fell in the second category and I decided to document what I ate at school on the 13 separate occasions that I remembered to take pictures at lunch.

These Kyushoku were made by women who live in Ubuyama and planned out by the nutritionist, Mrs. Umei. All of the meals are carefully planned out to provide a balance of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other important dietary components. When I first started eating kyushoku I could only finish half of the meals and had to take the rest home. It is commonly observed that teachers gain weight after being transfered to Ubuyama because of the size of the servings (this is a matter of meal size, not of meal content).

It is interesting to note that the Japanese school system started encouraging the students to incorporate new things into their diet after the U.S. occupation. Milk, bread, and meat products were uncommon if not completely absent before the end of the war in the Pacific. All of the old people I have talked to about this tend to agree: the Japanese started to grow bigger with the change in diet, and today's Japanese youths are some pretty big and healthy kids. If you don't believe me go to any high school's judo practice and then see what you think.

Note: Every day, milk is included as part of a balanced meal. The milk is produced and packaged locally in Ubuyama.

Be sure to check out School of Rice, a new site authored by me and my brother. It will chronicle some of the riced out rides that we happen upon and other things that fit under the paradigm of the School of Rice.

This entry marks the end of my life in Ubuyama-mura, and so I am retiring my old banner for a new one. I think it is a good image for the blog up until now, but it is time to move on and to start afresh.

I have been meaning on posting pictures from all around Ubuyama with the purpose of making my own guide to the village for a long time, and today I finally sat down and did it.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the great majority of signs in my village are labeled in Japanese and English. I do wish that they kept the sign as "Pubic Office" for the picture's sake.

Ubuyama is a really small village with a population under 1,800 and falling. There just aren't an abundance of jobs and young people tend to move out of the village in pursuit of employment, relationships (there just aren't many young people around), or entertainment. Lacking these staples of life, many would ask "Why would you choose to live in some place so remote?". Well, I can tell you that the reason why I stayed 2 years were for the children, the natural setting, and being in the center of Kyushu. I loved teaching here because the younger children were so enthusiastic about learning and because I felt that I was making a difference in their lives.

I enjoyed teaching at middle school too, but I didn't get to set curriculum and the students tended to lose their enthusiasm for English due to the radical change in lessons. From nursery school until elementary, the lessons were full of games and conversational English, but from their first day in junior high school without any transitional period, they were pushed to learn by rote memorization and much of the fun and spontaneity instantly vanished. Luckily, some of the kids retained their interest, and I tried to keep their attention by making unconventional lessons and incorporating games whenever I had the opportunity.

But this post isn't supposed to be about my teaching experiences, it's about introducing Ubuyama from my perspective. For this, I will examine the village as a whole and then break down Ubuyama into three main areas: Hokubu (Northern Ubuyama), Yamaga (Central Ubuyama), and Nambu (Southern Ubuyama).

Upper Management Skills

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Looking back at my many past jobs, I always suspected that a few of my bosses and managers were psychopaths.

They Sell What?

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Taken in Ichinomiya. I think the place was a coffee shop.

Bomb Has Been Planted

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Sometimes in real life I slip into FPS mode, where I methodically search the environment for targets to engage. This usually switches on when I am walking down a dark hallway or alley. Luckily, no one has jumped out at me so I haven't had to shank them with my keys(and hopefully I never will have to do so).

Why do they use the term "dust box" instead of "trash/garbage can"?

The restrooms at Daikanbo provide CTs (counter-terrorists) with the schematics to perform a hostage rescue, should the need ever arise.

Hi, I'm In Delaware...

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The most boring wine ever.


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My car has served me well during our last two years together. Without my Civic, I would have gone insane. It performed well in hot weather (albeit without air conditioning in the Kyushu heat), the pouring rain, and on snow-covered, icy roads. We have travelled the Milk Road countless times, and have discovered places that few people will ever see. I will truly miss it, and will remember it as fondly as my Legend from back home.

When I got the car, it had 160000 km on it. During two years, I put about 35,000 on it without any major problems. After owning two cars made by Honda and driving them in all conditions, I have nothing but good things to say about them.

Here's to two years of adventures and almost 200,000km.

Sex Ed As Explained By Core 21

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All The Little Live Things

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Living and traveling around Kyushu, I saw all sorts of strange, beautiful, disgusting, and fascinating creatures. Here are a few that I encountered in my last few weeks around.

A butterfly at Daikanbo. On this day, the clouds were sweeping up and over the caldera toward Kuju.

This spider wove a white zig-zag pattern into its web. I think that some species do this so that birds and other larger creatures don't run into their webs (supposedly insects are still oblivious to it). Also taken at Daikanbo in Northern Aso.

I have found that bees are easily photographed because they stay put until they're finished collecting nectar and pollen. This was taken at Higothai Koen in the Hokubu region of Ubuyama.

This phesant's face reminds me of some early Japanese anime series whose name I cannot remember. I took this picture at the Kumamoto Zoological and Botanical Park in Kumamoto, near Suizenji Park.

Japanese Zoos make me sad. I don't want to visit them because the animals are often in a pitiful state. If you notice, the polar bear has a GREEN coat. That's from algae growing in it's fur. I have also witnessed a fuzzy green crocodile and a green hippopotimus in the Beppu zoo. If you can't take care of an animal properly, then you should not be allowed to keep them. No exceptions.

Kuniko and I spent an hour playing with this turtle in Suizenji Koen. It would rush over whenever we tossed pebbles in the pond, and it was fun making it swim back and forth and in circles. When we went to see sumo, we spotted another turtle next to the road. I picked it up and shotputted it, and it made a satisfying ker-plunk, disappearing among the water lillies.

This was a toad that Joe found at a small neighborhood matsuri in Kyokushi. He gave it to his kids and they killed it in about 15 minutes. Oh well, I hope they had fun squishing it.

Higothai Koen Pics

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Earlier, I erroneously posted a thistle that I thought to be the village flower of Ubuyama called the Higothai. These are pictures of the real flower, which should right now be coming into full bloom. The first two were taken in the Hokubu region of Ubuyama and the last one was at Daikanbo on the Northern section of the rim of the Aso Caldera.




R&R on Monster Island

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I saw Ubuyama for the last time (for now, anyways) on Monday, and had the good fortune of running into various people who have always been kind to me, as well as some students as I handed over the keys to my Civic. As I drove out of the village with Kaori, I felt good because it was finally my time to pass the torch and to move on. The next two days were well spent with Kaori and Kikuko, as we got to catch up on all that has happened since we parted ways in April. Yesterday, we took Jane along with us to a beautiful wide river, which ran shallowly along a flat bed of basalt, carved into pools and slides since it was first spewed out of the bowels of the Earth so long ago. I got to go back with Kaori and meet her parents (the Iwaki's) and was seen off from their house with the huge fireworks of a distant matsuri bursting in the distance. Kaori and Asuka saw me off last night at the Kotsu-center. I was glad to be seen off by people who genuinely wanted to see me off, instead of by people who felt obligated to do so.

I listened to The Tipping Point (the Roots prove once again that they ARE the ultimate) and thumbed through some Louis Lamour as I passed the Shimotori and Denshadori, heading out on the 57 to the Higashi bypass. The bus was small and had no toilet, and the big chubby guy sitting next to me took up all of his seat, as well as 1/4th of mine. That dude snored, coughed, tossed in his sleep, and insisted on sitting in the lotus position, making it hard for me to even fit into mine. Thank goodness for Bob Marley, or I would have never have fallen asleep. The bus driver who took me to Awaji station from Sannomiya was a cool guy who got excited when he found out that we were both in a kind of brotherhood- both of us Kyushu danshi (men of Kyushu). Make no mistake about it, I want to live in Kansai for a little while, but I have a great love of Kyushu- especially Kumamoto and Saga. My only regret is not finding the time to visit our relatives out in Karatsu, but I will return.

The moment I stepped into Justin's house, I headed for the computer. Being without my own rig for three weeks and depending on guerilla tactics to access the internet had made my email accounts clog up, let my knowledge of current events go the way of Robison Crusoe on Mars, and made me feel lost in general. The fiber optic connection and array of all sorts of toys (Pioneer DJ sound system, Doom III, Sky Perfect sattelite tv, an air conditioner, western-style toilet, etc...) has put me at ease, and signals that my time in Ubuyama has really come to an end! I will really miss those kids, and hope that our paths do cross in the future... Maybe one of you will be able to understand the words that I have typed here one day.

So here are the plans for Adam in the immediate future:
1. sleep off the fatigue of being my successor's supervisor and the other issues of the past three weeks.
2. go to the beach and possibly go swimming.
3. find a new job, apartment, and get set up (thanks to Justin, Nam, Taro et. al. in advance for their much needed help and support).
4. secure tickets to see the Roots in September.
5. make goals for this year (what I want to do, where I want to go, what I want to study, long-term plans, etc...).
6. start a new blog.
7. take a shower, shave off four days of stubble, and make my physical appearance more presentable.
8. redeem Nam's free Fish McDipper coupons despite my fear of nuggetized fish product.

Many people made my exit from Kumamoto transition go more smoothly, and I just want to take some time to thank the Takahashi family (especially Aiko), Nonaka sensei, Matt, Danny(the lucky bastard got the once in a lifetime chance to spar with Royce Gracie at a jiu-jitsu seminar in Oita city), Joe(who is getting his divemaster's license in Thailand right now), Kaori(my biyatch), Kikuko and the Nakayama family, the Otsuka family(Kyokushi beef rocks!), Hieda sensei, Kuniko-chan, and especially my family who is always there for me, without exception. I truly don't know what I would have done without you.

Now, about that shower...

In Purgatory

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I am stuck with using the school's computers to access the internet, and so I don't think I will be posting until I reach Justin's house (around the 12th of August). Right now I'm just helping Jane to settle into Ubuyama, saying goodbye to friends and people who have helped me out for the past two years, and searching for my next job.

Everyone is going their separate ways, and yet I feel OK. The one thing I do know is that I made the right decision to leave at the right time. I'm looking forward to living in Kansai for a while...

Lightning Crashes

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The skies have been constantly illuminated with flashes of lightning, accompanied by rolling thunder, for the past four days. I rather enjoy the experience of seeing, hearing, feeling, and smelling lightning. On Saturday, we were on top of Mt. Aso, looking into the steam that was obscuring the view of the liquid hot magma when the air filled with static electricity (causing everyone's hair to stand up, but not really changing mine at all), and a bolt struck very near by. The coppery tang of ozone filled the air, and we were ushered off the mountain by the staff. Everyone started to cough and wheeze and some were running down the peak to their cars. The air had filled with sulphuric acid particles, and it was not pleasant to breathe in. As far as I know, no one was injured (every year, a few people usually die on Mt. Aso due to inhaling poisonous gasses).

The thunder and lightning have been accopanied by heavy, heavy rain. The rain falls so heavily that it is dangerous to drive because visibility becomes nearly zero, and rivers instantly form in the street, collecting into small ponds that can cause engines to stall. Tsuyu didn't skip this year after all, it just came a little late.

It's amazing to see how hard everyone is working to make my old house super-clean. I'm not bitter about this, but it pisses me off when I'm cleaning next to someone, and they say "Your old supervisor forgot to do this for you. What a shame" or "I betcha wish you had this new (fill in the blank) when you first moved in, huh?". By the way, the apartment was clean before everyone came over because Merin and I did it. They're just polishing everything up, and I think Jane(my successor) will be pleased with the results.

I'm using this opportunity to try and improve the apartment as much as possible, and to get them to buy things that I would have liked to have had. They seem baffled that I am leaving stuff behind. Like I said, it's hard enough just living in such a small, isolated community without having to worry about a shower that spouts only scalding hot water, a toilet that takes 10 minutes to fill up, a bathtub that spontaneously generates millipede spawn, a kitchen so cold that three inch long icicles form from the faucet, and going shopping for stuff that you need to maintain your comfort and sanity.

Thunder is booming in the distance, and the semi are buzzing in the forests as I am finishing this post. Tomorrow my successor will come to fill my vacancy, bringing my time here to an end. Merin is going home today, and most of my friends are leaving on separate paths into a future, each with their own tentative plans. Matt is going back to Huntington Beach, Joe is going to workin Colorado for a while, Jason is off to Spain, Joe Fingerhut and Michiyo are got married and moving back to the States, Yuka and Jorge also just recently tied the knot and will be in Guam for a year before moving to Texas, Kaori is now settled in Tosu, Kikuko is in Aso-machi, but some people will still be holding down the fort here (Mark, Dave, Jamie et al). After all of the recent goodbyes, I am ready to start up North in Kansai. I will be around in Ubuyama until the 5th of August, and in Kumamoto until the 9th. After that, it's off to Osaka to find work and a new pad.

By the way, I never posted on this but the Mayor of Kumamoto's speech is still fresh in my memory. Two weeks ago at the departing JET ceremony she gave a speech in Japanese, and the P.A. translated it into English. I was impressed by her stage presence and listened to her Japanese and the English interpretation, noticing the slight differences between the real and the translated versions. In the middle of the speech I was shocked to hear her say "Do you like Kumamoto? Have you had a good time here during your time on JET? I hope you have enjoyed your stay in Kumamoto, and that you will bring back the good memories that you have with you. You are all welcome to come back to Kumamoto whenever you like, and we will consider you as honorary members of Kumamoto-ken. However, if you didn't have a good time and don't have anything nice to say about Kumamoto, there is no need for you to ever come back here."

The last sentence was changed to:

"However, if you didn't have a good time in Kumamoto, I still hope that you had an interesting time over here." (after hearing this butchered version, I barely was able to supress my "Wha!" so that only the people sitting next to me heard, thank goodness...).

This was ironic as Japanese people are stereotyped as always implying things instead of just saying what they mean, and the image of a gaijin is of a person who acts or speaks before fully considering the implications of their actions. A Japanese person spoke her mind, ignoring a subtle approach and cutting through the crap. The American was the one that filtered out the real meaning and interpreted it into a polite, superficial flowery piece of fluff. Kumamoto is lucky to have her.

Merin was holding the ladder for me, when she brushed up against these caterpillars and noticed that the little bastards had envenomated her.


So I did what any responsible older brother would do. I cut off the three leaves that held 50 of the evil creatures, put them on top of a pile of kerosene-soaked paper towels, and we sent them back to the sulphorous pits from whence they came. It was a Viking style pyre, honoring these worthy adversaries as they burned.

(taken with Merin's A1304AT).

I remember watching a program on the Discovery Channel about these critters, and the effects of their toxins on humans. The lady on the program who got stung went into anaphylactic shock, and her pulmonary system shut down causing her to go into cardiac arrest. Merin just got a nasty rash with a burning sensation, probably because she took Benadryl right after getting stung (Thanks Mika!).

Was it wrong to kill these caterpillars? I don't think so because my neighbor regularly brushes up against those leaves when she tends her garden, and there are plenty more of them in the upper canopy that are doing quite fine. I think she'll be happy that they're gone. Was it really necessary to burn them? Yes, yes it was. They inflicted a burning sensation, so it was only fair for them to feel the burn for themselves.

I am frustruated with my Board of Education and with a principal with whom I work with, as they are putting me in the worst sort of position. I feel an obligation to help prepare my successor for her new life in Ubuyama-mura and to prepare the village for her. Everyone is very concerned about having a female ALT (all three previous JETs have been male), and so there is a flurry of last minute preparations being made in order to make sure that she will not be scared away by the living conditions in Ubuyama.

I understand and support their decision to fix everything that has been broken in my apartment for these two years, and feel good for the next JET. I initially felt jealous for the great efforts they are making to renovate this place, but I am glad they are doing it, because it is hard enough acclimating to living deep in the inaka as it is.

Lately, the BOE and principal have been making many demands of me to meet the hastily devised renovation plans in my apartment, including giving me short notice to get my stuff out and to clean the apartment. I was irritated, but I understood their concerns, and so have gone along with it as best as I could. However, I find myself feeling angry, disappointed, and regretful at a time where I should be enjoying the rich pains of leaving behind the kids who I have come to love, and other good friends.

The principal and the BOE have shoved me into a corner regarding my car. As I am trying to help out in any capacity that I can, I have been providing any information that they ask for without hesitataion. Last night at the farewell enkai, the principal asked me what I planned on doing with my car. I explained that I was going to sell it, and had notified my successor of the cost, condition, and improvements made to the car. He told me that she should not have to buy my car, and so I explained that I recently paid the vehicle tax and inspection tax (shakken) to the tune of 40,000 yen and 130,000 yen respectively, and was asking a fair price considering the money that I put into the car. After all, the shakken is good for 1 and a half more years! In addition, I have spent money on improving and keeping the car well maintained, so that it is running better than when I first got it. He argued that no one drives cars that old in Japan, and I pointed out that almost all of the JETs drive cars that old. I told him that my intention was not to take advantage of my successor, and that I was open to suggestions, and he replied that a friend could give her a car for free. When I said "Thats great, what type of car will he give her?" he replied "That was just an example (there is no free car).". I asked what the cheapest price that my successor could hope to buy a used car for is, and he replied 200,000 yen. I pointed out that the price that I was asking for (70,000 yen) was less that the other JETs had offered their old cars for, but this didn't make much of an impression on him. I ended the conversation by suggesting that we further discuss the matter.

This afternoon, I got called into the BOE by the new supervisor, a man whom I get along with rather well. It became aparent that the principal had taken the liberty of going behind my back, and telling my supervisor to talk to me. He offered me two options: junking my car (at most likely a loss of income- cost of junking the car but getting a partial refund for the car tax) or handing over ownership to my successor with a suggestion that asking for any money would be an unacceptable course of action. Because of this, I may have to sell the car to a friend instead of selling it for a reasonable price to my successor (who will need a car to stay sane in this village. now, she will probably just have to pay three times as much to get one.).

Let me say this: I understand the BOE's and principal's recent actions are the result of their deep-seeded concerns about the impression that they cast on the first female ALT to come to Ubuyama. I support their efforts, and wish her the best of luck, and I am staying for about 10 days past my contract VOLUNTARILY WITHOUT PAY to help show her around and to help the BOE get things settled. I don't think it's too much to expect the professional courtesy of receiving sufficient notice about when they want me out of my apartment, about letting me know when I am to give farewell speeches and when the ceremonies are (considering that I am the obstensibly the one for whom the ceremonies are being held), and I surely expect that I would be treated with the professional courtesy of DISCUSSING points of disagreement instead of talking behind my back and not trying to see things from my perspective. They wouldn't do this to a Japanese person, so what makes them think it is acceptable to do this to a gaijin (oh, wait... I think I answered my own question)?

I feel that I have worked my hardest to fulfill my duties as a JET, as both a representative of the United States (I don't fancy myself as an ambassador, but realize that I am one of only two Americans that these kids have met and know that they associate me with the whole of America in some ways) in Japan and as a teacher. I have gone out of my way to make myself useful, and have done things like setting up an English club run out of my house free of charge to my students. I have taken an active interest in studying about teaching methods during my free time and implementing them in class, often staying after working hours to do a good job. I have made a point of learning the customs and studying Japanese to bridge the language gap between us. Is it really too much to ask for a little consideration, professionalism, and consideration of ethical behavior in the workplace in return? As much as I will miss the students, I most definetely will not miss the treachery, insincerety, or the incompetence I have witnessed during my two years. The speeches made about how much I am appreciated for my efforts have lost all meaning, as dishonest actions have revealed the words to contain little integrety. I would have had more respect had the principal called me a worthless gaijin in front of the whole village and revealed how I was truly regarded.

These qualities are not held by the majority of those with whom I work, only by a few individuals. On the contrary, I was quite shocked by this behavior because it greatly contrasts the values held by almost all of the teachers, faculty, and others working in Ubuyama-mura.

To end on a positive note, I believe that the JET Programme is a great program that has a positive net effect both on the Japanese society in which it works as a part of the educational system and on its participants. I belive that negative attitudes and widely held false beliefs of Japanese people about foreign languages, cultures, and peoples are slowly changing. I do not regret my time on JET, as I feel that I have made a difference.

I have noticed a marked improvement on the confidence and abilities of my students. They have learned about different cultures (not just in my class, as I work with many good teachers), and have a genuine interest about people that are different from themselves. Watching the students grow and mature into the curious, enthusiastic learners that they are today has made me feel really good about investing two years into this community. The students are the ones who are greatful for my efforts, paying me back with their rapt attention. It is them, along with some of the other wonderful people I have had the honor of meeting in this small community, that I will miss. Goodbye and farewell, but I fear I shall never return Ubuyama, except for the Ubuyama in my mind.


The Shogakkos of Ubuyama-mura

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I translated this from Japanese last year, and just found it as I was looking through old documents. These are the elementary schools where I have worked for these past two years.

Our Village
Yamaga Elementary School is located in the northern region of Ubuyama-mura, at an altitude of 640 meters. The school was constructed in Showa 45 (1970), and the gymnasium was rebuilt in Heisei 8 (1996). Northern Ubuyama covers a large area, so it is necessary for the children, who live in the southern part of the village, to ride on the bus to and from school.

Yamaga Elementary School is nestled among the scenic mountains. A forest sprawls out to the East, South, and West. Moreover, the mountains of Kuju (Oita Prefecture) can be seen to the North, off in the distance. To the West of the school, steps made of stone descend the mountain, leading to a large road. If you follow this road to the right, you will pass many points of interest. At the bottom of the slope (after passing through the tunnel), on the left hand side you will see (in this order) Ubuyama Junior High School, The Agricultural Cooperative Association(JAA), A-Mart, the Ubuyama Public Office, the Health Clinic, and a couple of gas stations. Across the street from the public office is a JA Bank, and the Post office.

Sweet Potato Digging
Each year the children of Yamaga Elementary School, and their parents, go hiking in the local mountains. Another interesting event is the rabbit hunt, after which the rabbits are used as the main ingredient in a rice dish, and also in a stew. In back of the school building, children enjoy using the playground for all sorts of outdoor activities.
A charcoal kiln is set up beside the playground where students are taught how to make charcoal.

Hokubu (Northern Ubuyama) Elementary School
Located in Northern Ubuyama is Hokubu Elementary School. A prefectural road stretches along the front of the school. On their way home, the children often pass through the cedar forests surrounding the school. The people of Hokubu look forward to attending various school events, such as the Harvest festival and the Source music festival.

Words About Teaching

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During my two years serving as the ALT for Ubuyama-mura, I have written some essays on teaching and compiled other resources. I took an extra interest in learning more about educational theory and how it could be applied to our work, constantly thinking about how English classes could be improved. Below are some of the materials that I was able to find(in MS Word format). I will continue to add others as I find them (I have been working on no less than 4 computers on a regular basis). Unfortunately, I can't post most of my lessons because the files are too large...

Essays and Presentation Material
Death To Engrish!!! Approaches To Improving English Education

Midyear Seminar Presentation: JTE and ALT Relations

Improving your relationship with your ALT/JTE

Things that you need to discuss with your JTE

Interactive Classroom Games And Other Resources

Explanation of Halloween in Japanese and English (used for NHK special, 2002)

Lesson Plans and Materials
Recommended Plan For the 2003-2004 School Year(Yamaga Shogakko)

Directions: How To Get From Here To There (a lesson plan)

Lesson: Family Tree

Cooking (料理をする) French Toast

Emergency English: How To Escape From A Sinking Car

Emergency English: How To Survive An Alligator Attack

Some simple English phrases

Chillin' with Snoop and Parappa

Sports worksheet (the katakana reflects a more genuine pronunciation of English, rather than correct Japanese)

Other Information
Video Games and Education (from Wired)

Last Lesson Finished

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It is 9:30 and I just finished teaching in Ubuyama for the last time. All of my classes are done, and although I still have until the 26th of this month on my contract, my real work here is finished. I spent my last lesson with my 3 nensei chugakkusei students providing guidance on how to translate Japanese sentences into English, and I was impressed by how far they have progressed. There are many bright students in this batch, and I will miss having the chance to chat, share lunch, and to dominate them at ping-pong (sometimes).

The educational system in Ubuyama is something special, as at shogakko and hoikuen I had creative license to create and modify the curriculum as I saw fit. My main priority when teaching at shogakko was to cultivate an interest for foreign cultures and languages in the children, in the hopes that the interests that they have now will kindle a desire to continue learning and to become students unimpeded by geographical or ideological barriers. Mostly I just wanted to show them that learning was fun and to pass out bags and bags of candy and stickers. My classes were designed using tried and true Pavlovian methods and implementing a student centered learning environment whenever possible.

There is a great problem with keeping students enthusiasm about learning English, especially in Junior High School and into higher education. Part of the problem stems from the pressure to focus on technical English to pass tests instead of practical English that can be used to communicate and facilitate the sharing of ideas and common interests. The Japanese educational system is improving, though. Recently, more and more ALTs have been stationed at elementary schools, where they are encouraged to play and teach about culture.

This is a big step towards improving English education in Japan, and it should be recognized that Ubuyama provides their ALT with the opportunity to interact and to influence the children to a very high extent, starting from when they first enter the system in hoikuen (nursery school). No other ALT that I know gets to teach at the same hoikuen four times a month, or for that matter at shogakko four times a month, and some only visit their shogakkos once every two months. I sincerely hope that one day, shogakkusei will have the opportunity to learn English every day, like they do in other countries, in a stimulating environment with lots of support. The children are so smart, and learn so much in the small amount of time that we spend together. I can only imagine how skilled they would become with regular lessons scheduled every day, and hope that this becomes the case in the near future.

Now, I'm off to Osaka in search of another teaching position, in the right school. I have two years under my belt teaching everything from nursery school to high school to adult conversation classes, but I know that I still have much to learn about teaching. All I can say is that I welcome the challenge, and look forward to experiencing a completely different part of Japan and Japanese culture in Kansai from the lens of a person who has lived in the Higo region for two years. Yokka bai, ikko.

For the past three years, many people came out on a free day, no matter what the weather was like, in order to run the hash in Kumamoto Prefecture. It became a ritual and was something that many of us looked forward to doing each month. Running through all sorts of dangerous environments, stalking the hares and scrutinizing their spoor. The best hashes were the absolute worst. I ran my first hash in the city (City Hash #2).

We started out on the roof of the Parco Building, getting sprayed with beer and then plunged into the longest and most frustruating hashes I have ever run. We ran all over the city following the hash marks marked with chalk and flour, and worked as a team to get to the end. Unfortunately, there was a hitch. The trail died off half way through, and like Scooby Doo and the gang, we all split up and got into all sorts of trouble. After much time spent searching, some of us were lucky enough to finally stumble upon the true trail, and we made it to the finish about a half an hour past dawn. But there was a problem. No one was there, and worse yet the bastards didn't leave any beer! We were stranded in a park next to the railroad tracks in the middle of the city, and we were getting cranky.

Finally, we all met downtown and got the explanation. Mark, Joe, and Austin all went to go look for us because they inferred that we got lost (they finished the course about two or three hours before us), and finally found us when they came back. It took about another hour to fully straighten things out and to round up those who had strayed from the path, but we finally did it. We headed off to the onsen to make our gaijin-selves less offensive to the locals, and proceeded to have a signature crazy night out. Blurred memories from that night include Austin doing a cannonball on the hood of some poor, scared out of her wits Japanese woman and the usual debauchery in the Sharps and Sanctuary. Everyone was pissed about the hash, but it brought us all close together and cemented social ties within the group.

The hash has been a great place to meet people who think the same way, have the same interests, or are complimentary to us. I feel sorry for all of those people who were scared away by the stories of near death experiences, exaggerated explanations of fraternity-like rituals, or just an aversion to being outdoors and getting some exercise. You'll never know what you missed, and maybe it's better that way.

Some of my favorite perils during the hash include:

wading through liquid shit in Kiyokushi, exposing ourselves to unknown pathogens and a really horrible smell.
jaywalking across really busy streets, Frogger style.
getting plastered with cobwebs in the forests.
watching bamboo fall and impale itself into the ground a few feet away from another hasher.
climbing across/up/down very high and dangerous places where if you fall, you will either be seriously injured or killed.
swimming through jellyfish infested waters.
getting caught in a forest with different colored path markers mixed with the markers used by the local farmers, which were put on almost every other tree!
driving a hare to the emergency room because he cut his hand by leaning on his glass door and sliced the thumb tendon, leaving him in a thumbs up cast for a couple of months (pure gold, that incident).
going far down a steep hill, only to find the initials "YBF".
having to rescue some grumpy OC girls climbing over wet, jagged rocks.
running in the dark through the cold rain, trying not to catch pneumonia.

Generally, the best stories come from the most painful, embarrasing, and tiring hashes. I had an awesome two years running with you fools, and I will miss meeting with you all on every month to run, party, and recover from injuries and hangovers the next day in the onsen. Thanks to everybody who helped to organize and run these good times.

Below is a list compiled by Mark Fingerhut otherwise known as Disco Ass. I have taken the liberty to make a few changes, but if you want the original version, click here
for the Excel file. Please enjoy, and feel free to send me updates or corrections.

Thanks to Shige for the photo.

Kumamoto Hash House Harriers
Hash Name//Hash Date//Location
Immortalization(s) (denoted with italics, mortal name first followed by immortal name)
Hares ("+")
First Finisher(*)(*), oh, wait I put in one too many (*)s...

Hash, Year 3
City Hash 5, 6/26/04, Kumamoto City
Monica Alborg- Proctortoise
Kate Gardner- Princess Dive
Ed Snook- DJ Chu-Hi
Muppet/Disco Ass+

The Dam Hash, 6/19/04, Ryumon Dam, Kikuchi
Derek- Stiffulis Hige
Shitfuck/Professor Q+

City Hash 4/YBF, 3/13/04, Kumamoto City
Paul Steele- Cherry Bandit
Muppet/Disco Ass+

Ashikita Hash, 2/21/04, Ashikita
Jamie Mackay- Sliced Bush
Asshole Kool-Aid+

Kyokushi Hash 2, 2003/12/6, Kyokushi, Kikuchi
Suzanne Strom- Asshole Kool-Aid
Danny Stapp- Dis Nut
Val- re-christened Shitheel
Professor Q/Shitfuck+

Kinpo/Quarry Hash, 10/2/03, Mt. Kinpo/City
Froilan Vispo- Nuck-a-nuts
Muppet/Disco Ass+

Waterwheel Hash, 2003/9/6, Takahama Beach, Amakusa
Dave Seabeck- Shitfuck
Matt Durish/Con+
Muppet/Disco Ass*

Aso Hash, 2003/8/30, Aso/Kugino
Adam Yoshida- Sonic-san

Hash, Year 2
City Hash 3 (4人), 2002/6/14, Kumamoto City
3 participants- all immortals
Muppet/Disco Ass+

Mashiki Hash, 5/?/03 Mashiki
Mike "Steak" Russel- Sex Wax
Fracas/Professor Q+

Tatsuda Hash, 3/15/03, Kumamoto City/Tatsuda
Kelvin Chatman- Tinkerbell

Kyokushi Hash 1- No Joy, 2003/2/22, Kyokushi, Kikuchi
Rob Baldwin- Tailbone
Professor Q/Fracas+

City Hash 2 - No Joy, 2002/12/7, Kumamoto City
Joe Debiec- Professor Quintana
Disco Ass/Sakuraba/Muppet+

City Hash 1, 10/?/02, Kumamoto City
Elise Coleman- Chihuahua
Muppet/Disco Ass+

Kikka Hash, 9/?/02, Kikka, Kikuchi
Mark Fingerhut- Pepper
Disco Ass*

Hash, Year 1
Aso Tri-Hash, 6/29/02
Kate- Kid
Skip - No Joy
Muppet, Lettuce, SuperDesu+

Adrian- Bookbag
Ringworm, Sakuraba+

Tiki- Frogskin
Ringworm, Sakuraba+

Ben Colbridge- Lettuce
Ringworm, Sakuraba+

Who was immortalized? Maybe we will never know...
Ringworm, Sakuraba+
Ringworm caught by Will and Testicles

12/3/01 Monday
Treve Brinkman- Super Desu
Joe Fingerhut- Muppet
Ringworm, Sakuraba+
Stopped by police due to threat of anthrax (bonus points)

Kelly- Pipes
Ringworm, Sakuraba+
Muppet came within 10 feet of catching Sakuraba

Will- Sir Will and Testicle
Ringworm (James), Sakuraba (Austin Philbin)--immortalized by default
police called by alarmed country folk because they thought we were terrorists

Note: I notice that the race where Jason was immortalized is not included, or it is not mentioned when but the name Fracas puts the hash some time after the night where he was misbehaving at the Sharps. I think it must have been some time before the end of the 2nd year...


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I know that this is really late to start, but I am going to start posting about places where I enjoy eating in my corner of Aso, near the Aso/Oita border, and maybe some other joints in Kumamoto that I like.

Tashiroya- for the bombass Okonomiyaki
Let's start off with a place that my friend and predecessor, Mr. Harvey Haynes, first took me to when I first arrived in Ubuyama two years ago. Located to the left of Aso Jinja (if you are facing the temple) is the small, unpretentious okinomiyakiya known as "Tashiroya". This place makes the best okonomiyaki in Aso hands down, and is my personal favorite in Kumamoto.

You can see Mr. Tashiro in the window and who I assume is his wife in the background.

It can be hard to get a seat, and sometimes they run out of ingredients on busy days. My favorite combination is pork and cheese (butaniku and cheese)okonomiyaki.jpg. If you like taiyaki, then this place is definetely for you. Many children drop by this store after work.

*note, and this is true: The best okonomiyaki restaraunts always are a little, or maybe more than a little, dingy and tend to attract cockroaches. This is just a fact of life. The grease from the skillet atomizes and works its way into the enviroment of the shop at a molecular level, so these places become more and more sticky with time. Eating at a clean okonomiyaki joint doesn't necessarily mean that their okonomiyaki is going to suck, but then again it probably does.

Santouka- The Favorite of Many Aso JETs

Located near Tashiroya, just 50 feet away is the famous Santouka (the kanji reading "mountain" "head" and "fire"). This izakaya makes wonderful food, but it is not my favorite because I think it's too expensive (they don't list prices on the menu) and its hard to drink and to find a way home. If I lived close by Santouka, I think that it might just be my favorite restaraunt. If you are here, try the college potatoes, nasu-age, and just point to a random kanji that you don't know and take a chance. That's my favorite way to learn kanji.

Yokayoka Tei- The Best Restaraunt In Northern Aso

Ascending Takimurozaka (from Ichinomiya in the direction of Oita) on the 57, you will come upon a yellow building near the base of the mountain on your right. This is my favorite restaraunt, Yokayokatei (maybe I put one too many yoka's in there...). Everything that they do is spectacular, including yakiniku, bibimba, steaks, hamburgs,

*note: the difference between hamburg and hamburgers is this: hamburg is generally served by itself and eaten with rice, whereas hamburgers are nestled in between a bun. Clearly stated, a hamburg is the Japanese term for "cooked hamburger patty". Hope that clears things up.

curry, tonkatsu, katsudon, and other dishes as well. My favorite night to go to Yokatei is on Wednesday because you can eat Viking

*note: Viking in Japan refers to "all you can eat" or "buffet". I think that this word lends itself to some interested imagery, such as a horned barbarian feasting on double-fisted legs of lamb or something.

yakiniku for 1,500 yen. Included in the deal are the drink bar

*note: drink bar = all you can drink access to the soda fountain/ beverage bar.

and the following are all you can eat:

curry (beef)
spare ribs
chorizo (spicy and good, but not the type of chorizo from back in SoCal. this stuff ain't runny)
mild sausage
assorted cuts of beef including tongue, hormone, rose cut, calbee, and others
assorted cuts of pork
assorted cuts of chicken
vegetables including cabbage, carrots, and onions

The staff here are extremely friendly, and they have the capacity to seat large parties. I only wish I could have set up a party there once before I left...

Yokatei gets bonus points for having a 100 yen soft drink vending machine in the parking lot- the only other one that I know of is next to the 100 yen store in the Ozu Jusco and that one sells tall boys of Mountain Dew, but now I'm getting off topic. The vending machine is worth a stop alone on the way up.

To sum up, Yokayoka Tei gets my top spot because the management is nice, they are quick, they are very reasonably priced, they make great food, and they are open relatively late. Prices are equivalent to Joyfull prices, so you will feel stupid if you forget about this place and go to the Ichinomiya Joyfull instead.

Small restaraunt towards the top of Takimurozaka- I forget the name

When ascending Takimurozaka on the 57, you should get on the right hand side of the passing lane (you should do this anyways to pass those drivers that insist on going 30- there's always at least one of them!) and turn right when you see the first restaraunt past Yokayokatei. This place sells katsucurry, all sorts of ramen, gyouza, assorted Japanese food, and chahan. My favorite ramen here is the stamina (the term for garlic) ramen. They put so much garlic in the broth that it is spicy. As a courtesy to other patrons, they also bring out a stick of strong mint gum after you finish the bowl.

Kaguraen Sobaya- For Everything Soba Flavored

This place makes good soba, and has standard Japanese fare, including oyakodon, tempura, and many soba dishes and combinations. You can also make your own soba, but I prefer mine to be professionally crafted. I was forced to eat soba that some shogakkusei made, and tried to ignore the pockets of hidden dry clumps of flour hidden in the jaggedly cut, sorry excuse for noodles. I recommend the tempura/soba set, along with the complimentary soba-cha (soba tea). Afterwards treat yourself to soba flavored soft cream outside at the parking lot stand. This place is in Namino, just before Ubuyama on the 57.

Big Rest Stop in Oita

About 10 minutes into Oita on the 57, you will see a big rest stop with a parking lot that can accomodate an entire convoy of kanko busses on the left. This place serves good chicken tempura (different from karage), but if you are strapped for cash I would go for the chahan. This fried rice is cheap, filling, and pretty good.


In the city I recommend the following places:

American Food- Masa's
*note: this place has gotten expensive, but is the only place outside of Fukuoka that makes a good, big burger.
Indian Food- Nanak (weekdays are the cheapest time to eat here)
Mexican Food- Plaza Del Sol
Just to use the abundance of hot sauces- Freshness Burger
Okonomiyaki- The restaraunt (2nd story) on the corner of the Shimotori.
(as pointed to by Mark Fingerhut, with Matt sprinkling the aonori)
German food and a nice catalogue of beers- Oden
Chinese- the restaraunt on the 7th floor of Old Tsuruya, in the food court. I recommend the fried chicken.

Fukuoka Chain Restaraunts

Food in Fukuoka is outstanding, and luckily two chains are spreading throughout Kyushu. One is a yakiniku/ramen shop called Gofu (the kanji for "5" and "wind"). Their ramen is excellent, especially with the fried garlic topping (their tonkotsu broth is awesome), and the yakiniku is also good.
Pictured here is the Charsiu Ramen Set, complete with Charsiu Rice. It was outstanding. This picture was from Oita, but I know of two locations in Kumamoto. One is at the Higashi Bypass, near Super Autobacs, and the other is In Yamaga.

My other favorite chain from Fukuoka is called Ichiban Doori (Number One Chicken). This izakaya style restaraunt specializes in, you guessed it, chicken and it does chicken very very well. I recommend any of the kushiyaki (skewered food), the chicken karage with green onion sauce, and the potato mochi. Find a designated driver, because you will definetely want to drink beer if you go. Located on the oppposite side of the McDonalds in Ozu (but more towards the direction of Kumamoto City on the 57).

Thank You, Ubuyama-mura

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It feels as if I have spent a long, long time in Ubuyama, but I also feel that my stay in your village has passed so quickly. These days are very busy as I pack up my house, make preparations for your new JET, and give my last lessons. Saying goodbye makes me sad and churns up a feeling of dread in my stomach, and yet, I cherish this feeling. It means that we have developed a meaningful relationship that I really don?t want to lose.

Two years ago, when I first learned where I was to teach, I knew very little about Ubuyama. I only knew that it was near Mount Aso and that it was right in the middle of Kyushu. I was concerned about what life out in the deep inaka would be like, but I have grown to love the life out here. Living in Ubuyama is a rare opportunity, especially for an American like me. I have traveled all over Japan, and I know that this place stands out as a diamond in the rough. This is most likely the last time in my life that I will live somewhere where I can leave the keys in the ignition of my car and be sure that it will be completely safe.

After spending some time in the city I have noticed that many things, ranging from the people to the food, seem more genuine in the inaka. The food has a simpler, purer, earthier taste and not fancy packaging. The emphasis on locally produced food is for nutrition and taste, as opposed to appearance and cost. The people don?t act as superficially as they do in the city, and are quick to lend a hand in a time of need. I wake up to the sounds of songbirds singing and crows scrounging for food, and go to sleep hearing the sound of rain pelting against my roof and the magnificently loud frogs calling from the rice field next to my house. Not to mention the air and water. Where I come from, you need a special filter to treat your water, and when you blow your nose, the black particulate matter from the air is visible in your mucous.

Thank you for giving me so many rare opportunities to be part of your community. Many people have expressed envy when I tell them of how I was allowed to be part of the fire brigade. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity and for spending time to help me learn how do perform the drills. Also, I know that many people, including teachers, students, workers from the yakuba, neighbors, and various other people have helped me over the two years I have been here in one way or another, and I want to express my appreciation. You all helped my life to run much smoother and I couldn?t have survived without you. I have learned much about the Japanese language and Japanese culture (especially the culture of central Kyushu and Kumamoto) and I am in your debt.

Lastly, I want to say thank you for allowing me to teach your children and to get to know them. The kids were always my favorite part of the job, and it has been especially hard saying goodbye to so many of my little friends. I have never encountered such a nice, innocent, and intelligent batch of kids before and it is them that I will miss the most. I wish Ubuyama the greatest success in its innovative plans for the future, both in development of the village and in education. Thank you very much for hosting me for these two wonderful years, and know that I will never forget the small, wonderful village hidden away in the middle of Kyushu known as Ubuyama.

Baka Hebi

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Last night I ate dinner at the Takahashi's, enjoying a huge "hamburg" and introducing them to the liquid red pleasure that is Shiracha. Their daughter and one of my sannensei students, Fumi, is going to Thailand for two weeks this summer and so I thought I'd help to prepare her for the spicy foods that she will encounter.

During dinner, we got around to talking about snakes. I was puzzled when they told me that snakes stink- I had never encountered a snake that I thought was stinky. We debated this point for a while, but I was unconvinced. Then, they told me about a really stupid snake that had eaten a frog and got stuck and died. I was wondering why they thought that the snake was so stupid, when they offered to show it to me. We went out in back of their house to a small road next to a wall of stone, and smelled it before we spotted it with the flashlights. It looked like someone had used a lot of muscle to shove the two and a half foot long snake into a tiny hole. The snake was hanging out of one of the cracks, its neck wrinkled from trying to escape from jammed a hole that was way too small for it to enter. I was intrigued by the stupidity of the snake. I think that it must have been fleeing from something and tried to find a hiding space in a hurry, and in its haste it jammed its head in to the fissure nice and tight. Indeed, a baka hebi.

I was planning on taking pictures in the morning light, but the snake is gone and only a residue of the stink remains. I should have known better. Not much goes to waste out here, and the snake was conveniently hanging there, just inviting some wild animal to pick up some take out.


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I recieved this story written by one of my Daiichi High School ichinensei (as an assignment of the VHS program in Kumamoto), and it reminded me of the cat that Justin and Merin rescued. The only differences are that the fictional kitten was rescued from the top of a sky scraper during the day. Justin jumped into a storm gutter and caught the kitten just as it lost its grip and was about to be swept away to be drowned. Anyhow, have a look:

Last night, thunder was sounding. Many people were frightened. At a skyscraper of top, a kitten was mewing. But someone didn?t learn.

Next day, one person helped a kitten and he raised it and it was his great pet.

Oh, and for those of you who don't know, this is an example of the English abilities of a decent 1st year student in one of the better high schools in Kumamoto. I'm quite proud of the abilities of these students, actually.

It Blew, Really Hard

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Sailing opportunities in Japan have proved elusive, and so I jumped at the chance to go this Saturday in Sasebo, Nagasaki. The weather was beautiful as we pulled into Huis Ten Bosch- a Dutch-themed theme park/marina. I know almost nothing about the theme park because we stayed on the boat for the whole time, but this was what I wanted to do anyways. Heck, I always have Solvang the next time I go back to Santa Barbara...

I was shocked to see that the boat that we were going to race was none other than a Catalina 34- just like the one that we took out on occasion at the O.C.C. School of Sailing and Seamanship after work. Stepping on that boat was like stepping off the docks and back in to Newport Harbor after a two year hiatus.

The Stasha, a well maintained Catalina 34 from Nagasaki.

Gyuuba Yuusen

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"Give priority to cows and horses", reads the sign. It's a real danger out here in the inaka. Really. I always thought these signs were in Ubuyama (they practically are) but the sign indicates that this land is part of Ichinomiya-machi.

Ch-Check It Out

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It's really sad walking into class these days, as many of them are "the last lesson" for that particular group of kids. Most of them haven't been told that I am leaving, and so when I break the news they have a look in the eyes that is of desperate sadness/ whipped puppy dog/ betrayed best friend that stabs me in the heard and makes me feel bad for deciding to leave Ubuyama. If Ubuyama was closer to civilization then I might want to teach here forever. The kids in my village are pure and innocent, and remain that way because they live in the middle of some of the most beautiful country land I have ever seen. The culture out here is the foundation of Japanese society- the essence of what people take pride in and draw upon in times of hardship.

When I first got to Ubuyama I taught at three hoikuen (nursery/pre-schools). The classes were so small that I got to know the babies on a really personal level. My favorite class consisted of 5 little boys, all super-hyper and pure fun. This class was able to write romaji (the romanized alphabet) at a 6 grade level (in Japan) when they were 5 years old, and their pronunciation was awesome, but unfortunately I didn't get to teach them more than twice a month after they entered elementary school, and most times I only got to teach them once a month and their English skills (but not enthusiasm for learning English, mind you) deteriorated significantly.

They still remember some of the stuff that I taught them, and I am satisfied with that. My main objective was to stoke their enthusiasm for learning and exploring their interests, regardless of the subject. We studied science, made art, did culture lessons, and I made lessons based on what they expressed interest in learning, but always we learned through play. I found out early on that if you make students study using conventional methods (rote repitition, standard testing, drills) that you can literally fry their impressionable brains and do great harm to their motivation (yes, this is documented and there is some good research material at the ERIC site that explores these issues).

Anyhow, for our last lesson I decided to go out with a day full of games. I taught the whole lesson teaching them how to throw a football (they say American football, but I think that the American part is redundant. Football is football and soccer is soccer) and playing dodgeball, but the part I remember the most is playing musical chairs, the English penilization with candy compensation version. I blasted track one off of To The 5 Boroughs (the new Beastie Boys CD), and they rocked out. As I walked away from our last lesson I heard them rapping out "Check-ch-ch-ch-ch-checkidou! Wha-whu-whu-whussitallabou!". I could not help but feel a happy satisfaction covering over the sadness. I am truly proud of Tomohiro, Naoto, Kodai, Tatsuhiro, and Yukiharu-kun, and will not be surprised to hear of their successes in the future.

One of my favorite ways to spend a spring or summer night in Japan is to go out and watch the hotaru (fireflies) flicker on and off in unison. The Hotaru Festival in Kyokushi (North of Ozu in Kumamoto-ken) is worth checking out, and easy to get to. During this celebration, beef ranchers like the Otsuka family sell exceptionally delicious beef which is best enjoyed with a glass of beer and a bunch of friends.

This isn't a hotaru, it's a picture of a tiny bee that I took at Yamabuki suigen (Yamabuki spring). In daylight, the fireflies look like regular elongated black beetles, somewhat reminiscent of a cockroach. I took the next picture in the dark of a firefly in my hand from Kyokushi last year:

Such a sad picture... The bioluminescence and frequency of their flashing varies among species. The fireflies in Kyokushi blink slower and with a yellowish light, while the yamahotaru blink slightly faster in a bluish-white. I wonder if the color differences have to do with the membrane of the photophores (assuming this is what the light producing cells on fireflies are called) or due to slight chemical differences in combination with the luciferin and luciferase...

Anyhow, if you are in Aso-gun near Ubuyama-mura during mid to late June you can still catch the yamahotaru (mountain fireflies), well after the other species have mated and died. One great spot is south of Namino village, in a place called Shiramizu Taki (white water waterfall- pictured below). The waterfall itself is worth a visit during the day time, but it is truly magnificent at night illuminated by the stars and the fireflies. The lighting has a soft, magical quality because of the diffusing effect of the spray generated by the falling water. Apparently, the light on my cellphone is irresistable to yamahotaru, as one followed it back into my pocket. I watched in amusement as it blinked out a pickup line to my unreceptive D251.

Yamahotaru are more reliable to see than the other species, I have found, because they come out in rain or good weather, and wind tends not to be a factor as they tend to live in protected areas among the trees or cliffs.

My other favorite places to see them are in Ubuyama-mura in Hokubu. I was able to see hotaru at Yamabuki suigen, but had to turn back because it was pitch-black, raining hard, and I only had my keitai (with a low battery) to serve as a flashlight. Instead, I went to Ikeyama suigen which is more popular and easier to access. The hotaru were out in abundance in the mist and drizzle, lighting up the cedars with their halogen-white glow.

Rainy Weekend

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This weekend I had to work, and so I missed the last hash with our group in Kumamoto. I hope it went well, and that you all had to swim through the brown dirtiness that is the Shirakawa River. It rained all weekend long, which was a good thing. I did more this weekend then I usually do on weekends with fair weather.

This is the elephant in front of Ubuyama Junior High School. I think it has a really nice ass, don't you? In a purely asthetic sense, that is...

Chewing Through The Gag

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Over the past year, posting stuff on Higo Blog is something that I have really grown to enjoy. It's a much needed release sometimes, and helps me to stay sane in my relative isolation in the Japanese country side. I can't imagine what it would feel like if the Japanese government decided to censor what I could and could not look at or post on the net, but I imagine I would feel a lot like Kevin and the other bloggers in Korea.

Instead of talking about my thoughts on the recent actions of the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication, I highly suggest checking out Big Hominid's site and to explore the links and Korea blogger's pages that he posts, and to join him and the others in saying "Fuck censorship!".

Cooking With Green Butter

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Avocados are only 100 yen right now, and so I have been using them a lot lately. My favorite ways to eat them are sliced with shoyu (California-nisei style), as part of a sandwitch/cheeseburger, or as guacamole. Fresh tortillas are worth their weight in silver over here, but tortilla chips are abundant and cheap and go the best with the guac. I will be experimenting with various indiginous Japanese foods to see if any go well. Here are some proposed dished:

nato, guacamole, and yamaimo with ice cold soba
sushi with a pad of guacamole under the bullet of fish instead of wasabi
grilled, salted salmon with guacamole
curry with pork cutlet and guacamole
basashi (horse sashimi) and guacamole
miso soup with essence of guacamole
guacamole soft cream (soft serve)
guacamole with asse
tantanmen with guacamole topping
Vietnamese spring rolls with rice vermicelli, sweet grilled pork, Vietnamese pickles, fish sauce, and guacamole (this is not Japanese, but I think it is one of the more promising combinations).

Some are destined for greatness, while others will be fed to unsuspecting friends. I used only ingredients that were readily available and cheap in the middle of Kyushu. Here's my take on guacamole:

2 hass avocados
1/2 tsp. of fresh lemon juice
1 small tomato, diced
1/2 small onion, minced
2 cloves of raw garlic, minced
garlic salt
cajun seasoning
tapatio sauce

I ate this guacamole with pack of Pringles (sour cream and onion flavor), because sometimes they don't have tortilla chips at the supermarket.

This is a very simple recipe and very easy to make. Caution: using raw garlic makes the guacamole spicy, and will result in breath that would cause one embarrassment in a kimchee factory in Korea.

Spy vs. Spy

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Justin told me that he ran Ad-Aware and Spybot on Merin's computer last weekend, and that he was shocked to see how much spyware (check out this article for more information) was on her computer. He said that it had so much crap on it that it crashed while he was running the anti-spyware programs. I just worked on my BOE's computer with these same programs and here's the results:

Is it me, or does the little bug icon look like the spider-shaped trackers that Spider-Man uses to track bad guys?

Ad-aware: 191 programs detected
Spybot: 88 programs detected

Total: 279 spyware programs on the first go. It is truly strange to be in a place where I probably have the most experience working with computers. "Scary" is probably a better word than "strange", on second thought.

Results for the chugakko are as follows-
Ad-aware: 169
Spybot: 46

Total: 215
On this computer Claria/Gator was installed, and accounted for more than half of the spyware objects detected by both programs (and not all were detected on the first try).

Classroom Punishment

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What ever happened to time out or setting up conferences with the parents of a kid who is having problems in school? In Japan, you hear many stories of how screwed up the educational system is, and how the pressure on teachers (to get their students to pass tests) and students (to pass the tests) really is. I can say for certain that if one of my teachers told me to write an apology in blood, I would walk past them and go straight to the principal and call my parents to help me sort this out.

I have been lucky enough to have nice teachers in my schools, in an environment where such behavior would most likely be immediately detected and severely dealt with. I have heard accounts of students being smacked by teachers, and even one case of a retarded student being put into a cage for the period because the teacher couldn't control him. What ever happened to humiliating a class clown or smartmouth in front of the class, and trying to get to the ultimate cause of problematic behavior? Hopefully, a teacher's class will be percieved as interesting or at least valuable enough to pressure the students to act in a respectful manner.

It also bothers me how common it is for teachers to have secret relationships with their students. Some teachers have no problem engaging in romantic relations with their students, and this really bothers me. It just doesn't seem to be such a big deal over here for some reason.

Cooking With Goya

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This weekend I cooked with goya(bitter melon) for the first time, and it turned out awesome! I first tried goya in Okinawa as a component in a chop suey-like dish, and made it with the help of a friend. After you try this dish, you might grow to love the bumpy-cucumber-like hunk of bitterness.

Goya Champura

1 goya, cored and sliced thin into half-rings
1 onion, cut into (half) rings
a few cloves of garlic, minced
one half a loaf of SPAM, chopped into thin slices
one block of firm tofu, cubed
four eggs, scrambled
one teaspoon of sesame oil
one teaspoon of olive oil
two heaping tablespoons of miso paste
one tablespoon of toubanjan (red chili paste)

Fry the goya, onions, and SPAM in the oil on high heat, until the onions become translucent and then add the garlic along with the miso and toubanjan and cook for a few more minutes. Add in the tofu and the eggs with some salt and pepper and cook until the eggs are done.

This dish shows off the versatility of spam, in its ability to tame a food as bitter as goya. Like it or hate it, but above all, respect the SPAM.

Due to the high sodium content of SPAM, I suggest going light on the salt. If you want to get seriously Okinawan, then you should eat this with a slowly stewed pig's foot (this is so f*cking delicious that all negative connotations of pig's feet will disappear once you eat it), grilled lobster and steak, a small, deep-fried red snapper without its filets (basically the head, bones, and tail), and some awamori, aged 20 years (100% kusu, of course!).

For more info on goya, and another goya champura recipe, check this page. Mmmmm... Goya Beer...

Genocide Cocktail

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My sister Merin sent me this picture of a tank full of habu in awamori that she took while on vacation to Okinawa this weekend, in a place called Gyokusendo Kingdom Village. I wrote all about habushu and mamushizake in a previous post, and thought that they made this liquer with one snake per bottle, kind of like one worm per bottle of tequila. Sad, isn't it?

But let's end this post on a lighter note. Let's enjoy some potty humor, again thanks to my sister:
Okinawa is, indeed, a place full of wonder...

A Gaping, Unfilled Niche

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There are a few things that I used to depend on for everyday cooking and I still use many of them over here, but I sorely miss Mexican food ingredients. I miss the abundance of tortillas, both flour and corn (I can get flour tortillas at Costco in Fukuoka periodically, but it is a pain in the ass). Good cheese is also hard to obtain, because it is prohibitively expensive (except for at Costco, once again). If you want cillantro, you must grow your own, and it will not survive the cold winter of Ubuyama without a heat source (you can obtain it at the Kuju Hana Koen, labeled as "italian parsely", as a potted plant). I also miss frijoles and canned chilli. These are the ingredients that helped to get me through college.

I was excited to find all of the components for making tacos, including cheap avocados, but there was one ingredient I couldn't find- tortillas. I tried eating the taco ingredients on top of rice, but rice sucks as a substitute. The only worse thing I can think of is putting the taco ingredients on a slice of toast! I was so disappointed that I thought about making my own tortillas, and found these instructions. Sorry, that's just too much work for something that I'm used to shelling out 39 cents out for, for a ten pack.

Maybe that's what made eating Mexican food so great when I came back home last Christmas. I love eating tacos, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas, taquitos, nachos, and everything else that you can get at a taco truck, Tito's tacos, Alerto's, King Taco, and the other mexican restaraunts and taquerias that I remember.

I'm not sure about the rest of Japan, but Kyushu has almost no Mexican restaraunts that I know of, except for Plaza Del Sol in Kumamoto City. This place is pretty good, and the prices are reasonable, considering the rarity of many of the ingredients that they use. THey make decent tacos, burritos, nachos, and other dishes and the cooks are Mexican- again, something truly rare in Japan but not worth mentioning in California. One thing that did surprise me was their pickled vegetables (I forget what these are called in Spanish, help Dad!). The slices of carrots, jalapenos, and whole cloves of garlic are the best I have tasted anywhere.

If you are coming to Japan, and love Mexican food as much as I do I suggest you do two things:

1. Bring your own industrial sized bottle of El Tapatio (or Cholula for all of you rich people).
2. Eat AS MUCH Mexican food as you possibly can for the two weeks preceeding your departure.

Tienes Arroz, Bitch?

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This thing made me want to put on a blindfold, spin around ten times, let the force guide my bat straight and true, and smash it open to get to the candy.

Everyone knows how to make French Toast, but I consider my version to be top shelf. My favorite thing about FT is that I almost always have the ingredients, and it is a quick meal. Try this version out:

bread, left out from the night before or toasted to get rid of moisture
whipping cream
peach schnapps or kahlua
bananas, sliced
maple syrup
confectioner's sugar

Scramble the eggs and add some whipping cream. Also add peach schnapps or kahlua, sugar, and cinnamon. Dip the bread on both sides, allowing it to soak in the egg mixture. Fry on both sides with butter (this is important!) on medium heat (you want the sugar in the FT to brown nicely, but not to blacken- there is a thin line between carmelization and carbonization. if it starts to smoke, you've cooked it for too long or used too strong of a flame).

Next for the topping. Add a generous tab of butter to the pan, and keep the flame at medium high. Carmelize the banana slices on both sides, making sure not to burn them. If you do it just right, they should be a deep, crispy shade of brown and will taste awesome! Powder the FT with cinnamon and powdered sugar, hip up some fresh whipped cream and top the FT with it, along with the bananas and some maple syrup.

This recipe was inspired by my mother, who used to make fried bananas for me and my siblings when we were little, and who also stressed the importance of using butter to cook with. Olive and canola oil have their time and place, but using margerine or some other butter substitute is unacceptable. And don't get me started on the butter-flavored lipids that they squirt onto movie theatre popcorn! Margerine wasn't meant to be eaten in the first place- it was developed to be mixed with gasoline along with other components to make Napalm (I'm pretty sure, but I can't find any sources on the net). Mmmmm... Napalm...

Around Aso and Kuju

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The view from the top of the caldera was unusually clear yesterday. In case you're up here, the rest stop on the 339 right before it T intersects with the 45 sells awesome takoyaki.

Nature Is Disgusting

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Let's face it, nature is a dirty place, dirtier than places like the middle-class suburbs, but mostly cleaner than third world countries, slums, and shanty towns where the population's excrement co-mingles with their drinking water. Ah, the suburbanites have the luxury of crying about how tragic it is that their kids won't get to experience the outdoors, and make a contribution by joining the Sierra Club and making once-a-year donations to Greenpeace.

Get most of these people out into nature and enjoy the irony as it unfolds. They want the mountain lions, coyotes, and other wild animals out of their neighborhood at any cost after someone or someone's pet gets attacked, yet teach their kids the importance of biodiversity and of the humane treatment of cute and furry animals. They pay more for organically labeled food, and yet soak those irksome weeds with Round-Up, having no understanding of the consequences of toxic runoff that seeps into the water. They go outside and cover themselves in deet to keep away the insects (Nature bad!), bust out the bug spray when the ants come and raid the picnic, and plug in the bug zapper whose kill ratio is 5 mosquitoes to 95 of possibly beneficial insects. They make a huge fuss if there isn't a nearby flushing bathroom stocked with toilet paper, running water, and soap. Watch the honors students cry when you tell them that they have to go into the forest behind a tree, dig a hole with a branch and wipe with broad evergreen leaves (make sure to avoid plants with clusters of 3 leaves)! Now what do you think of composting on a personal level, kids? You know what the difference between a jungle and a rainforest is? Being there yourself burning the leaches off of your friend's private areas versus watching Steve Irwin getting attacked by wild animals on TV.

We like to pick and choose our nature, wanting to interact with the clean and cute stuff, while avoiding the stinky, disease ridden, ugly stuff. A butterfly is good, a bunch of mealworm-like caterpillars collectively excreting white threads out of its butt is bad.
Most of us like nature, but only at a distance.
We like our houses sterile, devoid of nature except for a few groomed plants and pets that we keep unnaturally clean. When nature comes creeping in, we swat it with a rolled up newspaper, suck it up, sweep it out, douse it with chemicals, make adjustments to the places from which we think it came more inaccessable, and wipe it down with bleach afterwards just to make sure that all traces are removed. Don't say that you wish that people were close to nature unless you fully understand what this means, and are willing to put up and move out to Walden pond. Chances are that you can't hack it, unless it's on the Discovery Channel.

Nature is disgusting. Sure there are beautiful things in nature, but to say that all things natural are beautiful is a dirty, rotten lie that is easily exposed. Have you ever watched a hippopotamus give birth on the National Geographic Channel, or scattering shit with its tail to spread its scent around? Have you watched a seagull eating an umbilical cord that was still attached to a newborn elephant seal crying out for its mother? Have you seen chimpanzees cannibalizing bastard infant chimpanzees to get rid of offspring that they know was fathered by another group of chimpanzees. Has a three inch long millipede with the girth the size of a roll of pennies ever died in your bathtub, hiding an egg cluster somewhere in the vicinity? Did the eggs start to a year ago, letting loose a few dozen mini-millipedes in your bathroom? Did they start to appear again a year later, even after you disinfected the whole bathroom several times since with cleaning agents and bleach? After the tree huggers get a little too close to the poison oak, they start to think more practically.

If you feel strongly about living in "true" harmony with nature, then you might as well back up your words through action. Don't throw away the moldy bread, let it grow and flourish, and to spread its spores among the other foods. Don't sweep out the dust or vacuum, as you will be upsetting the fragile habitat of the dustmite! Don't clean your toilet because the shit-spatters and pubic hair are a micro-ecosystem for coliform bacteria- a garden rich in microorganisms from your intestinal tract. Sure, if you do this then you might have the balance with nature that you wanted, but at what cost? You will be known as the smelly dirty hippie who never cleans his or her toilet.

Go/Roku Nensei Pets

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Yoshihiro: Dad, do you remember that you said I could have a pet if I brought up my grades?

Yoshihiro's dad: Hmmmm... You have been getting good grades in school. I think you're ready for the responsibility. You can pick any cow you like. Toshiki, pass the steak would you?

Yoshihiro: Can I have the calf with the big eyes?

Yoshihiro's dad: Why not? What's her name?

Yoshihiro: Britney! She's so cute, just like my cow!

Yoshihiro's dad: Great Yoshi-kun, make sure Britney eats a lot every day, and don't make her get too much exercise. On another note, have you boys noticed that beef prices at an all time high, thanks to the BSE situation in America? We're going to Disneyland this Summer!

Yoshihiro: What's wrong Toshiki?

Toshiki: I can't find Mary. I looked everywhere, but she just isn't on the farm! It's all my fault dad. I lost her... forgive me!

Yoshihiro's dad: There, there son. I forgot to tell you that I had to send Mary away to Bovine University. You want her to be happy, right? Wow, this steak is awesome!

Toshiki: Yeah... I do, but I don't understand...

Yoshihiro's dad: Great! Glad that's settled. Yoshihiro, can you pass the A-1?

Welcome to Mindhead

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Yikes! We got our drug education from DARE (at Courreges Elementary), who did a decent job of educating without too much propaganda. Do you remember seeing Dianetics...

Dianetics junior much better then Krishna,
Dianetics junior much better indeed,
And all you people there, your tremendous,
Except the people in the middle,
When you're toking up a big ass bowl of weed,with me, and KG
All Right! Oh Yeah! All Right! Oh my god!

Would all the ladies in the house say Yeah! (Yeah)
C'mon, all you motherfuckers say a prayer! (prayer)
Cause when you fight, you gotsta fight fair!
You mother fucker, huh? You mother fucker,
You know what time it is?

It's Tenacious D time you motherfucker blow!
Fuck yeah!
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Dude, that was TNT...
(Tenacious D rules!)

...commercials on during Saturday morning cartoon breaks? The volcano spouting lava looked so cool, and the persuasive voice oozing the words "It will change your life forever!" almost made me want to read the book (I can't believe I can still remember this! is it a testament to their skills of persuasion?)! Good thing I was only 5 years old, and had to depend on my parents to read anything harder than Dr. Seuss out loud to me.

Keep it together, Kit... Keep it together! More info on Mindhead.


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This is the Higothai flower, the flower of Ubuyama village. As some of you may know I used to hate bees. They used to sting me quite often. even though I avoided them, they would regularly land on me and jab me with their stingers. One time, I had to take a Tae Kwon Do orange belt test even though I had been stung on the sole of my foot- I passed, but it hurt like hell. I have since overcome my fear, and so I was able to get really close to this one.

Guardians of the 442 Gosen

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This one looks like the golden idol that Indiana Jones steals in the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It looks like he's not happy about something.

Something tells me that that isn't a hatchet used for chopping wood. Dude looks ready for battle.

Ode To Inaka Ninniku

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On a routine after-work drive, deep in the country I spotted an unattended shack with a sign that read "yasai (vegetables), 100 yen". Nestled among the daikon and shiitake mushrooms was a mesh bag containing two choice clusters of garlic. For some reason, the garlic caught my eye, and so I dropped my 100 yen coin into the rusted steel tea cannister (tink!) and drove away satisfied with my transaction.

This is the setup I'm talking about. These daikon (giant Japanese radish) are not only ridiculously cheap, but are also fresher than anything you will ever find in Jusco.

Where else in the world can you find high quality produce by the side of the road and buy it based on the honor system? If this was Orange County, or even Kumamoto City, the cash box would be stolen at the very least and the vegetables would be thrown at the passing traffic! When theft does occur out here it is a big deal like it should be, and the cops come out and spend much time and effort trying to do everything they can to help. Out here is one place where I don't harbor negative feelings about the police. It is in their best interest, as part of a tightly woven community of country folk, to do their best job and to be friendly. I understand why cops back home can be (and sometimes have to be) such assholes, but as a result I tend not to like them. It still makes me laugh when I remember going to Baja Fresh with Justin, hearing the worker ask the police officer "would you like beef or pig?" tacos.

Enough on cops, lets get back to garlic. This garlic that I bought was special. It was about the same price as garlic in the supermarket, but it was much superior. One thing that you can count on about country grown produce is that the farmers plant very good varieties because they are eating what they produce. Producing one's own food is such a foreign concept for many people living in places like the U.S. or in big cities, as we are all disconnected from where it comes from and how it is made. My neighbors grow all of their own rice, vegetables, and in some cases chicken, eggs, and meat that they need, and surplus. It is this surplus that they give to their friends, barter, or sell in the booths. So the garlic that I bought from the stall is the same variety that some country family is enjoying as well.

What strikes me about this garlic is that it is so powerful. When I chop up onions nowadays, it is rare for my eyes to water from the fumes. However, when I mince my garlic up into tiny cubes, my eyes sting and well up, despite me wearing glasses. It hurts, but I know that the pain is worth it. The flavor of the garlic is rich and strong and full bodied, but not in an overpoweringly stinky way. Maybe it's just a placebo, but I feel more healthy after consuming it. One more special thing about this garlic is that the skin peels away from the cloves without any fuss. Whoever developed this particular cultivar of garlic knew what they were doing, and did it well.

Talking about cultivars and heirloom species reminds me of listening to Professor David A. Cleveland from U.C.S.B. lecture about the effect of cultivated plants on society and the environment. Professor Cleveland regularly went all over the world deep into the countryside, where people had developed intimate relationships with the crops that they harvested, from Oaxaca, Mexico to Syria. He was quite passionate about the importance of preserving these cherished species not because he anthropomorphisized them in any way, but because these specific cultivars have very useful traits that have been engineered over thousands of years by farmers, specific to their locations and needs. Companies like Monsanto and other biotech firms go into the countryside and get samples of these plants, often giving nothing back to the farmers in return and exploiting this resource, making a huge profit. Why is this a big deal? Because the farmers in these areas are getting doubly screwed. It is because of the farmers and their ancestors that these strains exist, and it has taken them great time and effort to develop and maintain these. The cultivars and their DNA are rightfully the intelectual property of the farmers who developed them. In addition, these big companies sell the bioengineered strains to these farmers, driving many to develop a dependence on them. This leads many farmers to abandon the very crops that the engineered strains might have been developed from, since they tend to be high yield varieties that in the short term out perform the local crops.

The local cultivars are there for a good reason. They are ideally suited to that specific environment and that specific microclimate, and have allowed farmers to produce the maximum yield sustanably over an indefinite period of time. The strain of corn in one village might be completely different from the strain used the next village over due to subtle, yet important differences in hydrology, geology, temperature, or any number of variables.

With the adoption of commercial, all purpose seed, these cultivars are being lost. Unique, valuable genetic sequences that took countless generations to create vanish, all for the pursuit of maximizing profits in the short term (and creating a dependence based on petro-chemicals, depleting the soil, and creating other environmental and socioeconomic problems in the long run). One of the most tragic things about monoculture using the same seed is that it takes away the variety from food. Instead of countless choices, it all becomes the same. I find this loss of flavor, texture, and uniqueness to be truly disturbing.

Luckily, the fields in my neck of the woods are small, ununiform, and terraced. The farmers grow an assortment of different crops, and the people value their favorite strains of vegetables, fruits, and mushrooms. I mean, the farmers do depend on petro-chemicals to raise their crops and produce rice and other products for the mass market, but they also grow the old strains for their personal consumption. I am pretty sure that the future of the wonderful garlic that I ate will be safe in the hands of these country farmers, deep in the heart of Kyushu.

Unorthodox Wu-Shu

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If a modern day Bruce steps forward to take up the challenge, a remake of Enter The Dragon is entirely possible with the help of Donald Rumsfeld (Thanks to Chris for the link) who will be cast as Han, the evil geriatric dude who makes life as a hand amputee look pretty cool with the interchangeable prosthetic hands of death. The part of Yang Sze (Bolo) is to be played by Bob Sapp, who claims "NFL" as his fighting style.

Not Too Shabby

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Ultraman Attack

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Makiko, Waka, and Sayuki prepare to whoop some ass.

Violent Crime in Japan

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Is there a higher rate of violent crime and crime in general in the United States than there is in Japan? Yes, I think that's a safe thing to say.

Japan is the model most often used by advocates of the prohibition of firearms. There is no private ownership of handguns, and among 120 million people there are only a little more than half a million privately owned long guns, including air rifles.

Japan's annual homicide rate has been progressively decreasing for a decade and now stands at 1.2 per 100,000. It is reported that 97% of murders are solved - the highest clearance rate in the world.

Japan is one of the most disciplined nations on earth, with an authoritarian and conformist culture that precludes large scale law-breaking. There are few constraints on police powers, especially with respect to search and seizure. Rates of crimes not usually associated with firearms - rape, mugging and assault, are the lowest in the world and are trifling by European and North American standards. Japanese do not kill each other in large numbers because they are, in all respects, extremely law-abiding people. Interestingly, the current Japanese suicide rate of 21 per 100,000 is double the Canadian rate and almost double the rate in the United States. (this study is from 1992)

Japanese frequently and fervently insist that the U.S. is much more dangerous than Japan, but this is almost always based upon what they hear on the news and the movies that they see. I try to explain that only the most sensational news makes international headlines, and that aside from certain locations, the U.S. is a pretty safe place, and some people understand this.

However, the average Japanese violent crime is a hell of a lot more scary than the average violent crime in America. Although the amounts of crimes in which people shoot each other is really low in Japan, a lot of people are slicing and stabbing their victims over here. It makes sense. If there are no guns to kill people with, then you are left with knives. It takes a different kind of killer to weild an edged weapon and to stab and slash someone to death. In comparison, it's pretty easy to kill with a gun. All you have to do is to aim and squeeze the trigger, and the bullet fills the gap between you and your target, driving itself into a body with its own momentum. If you stand far enough away, you won't get any blood on you. With a knife, it's always up close and personal and involves using muscle work and body movements to penetrate flesh (unless you are throwing it, but how many of us would throw a knife at someone we wanted to kill? if you miss, they could pick up the knife and stab you!). You are guarenteed to get blood on your hands. I imagine that killing up close leaves a greater impression on the murderer because it is an intimate act. The greater the physical distance from the victim, the greater the emotional distance can be.

Two days ago, a little girl in the sixth grade used a box cutter to murder a classmate at Okubo Elementary School (in Nagasaki-ken). Lets take a look at an article from the Daily Yomiuri (Thursday, June 3rd, 2004):

"I slashed at her after getting her to sit on a chair. I wanted to kill her," police sources quoted the girl as saying. According to Sasebo Police Station and the Sasebo Municipal Board of Education , the sixth-grade girl and Satomi Mitarai, the 12-year-old victim, liket to play with computers and frequently chatted with another friend on their own homepages. The alleged perpetrator also was quoted as telling the police, "Because her (Satomi's) attitude was cheeky, I called her (to a study room) and slashed her neck. The police are investigating what Satomi wrote to the alleged assailant on the Internet and their conversations before the attack.

She killed her classmate because she was being flamed (teased in a chatroom)! And this wasn't exactly a crime of passion. She planned it out, lured the girl into a room and had her sit down, clicked the box cutter blade out a few notches, and went for the neck! This evil act is so perverted, so unbelievable that it is hard to comprehend how someone, especially an 11 year old Japanese girl, could do it so casually. According to the article, she's pretty calm about the whole situation and doesn't seem to be exhibiting signs of remorse.

I remember my brother telling me about a case a few years back about a boy attending JHS in Kobe who cut off his friend's head and stuck it on a pole in front of the school (mentioned in this article). Seems like a story out of Lord of the Flies, with something far more scary than a pig's head impaled on a stick. So yes, the United States is a violent place compared to Japan, but I would argue that Japan's brand of violence is, on average, committed by a much more emotionally disturbed individual, as most of the attacks in Japan are done with knives (another article from today reported that a cleaver and hammer were found next to the corpses of two Japanese men yesterday) and other close quater weapons.

Battle Royale doesn't seem so much like fiction anymore.

Cynops pyrrhogaster

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This is a Japanese Firebellied Newt that one of my students caught in the Tamarai River that runs next to my Chugakko. Yesterday, my JTE decided to have class outside, and to "wing it". As would be expected when kids are taken outdoors and there is no lesson plan, the kids didn't learn any English, but we had a great time playing in the river.

Thanks, I think...

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Today, I walked in to the lunch room and heard the nursery school teachers mumbling my name. They collectively looked up, all of them wearing the same conspiratorial grin and called me a "Casablanca dandy". Now what the hell does one make of that?

Game over man! Game over!

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The only insects that I hate are those which suck my blood or are unreasonably agressive toward me. I will not hesitate to kill a mosquito or to crush a flea between my fingernails, but house centipedes test me on these self-imposed limits. Their grotesque body and movements fascinate me, but also give me a strong case of the goosebumps. The reason why I am so creeped out by these guys is that one of them crawled across my bare thigh about 2 years ago, and I can still remember that unpleasant sensation.

As I was preparing to take a shower, this thing shot out of the shadows and stopped in front of me. My first inpulse was to kill it, but I decided to guide it outside with a broom instead (with a can of insecticide close at hand in case things got ugly). This ugly bastard's body was about 2.5 inches long, but the antannae at each end (disgusting!) stretched it out to about 6 inches total. The way these things move is truly disturbing, evoking similar feeling to those I experience watching the bug-like creatures in Aliens try to face hump a victim and shove their ovipositor down the throat! Well, the shower has been running for 20 minutes now, so I guess I should stop acting like a wussy and just get it over with. I'm taking my spray can of DDT with me though.

Sannensei Text Bubbles

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Today the chugakko third graders were given a picture of two OLs(office ladies) sitting together on a bench, eating lunch together and having a conversation. They were given 20 minutes to write dialogue and I was proud of what they were able to accomplish. Here are a couple of samples from class (No corrections have been made to the original works):

Talkin' Smack About the Boss

O.L. 1: I hear Kacho has only recently begun to losing hair.

O.L. 2: Really?

O.L. 1: Moreover he thinks he's cool. He's a fool.

O.L. 2: Oh, he's a narcist.

O.L. 1: Thats right. And yet his waif ran away!

O.L. 2: that's too bad.

O.L. 1: Oh Kacho is coming.

O.L. 2: Run Away!

Pig Woman

A: How are you?

B: I'm drunk and very dangerous now

A: What did you drink yesterday

B: I drank milk.

A: Are you crazy?

B: No. I'm usually not

A: OK. I know. So do you know pig

B: Yes. I am pig

A: Are you OK? Do you understand

B: No I am sleeping now. I solly

A: I don't want to talk to you anymore bye bye

B: Oh No woooooo

About Relationships

Fumi: Kazuki! How are you?

Kazuki: So so. Fumi! How about you?

Fumi: I'm sad. Because I had a fight with Yasuhiro

Kazuki: That's too bad. Why?

Fumi: Yasuhiro had an affair with Shunichi.

Kazuki: Oh! Fumi is poor.


A: I often catch my boyfriend.

B: This lunch is very delicious.

A: I often catch my boyfriend.

B: I have to go to work Bye!

A: I often catch my boyfriend. I must kill you.

Now that's what English class is all about...


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I found a commune of funnel web spiders in Kikuka this weekend, when exploring a huge rock outcropping in the hills. The spiders reminded me of the ones in the Hobbit, and I imagined hundreds of tiny, hungry eyes watching, evaluating me, patiently waiting.

But these spiders were cool. There were tons of mosquitoes out, and I took satisfaction in knowing that many would be doomed to stumble into the complex of webs, their futile struggles transmitted down the gossamer strands, the vibrations transformed into impulses sparking across synapses of the arachnid, triggering a tiger-like pounce, mandibles of death injecting an acid as corrosive as the blood of a Giger Alien. Haha, game over man! Burn, you miserable mosquito. Burn.

This weekend, while chilling at Joe's I was laying on the tatami when I felt something crawling next to me. I ignored it until it happened again, and was scared shitless when I saw a three inch long centipede on my arm. I flung it off, and Joe proceeded to douse it for a full minute with insecticide spray, as it writhed and whipped and jumped around in agony. I'm just glad I didn't get bitten by the bastard. I like looking at the suckers, but I HATE it when they touch me!

Poop Fiction

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I just found a new demographic for Kevin to bestow his enlightenment upon in this article. Dude, your words are brown gold to the next generation:

The content might seem off-colour to some, but potty humour is big in the world of popular children's literature - from the Captain Underpants series to such best-selling titles as Zombie Butts From Uranus! - and some parents and authors believe the genre is attracting otherwise reluctant readers.

"You have to give kids something they want to read," says Glenn Murray, an educator-turned-children's author from Canada.

Murray co-wrote two books featuring Walter The Farting Dog, a flatulent pooch whose problem saves the day time and time again. The author believes his smelly protagonist is an ambassador for literacy.

My favorite book about excrement is one that I read to my nursery school students called "Unchi", or in English, "Poop" (do you notice how no one uses this word anymore. the last time I remember hearing it was when I last watched Billy Madison). Highly recommended!

To anyone who missed it, the tapeworm story is a must read! Pork is starting to sound a lot more appetizing...


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Takachiho, located in Northern Miyazaki-ken, is a beautiful, mountanous area. I have heard that bears can still be found in the surrounding forest, but have yet to see one. Also the aincent Kagura dance, the dance that represents the creation of Nippon (including the part about luring Amaterasu out of hiding in a cave in Aso), is performed in an isolated pocket of country deep in the mountains around here, for more than 24 straight hours by a die hard group of people carrying on the traditions of old (if you are interested in learning about Kagura, the Kagura-en in Namino has a guided tour, performances, and a (very boring) instructional video that you can experience, and you can learn how to make your very own soba with your hands. on a serious note, the soba soft serve is kick ass here- coming from Kumamoto City you can find the Kagura-en off of the 57, just past Takimurozaka). This particular location is Takachiho-kyou, or Takachiho Gorge.

This Week's Recipe

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I have been enjoying a certain dish lately, so much so that I'm going to post it:

Pork Flavored Garlic Stir Fry

7 cloves of strong garlic, minced
3 pork chops, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 large onion, cubed
3 bell peppers (preferably red or yellow, but green can be added for color) cubed
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of shoyu
1 tablespoon of mirin
1/2 teaspoon of hot sauce

garlic salt
montreal steak seasoning

Dipping sauce:
Mix 2 parts of Thai sweet chili sauce to 1 part Shiracha

Heat up your pan until it is really hot, and then add the oil, and spread it around the pan. Next, keep the heat on high add the vegetables and braise them for about 2 minutes. Add the pork, garlic, and seasonings, and then add the shoyu and mirin. Cook until the pork has a nice seared color. For best results, keep the heat high, and aim to cook the vegetables so that they are still crunchy, but not raw. Serve over rice, and dip morsels into the sauce. I enjoyed the flavor of the dish both with and without sauce, but you can mix the sauce into the dish as well.

The reason I like this dish is because:
1. It is cheap. Beef is more expensive right now over here. Bell peppers are fairly priced as well.
2. It's fast.
3. It has lots of garlic, but maintains a good flavor balance.
4. I have way much more garlic salt and steak seasoning than I could ever use in Ubuyama (one year of use has only resulted in 1/3 use of Costco sized Lawry's seasonings).
5. I love the smell of sesame oil frying in a hot pan.

Reflections On The Caldera

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The Last Undokai

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The undokai is described as a "sports festival", and that's exactly what it it. I had a hard time accepting this term at face value, because the concept was foreign to me, but that's exactly what it is. The whole community comes together to participate in the festivities, and play wacky Japanese-style group games. Undokai are an important social event that brings everyone together for one whole exhausting day.

This year, I was on the victorious red team. The kids are gettin' their kung-fu poses on, Big Trouble In Little China style.

My students put in hours practicing a really cool dance, but I think that the dude on the right (Chiyuki) blew it, judging from the looks on Tomoyuki's (center) and Masaoki's (right) faces.


I really like my student's paintings this year. The red team's character wielding the wakizashi looks "Sassy" (Sprechen sie sassy?).

Now that's sassy!

Death By Pepto-Bismol

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I KNEW I wasn't wasting my time, spending so many hours killing goombas, orcs, and terrorists! If only my parents had encouraged me, I could be making the big bucks in Korea (thanks to Chris for the link). Does anyone remember that movie where a kid has to battle the rich kid who uses a Nintendo Power Glove (TM) in a video game tournament? That idea crashed and burned, didn't it. Kind of like the robot and gyroscope that came with the NES. Back then, who would have predicted that the common mouse and keyboard would still be the gamer's choice of equipment four years past 2000? I was hoping for electrodes to read my brainwaves, or something a little more advanced than a glorified typewriter interface...

Moderation is Masturbation?

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Reading about a group of people meddling in the lives of other groups of people when they have no good reason to makes me angry and confused as to why they do such things. I mean, even breaching certain topics with people you don't know is much like the act of craning your neck, or being the victim of somone doing so, to get a better view of how big of a dick the guy standing at the next urinal has. I get similar feelings when tampon commercials come on at unexpected times. Too much information exchange. I don't even know that cheerleader jumping on the trampoline, why should I know about her vajina!

I find it strange that many members of the Christian church are so vehement in their condemnation of sex, and especially masturbation. It is interesting to note that "the Latin translation of masturbate, masturbare, which is a combination of two Latin words, manus (hand) and stuprare (defile), thus "to defile with the hand."", is inherently loaded with a negative connotation. This attitude towards sex is unhealthy, both mentally and physiologically, but it is widely accepted by many members of society. Does this sound like practical advice to you?:

"Remain calm and tell yourself, 'You don't own me, masturbation! I'm taking my life back!' (or something of that nature). If that doesn't work, you can pursue alternatives like chewing gum, blasting John Lennon's song 'Cold Turkey,' eating chocolate or whatever helps you best (not masturbation)."

The ministry is based on Matthew 5:27-30, which condemns lust and recommends amputating body parts that cause a believer to sin, "for it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell." (from Wired).

The poor bastards... Not only are most of them feeling bad when they inevitably "relapse" (and you know that most people do!), but they don't seem to realize that they are promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. They are even encouraged to Bobbitize themselves if they can't kick the habit! Ouch! According to a BBC report, flogging the dolphin acts to clean out the plumbing:

Dr Giles said fewer ejaculations may mean the carcinogens build up.

"It's a prostatic stagnation hypothesis. The more you flush the ducts out, the less there is to hang around and damage the cells that line them."

A similar connection has been found between breast cancer and breastfeeding, where lactating appeared to "flush out" carcinogens, reduce a woman's risk of the disease, New Scientist reports.

Another theory put forward by the researchers is that ejaculation may induce prostate glands to mature fully, making them less susceptible to carcinogens.

But pleasuring one's self can help out both sexes, and also help to develop and strengthen intimate relationships:

...some experts argue that masturbation improves sexual health by increasing an individual's understanding of his or her own body and of what is erotically pleasing, building self-confidence and fostering self-acceptance. (Discovery Health)

I never wondered whether people actually believed that masturbation causes blindness or makes hair grow on palms, but I am starting to. It seems to me that groups like XXXChurch are merely misguided masochists, subscribing to a perverted vision of faith. I mean, wouldn't God reward those who refrained from using their genitalia from all acts except strictly for straight forward copulation? It doesn't seem very benevolent to bless those who walk the straight and narrow path with PROSTATE CANCER or a lesser understanding of one's partner.

On the other hand, here is an article written by a group known as Liberated Christians. You should especially pay attention to the "How Masturbation Got it's Bad Rap" section. I was surprised to learn that Kellogg (the cereal tycoon) tried to use his cornflakes to battle spankage, and "For those masturbators whom snacks could not cure, Kellogg suggested circumcision without anesthesia.".

Red Cow

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This is an akaushi (aka means red, and ushi is cow, as opposed to the *shooting from the hip* holstein in Justin's picture) that I stumbled upon while driving the 40 into Ichinomiya. It's interesting to see how people take care of their crops and livestock. It seems to me that the richer the rancher, the less attention each animal gets. The real small scale farmers treat each plant and animal with great importance, I suppose, because losing one cow could mean the only cow that they own.

Ubuyama is now famous for their beef and, to a lesser degree, dairy products. The akaushi is truly a delicious variety, and fat is evenly distributed through out the meat. My village serves a really expensive cut of this beef in an interesting way. They take a huge, prime slab and cut off slices as it grills, reminiscent of kabob but much thicker.

One thing that I don't understand is why no one around here can appreciate a good thick steak, pot roast, or juicy cut of prime rib. They prefer to eat it cut up into small cuts known simply as yakiniku. Since these slices of meat are so thin (usually about 4mm thick), you can't really eat them rare. They cook too fast for that, but yakiniku is certainly delicious. You can treat yourself to a steak in Ubuyama up around Hokubu, however a steak dinner will set you back no less than 3,000 yen. I have only gone once and it was worth it, but I that was a one time deal. The proprietor sent me home with a block of tofu, some tomatoes, and let me take home some tsukemono- they have 27 different types that are available to try!

So what happens when I look upon the face of my dinner as it is still a living, breathing creature of God? My stomach rumbles, and I think "damn, that akaushi looks really delicious". It is interesting to note that I had the opposite reaction looking at, and more importantly smelling, the cattle of Harris ranch in Central California.

The Hunger

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Right now I'm searching the net for pictures to make a complete phonics lesson, and while looking for "cheeseburger", I stumbled upon this. Seeing this image has awakened the hunger. It is right before lunch so I will be eating shortly, but this will not satisfy my craving for some fresh grilled meat patties and cheese sandwiched between two crispy, soft buns, iceburg lettuce, grilled onions, and a slice of tomato. Might as well splurge and get a large vanilla shake and french fries.

According to the reciept, the thing in the picture is a 12x12 (a 4x4 + 8 patties and 8 slices of cheese, meaning it has a total of 12 patties and 12 slices of mouth-watering cheddar cheese) and cost a mere $10.15. I have only eaten a 3x3 personally, but many friends from high school as well as Justin and Kohei have downed a 4x4, and I think they were full. I don't think that any one person is capable of eating a 12x12. It's just not physiologically possible.

Actually, I think that a regular cheeseburger has the perfect ratio of every ingredient. I the beef and cheese overpowers everything else if you order anything larger than a double double.

If you haven't eaten at In N Out burger, you are missing out. If you are a hardcore In N Out junkie, then you know the secret menu which includes but is not limited to the following:

4x4- 4 patties, 4 slices of cheese
3x3- 3 patties, 3 slices of cheese
animal style- mustard grilled onto the patty
protein style- lettuce serves as the bun
grilled cheese- self explanatory

These are all I remembered off of the top of my head, but you can find the rest here.

If you are truly down, then you have noticed that there are bible verses written on the packaging. If you are like me, then you have not bothered to look them up, but you can find them on the page hyperlinked above.

Finding Big Buddhas

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In my neck of the woods of Japan, finding a statue of buddha is an everyday occourance. They are everywhere, and not all buddhas capture my eye. This one, in Taketa-shi, was remarkable.


It blows my mind that I have been living here for almost two years, and I still haven't found every spectacle within driving distance. I spend a good amount of time trying to find new wonderful places, and I am yet to come up dry. Frankly, I am worried that I won't get to see everything before I leave, so it's time to step up the pace of my expeditions.

Carved into a verticle cliff with two fierce companions at his flank, this Buddha looks ready to bring the pain with his upraised sword. The caves to the right of the carvings hold temples that are under repair. To get here from Kumamoto (it doesn't matter from where, as long as you get to the 57), take the 57 East towards Oita City and follow the signs to the Fukoji Temple Magaibutsu Stone Buddhas.

Oita's Niagara Falls

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After visiting the Oka Castle Ruins (in Taketa) I stumbled upon a sign that lead me to "Oita's Niagara Falls".


I guess it is kind of reminiscent of Niagara, but I was disappointed that they built a bridge across the top that acts as a dam, preventing water from cascading down the full width of the falls. It doesn't seem like they even really needed to build it, in this specific spot anyhow. There is a perfectly serviceable bridge within view of this spot.

It's really sad how the Japanese often mold natural spots into things that detract from the over all beauty when they don't really need to. It is as if they need to put the stamp of man on nature, like a rancher brands his heard to make sure everyone knows that it's his. I'm not against putting a bridge over the river, but I just think they could have done it in a more tasteful manner.


The area along the falls protected by the dam allow me to crawl into a pocket carved into the limestone on the edge to get a view of the water streaming over. On a side note, there are tons of fish in the reservoir next to the falls. If I have time, I am coming back with my fishing equipment.

Hahaha, it will be interesting to see if anyone is disapppointed by this post due to the misleading title. I think that these blue worms are a likely source of inspiration for those, uh... creative cartoon monsters, but on to the monster annelids.


It is inevitable that on a nature hike with kids at English camp, the boys come across one of these shockingly blue iradescent nightcrawlers (mimizu in Japanese). They are then obliged to chase girls around with it, to use it as a whip on eachother (hee-yah! whoopshhhh! Oh wait, no, thats what an American kid would say...), and finally to throw it in the face of one of the counselors. No it wasn't me. If it were my face, I would have made the little bastards eat it while teaching the others to sing "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I'll eat some worms".


These things are just nasty looking and big (about 3/4 of a foot- yes! I thought I forgot all about the standard measurement system after moving to Japan...). They move in an oozing manner, stretching out, and then scrunching their bodies forward among the humus and leaf litter. I have a feeling that they have few natural predators because they taste nasty or are poisonous. A hunk of easy to catch, brightly colored protein doesn't tend to last long in the forest.

They Call Me DJ Bruce

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I just rediscovered I Know Where Bruce Lee Lives (AKA The Ultrainteractive Kungfu-Remixer), after not having seen it for six years. The music reminds me of some of the music in Kill Bill (especially "Victory" mode), and the German sound bytes are priceless! Now I know how to say "I'm gonna send you to Hell!" in Doitsu-go. This site goes hand in hand with Giant Robot's Bruce Made Tapes graphic.


Regarding Kevin's thoughts on Kill Bill- although I don't disagree with him, I love the movie just the way it is. I was far too engrossed in it to lend any attention to any thoughts get in the way of me enjoying the experience. Before I watched it, I remember thinking that this movie is Tarantino's Spaghetti Western, and so I just accepted it as it was and didn't try to "count bullets" (like I usually do). I do think it would be interesting to see how the scene would turn out if it was choreographed in a manner authentic to real Japanese swordsmanship (not the Kendo-ized version, but rather the "two hands as one" Musashi interpretation).

The fight against the Crazy 88 really reminded me of the fight scene in the restaraunt in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, (and evoked memories of Hiro Protagonist's showdown in the Black Sun) except for the gallons of blood and countless dismembered body parts in Kill Bill. It's one of those scenes where there is so much gore that you can not help but laugh, and revel in the comic absurness of its over-the-top brutality. I experience the same type of laughter watching the Evil Dead series, especially when Ash smashes the possessed girl over and over with a 4x4 post (smack! smack! smack!) when she refuses to quit her insane laughing fit.


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On the second week of April I was recruited to help process Ubuyama's freshly harvested takana while on my way to the laundromat. I pulled into the parking lot and was surprised to find it being used as a loading dock. I swerved to avoid the scattered pyres of takana and a forklift with a full load (a vegetable that looks like a cross between celery, bok choi, and spinach) and proceeded to unload two heaping baskets full of wet clothes bound for the driers. A farmer approached me and asked for my help. Even though I had only met him a couple of times before, I dropped what I was doing and headed into the warehouse to lend a hand.

Inside I met many more of my students' parents, all relaxing and eating some real country Japanese food. They served me some smoked cod that had so much salt on it, that it was almost painful to taste along with takana musubi and assorted tsukemono. They explained that this fish was a traditional food in Ubuyama. In the old days, before the 57 was built, they could not get fresh seafood, so it had to be heavily salted in order to survive the trip inland. When we finished eating, we got to work.

The okusans are taking an ocha break and shooting the breeze in between frantic shifts.

Touring Central Kyushu

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My favorite thing to do in Kyushu is to drive. I love driving in rural Kyushu for the following reasons:
*having the roads all to myself
*cutting around curve after curve after curve
*the rush of adrenaline I get from a well executed pass
*the smell of mountain air rushing in from my fully open side windows
*driving those neglected roads that no one else deems worth their time
*pushing my trusty Civic "Formula" Hatchback to its limits and taking care of it in return
*slingshotting out of a curve, pressing on the gas through the exit
*not having to use the break at all, controlling everything with the gas peddle (I do wish that I had a manual transmission, though)
*finding my way by using my compass and intuition, and occasionnaly my Super Mapple Kyushu Edition
*knowing that the music that I am enjoying at any particular moment is almost *certainly the first time anyone has ever enjoyed that particular piece in that *specific area (and most likely the last).
*discovering places that even the locals don't know about or have forgotten.
*driving behind a skilled driver for a length of time and learning more about *driving by watching and imitating them.
*driving in adverse conditions with full confidence in my abilities and the abilities of my car
*experiencing a sustained runner's high while driving (Although I have never had one when I was running, go figure).
*achieving a meditative state through driving
*learning kanji and new vocabulary from the roadside
*finding good places to sit down and read, hike, or explore
*seeing how many alternative paths there are to any one location
*looking for a good photographic opportunity
*seeing how many kilometers I can put on the odometer
*only losing traction when I specifically intend to
*splashing through a big puddle, shooting up a wave or rooster tail
*driving fast through a long tunnel
*remembering the location of speed traps and making mental notes of where the cops might be waiting in ambush
*narrowly avoiding running over/ smacking into assorted wildlife (tanuki, weasels, foxes, rabbits, wild boars, birds, caterpillars, frogs, snakes, etc...)
*flashing the hazards for courteous, experienced drivers who let me pass

These pictures were taken today, with the exception of the Roman Aqueduct, during a 4 and a half hour long drive around Aso. There are so many roads to explore around here, and just not enough time.

I found this aqueduct last Friday when driving the 8, south of Taketa (Oita-ken). It's strange finding works like these in the middle of nowhere.

This is Shiraito-taki, or in English, "white thread waterfall". In Nishihara, way off the main roads I came across this stunning waterfall. Kyushu is full of beautiful waterfalls, and I often come across them on my wanderings.

Signs With No Meaning

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Back at home, the majority of people are pretty good at giving directions by using street names. You need to be aware of street names, landmarks, and where things are because its an important part of the culture of California. Although driving is also the main way that everyone gets around in these parts, it's not the same in Kumamoto or in Japan from what I have gathered trying to get my bearings for the past year and nine months since I got here. Most people don't know street names, and some don't even recognize the route 3, 11, or the 57 by their names. This would be like not knowing the names of the I-5, 405, or the 101 back home!


One of the reasons why people don't remember the names is because they are stupidly marked. If a friend gave the directions to "take the 204 to Fukuoka, and you will find the place on the side of the road", then you might well pick the wrong 204 and never find the place until you reached Fukuoka and realised that it might have been on the OTHER 204. Idiotic. I mean, you could clarify by saying "take the 204 to the right by the bypass", but why should you have to. How hard is it to change the name of one of the roads?

My favorite road, the Milk Road, is also marked in a confusing manner. From its spawn point at the Yamanami highway (the 11) it heads off West as the 45 for about fifteen kilometers. Then, for no apparent reason it becomes the 12 for about a ten kilometer stretch, and then reverts to the 45 once again, terminating in Kikuchi (on the 387) after passing through the Gorge (a highly recommended drive!). This is why I think people prefer to use landmarks instead of street names to navigate. The only constants that people will most likely know of are the various legs of the Kyushu expressway, the 3, the 11, and the 57.

Landmarks work surprisingly well, but can also be confusing if improperly used in giving directions. If someone tells you to perform an action (such as turn, go past, etc.) at a conbini (convenience store) then you better get supplemental information. There are so many Lawsons, Family Marts, and 7-11s in close proximity to eachother that navigating by these alone is likely to get you lost.

My friend Jason Wians takes giving directions by using these methods to extremes. The first time I was coming to his house he said the following:

"From Aso, go towards the airport (in Mashiki). Pass the airport, and two or three signals after you will see some ostriches on the left. Turn left. When you see the Everyone (conbini) take a left. Keep going straight until you see some vending machines (this is like saying keep going straight until you see a tree) and turn left. Go straight until you see a hoikuen, and take the right just before you pass it. Take a left at the dog and a right after the old man, and my house will be on the left. Alright, good luck. Yeehaw! Texas rules!!! (which is how he ends every conversation that he has)".

Well, I followed the directions and got there with no problems! Go figure. Had he used the street signs I might have gotten lost, as the "left at the ostrich" street and the next street are both called the 235 and run parallel to eachother for a great distance.

View Full of Aso on the 45

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Click the image to see a larger version.

This is my most recent attempt at a panoramic collage. I live ten minutes from this beautiful vantage point, perched along the Yamanami Highway in Northern Aso. People say that these mountains look like a sleeping Buddha. The Eastern (in the left of the picture) peaks of Neko-dake are the head, and the feet point to the South.

You can tell by looking around that this is a special place. If you imagine what must have happened on a geological timeframe to create the largest caldera in the world (the towns of Ichinomiya and Aso below in the valley lie in this caldera), and what forces must have erected the proud mountains in the middle it sends shivers down your spine. If you are interested in geology, seismology, or fields related to these I think that you would enjoy visiting Japan, bust especially Aso-gun in Kumamoto-ken.

I really like this picture, so I included a larger version below that I layered differently. A tip on photographing around Aso- the air is much clearer the day after it rains hard, like the day that I took these shots.

Kyushu Hitching Pics

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Hitching at night time was difficult. I would not want to pick up someone who looked like this, but surprisingly people almost always stopped for us regardless of the time or the place. If you get stuck out in the country at night, though, you may have to set up camp.


This is my hitching partner, Mr. Jamie Mackay of Georgia. For some unknown reason, I prefer to introduce him as "James" (no one ever calls him that) to Japanese people.

There And Back

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These past 5 days are stretched across my mind like a speedo straining to cover a bulging German tourist. Yes, I'm back safe from hitchhiking, and it was a great experience. However, three full days of rushing around getting picked up by kind strangers were enough for us. I will write more on this later.

Two days ago, we got back to Kumamoto, partied in the city (it was kind of cool because all of the gaijin that we saw were not our familiar locals. being incognito at home is interesting). The next day, we got back late to Aso and headed out to a music festival on the mountain. It was held at a huge clearing in the forest, and it was raining off and on. People had come from all over Japan and had set up a commune of tents, yurts, tee-pees, and other forms of mobile habitation. It was amazing seeing so many gaijin in Aso, along with Japanese hippies and little kids running around amid this strange environment full of the sounds of djembes, dijaradoos, jews harps, reggae music, and a shakuhachi (I only knew what it was thanks to Zachary Braverman's posts on the subject, and I had a feeling the old dude was good because his beautiful songs sounded like a floating/effortless/improvisational jam session).

I had a great time talking with the people at this festival. Everyone was friendly and it was easy to communicate with them in Japanese or English. The bands were pretty good too, and most of the people at the concert played at least one instrument well. This is the group of people that Taro would be partying with, if he were not married right now.

Last night was the second night that we camped over on the mountain. It had been raining the past couple of days (one of the reasons for truncating the hitchhiking trip), but last night a typhoon rolled over us. I was in my tent thinking about how great my tent was, how it had always been an extremely reliable piece of equipment, and that it only cost 2000 yen. Until last night, it performed flawlessly. However, the winds picked up, gusting across the camp ground, laying waste to our shanty town. The hippies got excited and started to pound on their drums, climaxing when the torrents poured down at their most furious. It blew my tent so hard that the support rods were slapping me in the face and feet. At times, the tent wrapped around me and I felt like I was returning to the womb. I compensated by placing my bag next to the rod that was punching me, and was able to fall asleep in the middle of a raging storm. I remember thinking that the sheets of rain that the wind was driving against my tent's rain cover was eerily similar to the turbulance portrayed in the Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"- you know- the one with the gremlin tearing apart the airplane wing and William Shatner! I sure do miss the old school episodes of The Twilight Zone). And then I woke up abruptly when the wind finally tore the cover off of my tent, exposing the windscreen (remember, water and wind can pass through a windscreen, but not a windshield) to the blowing downpour. The experience was similar to gunning through the hypothermic chop in a whaler when the hull smashes into a huge wave which is then blown directly into your face. SMACK! "Fuck this! I live close to here, and I want to sleep in a warm futon tonight!" was my immediate resolve. I woke up Jamie (who was still sleeping somehow), and we made a hasty retreat with some other friends back to his place, coming in from the cold. Many others decided to leave the grounds as well, and it was crazy witnessing the devistation amid the campsite. It seemed as if the fog of war had descended upon our hippie commune, and God was punishing the wicked hippies and gaijin. Most tents were clearly not made to cope with such adverse conditions and had collapsed. Only the yurt and teepees stood proudly, taking everything that the storm was throwing at them.

When we were driving back, I could not help but wonder how the other hitchhikers were faring. We were close to home, and so we just headed back to shelter when conditions got insane. Any hitchhikers caught in the middle of nowhere that might have been forced to camp will no doubt be feeling pretty wiped and soaked right about now. Traveling funk is inevitable, tolerable, and not necessarily a bad feeling, but soaked traveling funk does not sound like fun. Anyone picking up a soaked hitchhiker is indeed a kind soul, because that car packed with soggy gear and soggy gaijin is bound to smell like a wet sheep dog.

The Circuit
Day 1
1. Uchinomaki to Mashiki (thanks to the fireman who spoke super-thick Higo-ben
2. Mashiki to Fukuoka (thanks to the computer salesman and his two sons from Fukuoka, on their way back from a soccer game)
3. Tenjin to Karatsu (Walked 20 minutes towards Saga and got picked up by soapland enthusiast in fixed up black Odessey)
Crashed at Luke's house and met Joe. The "Joyfull incident".

Day 2
Started off from 3:00 at onsen near Karatsu.
4. Karatsu to Sasebo (thanks to the old painter)
5. Sasebo to Takeo (thanks to the two college dudes. Jun, maybe we'll make it out to Nagasaki or Fukuoka sometime!)
6. Takeo to Ureshima (thanks to the electrician who fixes security systems. thanks for offering to let us crash in your van for the night)
Set up tent near the expressway in Ureshima

Day 3
7. Ureshima to Omura (thanks to my Japanese dad, Mr. Tanaka, who lives in Karatsu. I dug your old integra- reminded me of my old legend.)
8. Omura to Nagasaki City (thanks to the bus driver driving the bus to pick up rent-a-car customers. Props for dropping us off right in front of the atomic bomb museum)
9. Nagasaki City to Ariake (we walked out of the city towards Unzen for half an hour in the rain, past the expressway entrance. a salesman, one Mr. Hamasaki, who was closing up his used car lot took pity on us, and told us he would take us to somewhere where we would get picked up, but then decided to drive an hour out of his way to get us to the ferry in Ariake. we had a very nice chat, and he was very embarrased to accept a 5 dollar bill as a memento of our ride together. Mr. Hamasaki called up the ferry, and got us to the last one bound for Kumamoto. While en route to Taida, a port 45 minutes North of the city, he called the ferry to make sure that we were all right! Thanks for helping us out with so much- you were by far the most awesome person that we met on the trip.)
Taida to Kumamoto city- train ride. There was no traffic heading towards the city.

Hitchhiking Kyushu

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Jamie and I will be starting out on a 6 day hitchhiking trip from today, planning to reach all of the prefectures in Kyushu. Supposedly this is a friendly competition with several teams from all over Kyushu doing the same thing in order to raise money for charity, but I'm doing it because it sounds like a great way to spend Golden Week.

Packing list: Jansport backpack, toiletries, clothes, assorted tools and maps, camera, tent and sleeping bag, a towel

Expect another barrage of posts when I return on the 5th of May. Until then, I don't think I will see many opportunities to get online. Over and out.

The Oita Coastline

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Despite for all of the problems with this composite photo, I decided to post it. I know that the shot on the right was overexposed, and that all three of the pictures do not match up nicely (argueably I only need to use two of the photos, but what the heck), but I am learning from my mistakes. This is merely me experimenting with a new format, and any suggestions you may have dealing with a technical nature would be appreciated.

I found this post at luminous-landscapes.com especially helpful for explaining what the histogram function on cameras should be used for. Slowly I am learning how to properly use my camera.

A Few Diving Pics

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These were taken at Zamami (jima, I think) at Dragon Lady point.

Have you ever seen a sea cuke eviscerate? Not pretty...

These pictures were taken by our guide, a cute 24 year old Okinawan. This one is of some kind of grouper. I want a pet grouper one day that will live under my private dock.

These small silver fish moved as if controlled by some hivemind. Seeing them move as one really hits home the elegant simplicity of the lateral line. Their mass coordinated movements look so complicated, yet are controlled by a really primitive organ that senses differences in the pressure of the surrounding water.

Saga In Bloom

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If you have read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, then you will immediately notice that this picture is bursting with multilayered feminine symbolism. On a side note, I enjoyed reading The Da Vinci Code, but I didn't think it was as good as everyone said it was. For some reason I was expecting the cryptography to be roughly on par with Cryptonomicon. I had a hard time accepting that the "codes" were so easy to solve. I mean, it's not a very good code if I can come up with the answer on my own soon after I read it. Writing a riddle backwards??? I mean, I everyone knows that Da Vinci wrote backwards sometimes, but how could you not immediately recognize this? Especially if you have watched Buckaroo Banzai.

It's not that I don't think that an ultra secret society such as the Priory of Sion wouldn't use riddles to test the knowledge of others inducted into their ranks to preserve their secrets. I just think that they would ALSO use at least a 4096-bit encryption key to protect the comparatively easy riddles. And the cryptex just sounds like some glorified bicycle lock to me- something that would hack it in Da Vinci's time, but surely not today. Some crafty cutting could open that thing up no problem without cracking open the vile of vinegar.

OK, getting back on track: The roses (the symbol of Mary Magdeline, or the wife of Jesus Christ according to the book) are arranged in a pentagram (again, according to the book Venus, originally Aphrodite- the goddess of femininity- draws a perfect pentacle across the night sky every four years which the aincent Greeks decided to commemorate with the Olympics). But since this is Japan, Amaterasu is shining away in the center for good measure. There is so much feminine power in this picture that merely looking at it might cause some women to ovulate!


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This post is for Uncle Rocky, who requested me to put up some pictures of nanohana. Merin sent me this first picture, which I think was taken somewhere in Kansai. The fields of nanohana evoke memories of mustard back home.


However, the best views of nanohana I have encountered have been down in Kagoshima, during the Nanohana Marathon. In the next picture, you can really see how vibrant this flower really is. Keep in mind that this picture was taken indoors under scant flourescent lighting.


This is Akari-chan, one of my pre-school students. She reminds me of Merin because she is usually serious and stubborn on occasion. Only recently has she started smiling and laughing frequently. She is also really good at traditional Japanese dance, at only 5 years old.

Late Snow Hike

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As you can probably tell, I have a lot of stuff that I want to post, and not much time to do it. That's why I'm finally getting around to this hike, which I did on Sunday, April 4th- two days after my birthday and one after our fire drills. I woke up at 6:00 to the sound of heavy rain, and thought that Hieda (Tomoya) sensei would want to cancel due to the weather. To be honest, I was hoping this because I hate waking up early, especially if it means enduring freezing rain and exercise. Fortunately, he was game to proceed as we had planned. As we drove North on the Yamanami Highway onto the plains of Kuju, we noticed that the peaks of Kuju, which were brown and bare just yesterday and had been for the previous three weeks, had been covered in a thick layer of snow over night. We ascended the peaks, and started up the trail. No one else was there, which was very strange for this time of year. All the way up, we treaded through thick, virgin snow, each foot fall producing a pleasant sound that was half way between the squeak of squishing styrofoam and the crunch of pea gravel.


The weather took a turn for the worse, and it started blizzarding. The strong winds slowed our progress, but we made it up in about an hour. At the top, we stumbled upon an emergency shelter, and Hieda sensei made us some ramen and udon with his mess kit. I can't imagine a better tasting meal, with the wind howling and the snow devils swirling about.

On our descent, we were surprised to see who was climbing the mountain in such weather. About 50 people were climbing up, half of them were groups of retired Japanese, mostly old women decked out in the latest climbing gear. The other half responded to my "Konnichiwa" with a "Ahnyoung-haseyo". It was really strange practicing rudimentary Korean (just one word, really) in my corner of Kyushu on a snowy day in April.

Kannon no Taki

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Located North of Saga-shi and Yamato-shi in Saga Prefecture is the picturesque village of Nanayama. This place is almost as country as Ubuyama, but more beautiful.


The local river cascades down seven waterfalls, and was believed to have healing powers. From what I gathered, a woman who was favored by Hideyoshi was stricken with blindness. After she came to Kannon no Taki (the waterfall of Kannon) and splashed some of the water on her eyes, she could see again.


This waterfall is Kannon no Taki. I like how many of the sites in Japan where miracles are said to have occoured usually just involve Nature and Humans. God or Gods are credited with the miracles, and many times, memorials and statues are erected in their honor in such a way that they blend in with the environment. What you don't see is the "Jesus in a tortilla/tree branch/window reflection/etc" attractions (at least in Kyushu). I never understood why people would want to spend time looking at these quasi-amusing anomolies. How exactly do those qualify as miracles? All I know is that I often feel invigorated after communing with nature if nothing else.

Right now, all of the plants in Kyushu are growing at a phenominal rate and everything is green. It was strange to see some red momiji (maple) scattered around the forest. I didn't expect to see them change color until the Fall.

If you are around Saga though, try and hit the natural areas including the beach, the waterfalls, and the jinjas. They really are spectacular. It seems strange to me that I had such a hard time finding things to do and places to see the Friday before I headed out to the Fatherland (that's where my Grandfather's family is from). If all else fails, you can go watch movies at the Aeon Cinemas.

Snake Season

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In the past four days, I have already seen 3 snakes. One I spotted on the road, smashed (most likely when it was sunning itself) and attracting flies. I saw two yesterday in Saga-ken. The first one I saw when I was visiting Kannon no taki (Kannon waterfall) in Nanayama-mura (Seven mountain village). I jumped over a rock, and it quickly slithered away under some dead branches. Not feeling quite Irwin enough, I decided not to reach in the tangled foliage and to let it be. Instead, I checked out the awesome waterfalls. If you are passing through Saga-ken, this place is worth a visit.


Anyhow, Kuniko spotted this snake (at Kashibaru Shikken, or Saga Marshlands, North of the Nagasaki Expressway on a small road that shortcuts the 323 toward Nanayama. if you can make it here around August, you should be able to see a beautiful flower called the Sagisou that looks like a bird in flight. this is a prime wetland habitat, a rare find in Japan and the biodiversity is much more apparent and colorful than the vernal pools of Santa Barbara), that remained absolutely still, well camoflauged among the dried foliage. I was able to get really close to it, and finally learned how to use the macros function on my digicam (thanks for the prodding, Justin):


Kuniko thought it was dead, and so I was obligated to show her otherwise. I grabbed its tail, and it whipped its body two feet away from me in a split second. After I grabbed it again, it started rattling the dried leaves with the tip of its tail in the manner of a rattle snake, and then bolted into a well concealed rathole. I don't think this snake was poisonous, but can't say for sure since I was not bitten.


According to the Japanese snake guide, this appears to be a Japanese four-lined snake, or Shima-hebi. I don't know why I have this compulsion to play with the snakes that I encounter. All that I can say is that it's fun (until I get bitten/envenomated I suppose).

My Dog, Shisar

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These dogs are Shisar, the guardians of the Ryukyu (Okinawan) Islands. You see them all over the place in Okinawa, on keychains, t-shirts, and anything else that is sold on the Kokusai-dori (the main tourist street in Naha).

Of all of the Shisar statues that I encountered, I especially like these. They remind me of our Pekingnese dogs, especially Jane. That was one cool dog.

I just watched Kill Bill vol. 1 two days ago for the first time, and spotted Shisar in two different scenes. When Black Mamba is purchasing tickets for Okinawa (one way) a pair resides on the back shelf, over the shoulder of the booking agent. The more obvious scene, of course, is when Hattori Hanzo's steel is unsheathed for the first time. That's Shisar, imprinted on that legendary blade.

On that note, I am looking forward to part 2. I think I may have to brave first night crowds tomorrow, because I don't want to wait to see it!

Okinawan Sign Language

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I usually find signs that I like when I travel to foreign places, especially if the populace has a less than perfect command of English. I'm sure that the locals were wondering why I was taking picures of the mundane icons that are filtered out of their focus. My choice of subjects to photograph most likely flagged me as a tourist, to the locals who were trying to get me to purchase their assorted omiyage. Okinawans are a true breed of hustlers, and it was painful watching my companions getting fleeced. But that's the topic of a separtate post.


This picture is of a dental clinic in Okinawa. A couple of thoughts popped into my mind when I first saw this, such as:
"No way!", "Ouch!", "Has to be two different sets of teeth!", "I wonder if the same set of pictures accompanied by English appears in England?", and "That dentist must be a friggin' god/butcher!".

I have seen some pretty bad teeth in Japan, but many people are now wearing braces and taking better care of their teeth than before. This picture makes me cringe when I think of the pain that the patient had to endure. How many cc's of lidocaine was injected into that gaping maw?


This next picture is the Japanese equivalent of the French Metro Bunny. On a side note, I feel responsible for contributing to the widescale spread of American tourists stealing those stickers. In 97, after returning home and showing a friend the mementos of my trip, he thought it was such a cool sticker that he did it, and everyone else who went to study abroad with Orange Coast College that year followed suit. It became a tradition, and soon there was a shortage of stickers on the metro (and a sharp increase of people getting their hands caught in the doors, I like to imagine). So this time, instead of stealing a physical copy, I captured one on my camera.


If I had a problem with my ears, nose, or throat, this is the doctor I would want to go to. For some reason, these images evoke a feeling of trust for this doctor, even though I have never met him.


This last sign was taken in the domestic terminal of the Okinawa Airport. I understand the need for explicit directions, but this goes a bit further than necessary. I mean, did someone try to argue "but officer, I didn't know that it was wrong to stash my guns and drugs on top of my bag filled with decomposing decapitated heads that I was using to feed my pet weasels. Oh and don't worry, the pipe bombs aren't really dangerous because I didn't insert the fuses yet. You know, someone should really put up a sign to make it clear just what exactly IS acceptable to keep in these lockers! They didn't seem to mind up in Kansai."?


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I will be gone until Tuesday to Okinawa, another trip with the Ubuyama Fire Brigade (only 12,000 yen!!!). Therefore I will be out of reach of computers and technology, and will be drinking like a fish and diving instead. If you need to contact me call me on my cel.



I finally got back this morning in time for work, after four full days of travel and adventure. It went something like this: on Saturday I got my larynx bruised in Jiu-Jitsu fighting Luke and then I taught some English in the city and rushed back to do essential laundry (read: I was completely out of clean underwear). The next day, I left with the firemen, and started drinking from 10 in the morning and spent the rest of the night in Okinawa buying omiyage and drinking some more at a snack bar. On Sunday, we took a boat out to a beautiful set of small islands and took 1 dive and multiple snorkeling excursions. This, of course, was followed by more snack bars and much more drinking. Yesterday we visited the castle in Okinawa and a war museum. Right before our return flight boarded, Joe gave me a call and asked if I wanted to meet him in Fukuoka to see the String Cheese Incident. So I decided to ignore my second day hangover, and we had a blast. Today I am tired from playing too hard, and the weekend is almost upon us again. I must have done something right in my past life or something, because lately everything seems too good to be true.

Heavy Books

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About 7 years ago, my brother sent me a copy of Snow Crash, and ever since then I have been a huge fan of Neal Stephenson. In my first year at UCSB I hunted down a copy of The Big U, before it was reprinted and when it was being sold for ridiculous amounts of money at auctions. In the Beginning was the Command Line inspired me to learn more about Linux and even to go as far as installing a separate hard drive dedicated to Linux on my computer for a short time.

I have finished all of his books relatively quickly, except for Cryptonomicon (which took me a month) and Quicksilver. I have been reading this book for the past six months, and I still can't read more than 10 pages at a stretch. Reading this book is at least as laborious as reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (not to be confused with Army of Darkness, by Sam Raimi). I have read my way more than half way through it, but making progress requires the discipline and patience of a highly motivated scholar. Reading this book makes my brain hurt from trying to process and absorb so much information.

And now I just read that Stephenson has already released another book in the Baroque Cycle series (so quickly after the long awaited release of Quicksilver) called The Confusion. I want this book, but Quicksilver has humbled me. Many other books have been devoured effortlessly in the same time period, but it still remains by my bed unfinished.

What really amazes me is the versatility of Stephenson as an author. He (along with Gibson) defined cyberpunk with Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. I enjoyed these books so much that I have read them several times and wouldn't mind reading them again in the future. The Cobweb and Interface were interesting books that Stephenson and his uncle (J. Fredrick George) penned under the pseudonym Stephen Bury (is the last name a reference to the bury/disinter commands that he writes of in Cryptonomicon?). One deals with bioterrorism and the other with politics and medicine (this one reminded me of a book that was written by Harry Harrison and Bruce Sterling, but I forget what the title was). I also really enjoyed reading Zodiac (check out this page: Yamamoto and the Secret Admirers, heh!), his "Eco-thriller" novel, as a break from reading about the dangers of PCBs and Dioxin in my Environmental Studies coursework.

The cool thing about reading Stephenson's works is that he likes to write about things that he hasn't written about before. You can tell that he does his homework and knows what he's talking about. After reading his books and articles in Wired, you can tell why the man does not want to be bothered by people he doesn't know- he's busy working on writing something. Let the man have his privacy! It feels reassuring to know that he is putting down words on paper instead of giving away his time and attention to random people.

I wonder how long it will be until one of his novels is made into a movie. I kind of hope that one never is. No, I don't think Peter Jackson would be the director to do it justice and NO, Edward Norton would not be a good candidate for Hiro Protagonist. I think that the best adaptation would be an Anime movie directed by either Otomo Katsuhiro (Akira) or Oshii Mamoru (Ghost in the Shell/Kokaku Kidotai).

Just in case you want to read his articles in Wired:
In the Kingdom Of Mao Bell
Mother Earth Mother Board

Colors Of Spring

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I love all of the seasons in Japan. Summer is great because Ubuyama is up in the mountains, and so we escape the oppressive heat that brings gallons of sweat trickling down the faces of those who live in the city. Summer also means going to the beach, and trying to avoid the jellyfish (kujira).

Fall is great because the heat and the humidity gradually decrease into the most comfortable zone of the whole year. The Cosmos flowers come into full bloom at the Higothai Koen and Kuju Hana Koen, and young couples flock to all of the makeout points around Aso. Also, areas that are densely packed with deciduous plants turn amazing colors (my favorite area during this time is Kikuchi Gorge). Towards the end of Fall it starts to get cold, and so the kotatsu table is dusted off and perpetually switched on.

Winter is very cold, but it means that I can go snowboarding again, and practice driving in the snow. During these cold months I cook things that are hot and warm the body from the inside out. This past winter I was able to tweak my nabe to new heigths of deliciousness, with new layers of flavor.

Spring means Hanami, and also means that I can return to wearing shorts and short sleeved shirts. This is my favorite time of year, because life returns to Aso. The insects pupate, hatch, and otherwise appear again, and so I pull out the flyswatter and keep the pesticide ready to put the hurt on any centipede unlucky enough to find its way into my home. The days last longer, and everyone is in a good mood and ready to enjoy the good weather.

The three flowers that mean spring to me in Kyushu would have to be sakura (cherry blossoms), daffodils, and nanohana (rapeseed flower). Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of nanohana, so you will just have to take my word for it- they are beautiful. The fields of nanohana are reminiscent of the fields of mustard back home, but the stalks are thicker and more of a luscious green, and the flowers are larger and make the yellow of the mustard look muted in comparison.

I don't consider myself a "plant person", and any plant that I have ever cared for in my house has died or come very close to it. However, seeing these vibrant flowers and feeling the change of the seasons has made me develop an interest in flowers. You can't know what I'm talking about unless you have experienced it, and my descriptions will probably sound overly sentimental. Well, maybe pictures will convey what my clumsy verbage can not.

The sakura is percieved by many as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life (if you have taken any classes on Japanese culture or even watched television programs on the Discovery Channel, specifically ones on Ukiyo-E, then this should sound familiar), but I just like to look at them and to sit underneath the sakura as they flutter down around me. These blossoms last only about 2 weeks, and many times strong winds and rains can expedite the process. If you are planning on coming to Japan, I would recommend coming during Hanami season if possible. Trust me, it's worth it.

Around the same time that the sakura come into full bloom (mankai), the nanohana and daffodils show off their yellow petals. I like this picture because the daffodils behind the barbed wire is symbolic. I don't know what exact symbol it is but trust me, there's some symbolism to be found here.

Driving in Japan is expensive, complicated, and sometimes frusturating. Following someone who is driving under the (already maddeningly slow) speed limit, cars pulling into the middle of fast moving lanes of traffic (almost) causing accidents, constant roadwork and the workers directing traffic with lightsabres, baffling driving etiquitte, traffic cameras, unmarked Highway Patrollers, and expensive toll roads are just some of the things that irritate me. However, I will gladly put up with these annoyances rather than spend my time trapped on the 405 or 101 during peak traffic hours.

I love driving here in Kumamoto, especially on the country roads. If you like watching WRC Championships (how is Ford doing better than the Citroen, Peugeot, Subaru, and Mitsubishi teams right now???) and playing Gran Turismo 3, then Kyushu is an excellent place to drive. If you are like me, then you need a car in order to commute to work and more importantly to keep your sanity. 103 yen/liter seems a small price to pay for the places that I have been able to explore thanks to my car.

If you are an American, and you spend more than one year in Japan, you must get a Japanese Driver's License in order to drive legally. Why do Canadians, Brits, and other gaijin get to simply have their licenses converted instead of taking a test like Americans? Well, I can understand that the British use the same traffic signs and drive on the wrong side of the road as well, but why Canadians (this has since been answered in the comments, although the answer did not make me feel any less self-righteous)? In any case, it doesn't look like the situation is going to change any time soon, so it's best to just get the license and forget the other bullshit.

Gaijin living in Kumamoto who have to get a license are very lucky. After researching online and talking with friends from different areas in Japan, it seems that most places feel obligated to fail a gaijin at least once despite performance, and to pass Japanese people on their third try even if they are unfit to drive. In Kumamoto, I know of two others who passed on their first try, which is pretty good. People who bitch about Kumamoto's driving test being "really hard" probably do so because they didn't do adequate research on the test, because they have trouble understanding what is expected of them when they are driving, and because they don't know how hard it is to pass the test in other areas of Japan.

However, taking the driving test anywhere in Japan is a pain in the ass because you need to do a lot of stuff before you even go to the center. You need to (aquire and) bring:

1. Your Passport
2. Your Gaijin card
3. Your Inkan
4. Some loot for taking the test, and some more loot for processing after you (hopefully) pass the test..
5. Your license from home along with
6. A translation of your licence from JAF
7. And if nowhere on your liscese says that you have been driving for over a year, you will need a form from the DMV that proves that you have and most likely another translation of this form by JAF.
8. 2 passport photos

In addition, I would also bring along any distractions such as friends, toys, books, homework, etc... You will have a lot of time to kill.

When you are scheduling an appointment, remember to be polite and try to speak in Japanese. If you can't speak Japanese, see if a friend can help you out, or ask for someone who speaks English. When I scheduled my test and went to the Center, there was a very helpful lady named Mrs. Matsumoto. She speaks English well, but appreciates it if you at least try and speak Japanese. Now that I think about it, at least trying to speak in someone else's language before resorting to English almost always brings a friendlier response from the locals along with the willingness to help someone out. Is this manipulating the ethnocentricity of others, or shedding your own? I think it's a little of both, but the bottom line is that it works.

The Written Test
I did too much preparation for this test. I bought a copy of Rules Of The Road from JAF, for 1,000 yen, and read it to prepare. I don't regret doing it because now I better understand the markings on the road and what some of the obscure signs mean.

There are 10 questions on this test and each is accompanied by a picture. If you miss a question on this test, then you should probably be to wearing a helmet at all times, regardless of the situation. It's that easy. For example, one question asks something like this:

"If a police officer is standing in the middle of an intersection in front of your car with his arms spread out horizontally you should:
a. pay attention to the signal only
b. drive past the police officer
c. wait until the police officer signals for you to proceed
d. drive over the police officer

Easy stuff. I'm going to recommend reading Rules Of The Road, or at least familiarizing yourself with the signs and markings, as it makes things a lot clearer.

The written test given in the morning along with an eye exam (if you fail this, you should not be driving), and the driving test is administered after lunch. There is a restaraunt downstairs, but the food is nothing special. During the lunch break period, you are allowed to walk the course. I walked it several times until I could recall where to go and what to do with no problem. Walking the course will help you to visualize what you need to do and where you need to do it.

The Driving Test
The driving test is a pain in the ass. There are no English speaking proctors that I know of, and if you get the same guy as I had he will not speak slowly or repeat anything. Just bank on being prepared and remember basic Japanese directions such as "turn", "right", "left", "go straight", etc... However, if you do everything below that I recommend, you will have a pretty good chance of passing on your first try.

Some Basic Tips
*Always drive on the left hand side of your lane, near the margin of the emergency lane or the curb. If you drive near the center meridian, you will lose points, unless you are making a right turn.
*Drive slowly at all times. If the proctor wants you to go faster he will tell you. If he tells you to slow down, you probably have lost some points.
*Always slow down at crosswalks and look all around for hazards.
*Check your mirrors frequently and make it obvious that you are checking your mirrors. Check your mirrors before you switch lanes, turn corners, or proceed after stopping at signals, stop signs, crosswalks, train crossings, etc...
*Check your blindspots as well whenever you check your mirrors.
*Signal 100 feet before you need to turn and again 20 feet before you turn
*Make sure you do not hit the curb. If you do hit the curb, put the car in reverse and carefully go back. You will not necessarily fail for running over a curb.
*Don't give up unless the proctor tells you explicitly that you failed and that you are to return to the docking station.

This is a diagram of the driving course at the Kumamoto Driving Center:

The red line indicates the course, and the numbers indicate specific tips for those specific waypoints. I took course 1, and so that is the one which I will be providing tips for. The course starts from the docking station on the bottom and runs clockwise, ending at the same birth in the docking station.

Advice Specific To Course Number One 1. Before you get in your car walk around it and inspect your vehicle. Look under the car (ostensibly to check if there is a young child or some other hazard lurking underneath). Also, it doesn't hurt to look both ways checkihg for traffic before stepping into the street and opening your door.Once inside your car do the following even if you don't need to: A. Buckle your seatbelt. B. Adjust your seat position C. Adjust your mirrors. D. Ask the proctor if you can turn on the ignition E. Make sure the car is in Park and fire it up. F. Make sure that there are no distractions (like the air conditioner on high, etc.) and that none of the malfunction lights are on. G. Put the car into gear, take off the parking break, and signal your departure.

2. Immediately get into the lane, remembering to stay close to the left hand side. Drive slowly and make a point of checking your mirrors and blindspots and look for any pedestrians that may be about to cross (it feels silly looking out for imaginary people, but this is better than having to come spend another full day so you can do it again).

3. Once you round this corner you will be about 100 feet away from your turn. Signal right, check your mirrors and blindspots, and then pull close to the center meridian to make your turn.

4.Signal again when you get 20 feet away and check your mirrors and blindspots again, and turn. I will now assume that you know to signal, check your blindspots, and check your mirrors before you make all of your turns.

5. This is the railroad crossing. Slowly approach it, and stop at the stop line. If you are driving manual, pop the emergency break. Roll down your window to listen for the train, look both ways, check your blindspots, and then slowly proceed. Do not roll your car back down the hill or you will lose points.

6. When approaching this intersection proceed slowly. There are concrete walls on these corners obstructing your view. Come to a complete stop at the intersection, check your mirrors and blindspots, and pull forward slowly to check for traffic. When you determine it is safe, proceed forward.

7.When approaching this intersection proceed slowly. There are concrete walls on these corners obstructing your view. Come to a complete stop at the intersection, check your mirrors and blindspots, and pull forward slowly to check for traffic. When you determine it is safe,pull out slowly and turn left. Signal right away because you are approaching your next turn.

8. Do your turning checks and turn left. Immediately signal for your next right hand turn.

9. This is the part that requires finesse. This road is really small, and the right angle turns will test your driving ability. Remember to drive slowly. As you approach the right turn, stay to the left, and wait until the last moment to cut right (but not too long!). This will ensure that your back tire clears the curb. Immediately get over to the right hand side, so that you can pull the same maneuver for the left turn. After the left turn, stay to the right again, and slowly approach the intersection. Do you turn checks, and drive out close to the center meridian before turning to avoid the last tricky corner.

10. This is an intersection with a traffic signal. Drive slowly and check your mirrors, blindspots, and look for any pedestrians. If the light turns yellow before you reach the crosswalk, you should probably stop, or hit the gas so that you make it through! If you choose to do the latter, let me know how it turns out.

11. The small curvy street is cake compared to #9. Once you turn right at the intersection there is a broken down car on the left side of the road. Check your mirrors and blindspots, signal right, drive around the car and immediately signal left as you check your mirror and blindspot (to the left) and cut over once it's safe. Do this slowly.

12. Here is a construction site. Treat it the same way as the broken down car in #11.

13. Turn into the causeway quickly, and remember to signal, etc. Head back for the same port from which you started.

14. Park within a foot of the left hand curb, put the car in park, engage the parking break, and shut down the ignition. And now its time for some more waiting!

After the test the proctor will tell you what you did wrong. In my case, I didn't drive to the left hand side of the lane enough, and he scolded me for being "abunai" (dangerous). After I showed the appropriate amount of (less than genuine) remorse, he told me that I passed. If you fail, you can go home after you schedule your next appointment. If you pass there will be an hour or two more until you are done.

The next step is taking a photo, forking over some more cash to make the license (I think I paid about 4-5,000 yen in all). For the amount of effort that you put into obtaining a liscense, it is really dissapointing. It's a piece of posterboard laminated on one side, and doesn't even have any holograms! But at least it brings peace of mind, knowing that you don't have to depend solely on being a foreigner to bail you out should you find yourself in a driving related incident involving the cops.

A little advice for those of you who are late getting your liscense converted
If you do not have a valid license (meaning that your International Drivers License has expired, or you don't have one), DO NOT drive to the driving center. If you fail, which you may, they might watch to see how you leave. Have someone drop you off, walk, take the bus, or do something else to get there and back. If not, you risk embarrasing yourself, your employer, and you might even get into serious trouble with the police.

When I was researching how to pass the test, I came upon a very useful site that provided good tips on how to pass the driving test in Japan at globalcompassion.com. It was very helpful to me, and as a form of payback I decided to write an entry similar to theirs, but tailored to Kumamoto. Their site is worth a look to supplement the information on this entry.

Many people contributed to this puddle of knowledge, and so I thank those of you who helped me out with this (Matt, Shige, Tsubasa, Mark, etc...). If this information helps you to pass the test, leave a message and let me know- I'd like to know about it. BTW, if you can think of anything that I have left out, let me know and I will add it to this entry. Good luck.

One last thing...
This entry deals with converting a foreign drivers license to a Japanese license only. If you don't have a foreign drivers license, then I'm sorry to inform you that your test is likely harder and more expensive. In this case, your best bet is to talk to Mrs. Matsumoto.

Comment Q and A:
hey Adam

just a visitor, passing by, but wanted to say thanks for the april 13 2004 post on driving test tips in kumamoto japan.

i do have one small question, in regard to that post... so do you signal twice? i don't get it. you say "signal 100 feet before you need to turn and again 20 feet before you turn"... so what youre saying is... signal - for a second - 100 feet before you need to turn - then turn it off - and again 20 feet before you turn?

very interesting, its new to me, the whole signalling twice thing, if in fact thats what youre suggesting.

two more questions came to mind. in the kumamoto driving test, was parallel parking required? ive never entirely mastered that. and about the course, so they give you the map before the test, but its not expected to be memorized is it? im just a bit concerned about how much of the proctor's commands ill understand... could you post a brief list of useful proctor-driving-commands to listen for.



I'm glad you found that post useful. As for your questions:

1. Yes, you signal 2 times, once 100 feet before you turn and during your turn (check how I wrote it again, because I don't remember the test so well right now). It's something that you won't do in real life, but they insist on you doing on the course.

2. Parallel parking- there was none when I took it. The closest thing to parallel parking was pulling the car up along the parking station where you start and finish the course. Take it slow, and it's a piece of cake.

3. It is best to remember the course, which is easy if you look at the map and walk through it a few times with map in hand. As for commands, they're pretty easy and go something like:
Ikimasu- go
yukkuri- slow
Migi o magatte- turn right
Hidari o magatte- turn left
Koko ni tomete- stop here

That's about the extent of what I remember. Another piece of advice- take along a dictionary and something to write with and on just in case.

10 Kaigi Haiku

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Last week I was insanely busy so I had no time to post anything, and now that I am free my internet connection at home is temporarily offline. As soon as I get my problems sorted out, I will resume posting regularly.

Today we had a long meeting with members from Hokubu Shogakko, Yamaga Shogakko, and Ubuyama Chugakko in attendance. This year, the 6th graders will be attending interschool lessons once a week for the whole day in the chugakko, as a new test program. Eventually, the plan is to unite all three schools in a new 1st though 8th grade facility, but the village is still deciding whether or not it is an economic viability.

The new program sounds like a progressive, daring idea on one hand (especially for classes other than English, which will have one or two teachers leading the class), and a waste of resources on the other. I will now be teaching about 30 kids with the help of 4 other teachers. Will having 5 teachers in an English class, with a 1 teacher/6 student ratio, help the students to develop an interest in English and foreign subject matter? Since only 2 of us use English in the classroom while the rest usually prefer to remain in a trance for the duration, I will try and spread around the responsibility of teaching and providing input and feedback to get everyone involved instead of contemplating Koan in their hiding places in the back of the room.

The meeting lasted 2 hours and I zoned out for most of it. The only thing that saved me was creating lesson plans, scratching out kanji, and practicing haiku. Needless to say, I created 2 good lesson plans to start off with and 10 haiku. Maybe the haiku will help to sketch the meeting as I experienced it.

An open forum Only two people talking Of fifteen of us

Last year's lesson plan
Drafted by a green teacher
Needs to be revised

Five teachers, one class
is this a good idea?
something tells me no

Asses getting sore
The creak of old folding chairs
Objection sustained!

Kocho looks at me
Our Ill Communication
The others stare down

Meiso, ima
tsumaranai meetingu
geijitsu tohii

Japanese mind fog
My brain is simmering down
And nothing is left

Mind crushing boredom
Caffeine not working for me
Must get out of here

"Blah blah ALT"
Spine unconsciously straightens
Relax, false alarm

Fallen sakura
Students fighting with blossoms
Seen though a window

It must have looked like I was paying attention and taking notes like everyone else. I was being productive, just not in the manner of anyone else in the room. If only they let me bring my computer to meetings I could play Mafia while they were talking about time allocation between subjects.

Japanese Fire Drill

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Today I woke up at 7:00, donned my blue firefighter uniform, stepped into my shiny black rainboots, and drilled until noon with all of the men of the Ubuyama Fire Brigade. As the token foreigner in the force, it is usually my job to hold my regiment's flag, and present it whenever the command "kiritsu!" is ordered, and retract it when "naode!" is yelled out, meaning that I push and pull the flag up and down quite a few times on these mornings. Today, they let me try simple drills with everyone else, as well as being flag monkey.

The orders are actually quite simple, as are the movements, however they are hard to learn at the same time when order after order is bellowed in quick succession. I observed and mimicked the others, but this was my first time doing these drills. After many mistakes, and asking the instructing officers from the elite Aso/Kuju Fire Department how to correctly perform the drills, it all came together pretty well. I felt humiliated for not knowing the slightest thing about marching drills, but not embarrassed.

Surprisingly, I was not the only one screwing up. You can probably blame it on a nice Saturday morning, and the fact that everyone was forced to give it up to drill over and over again, and many people were obviously hungover. The second in command could not figure out how to run and stop properly when moving from our regimental formation to the inspecting team, and so he was laughed at and drilled many more times than I was. Also, it was interesting to see that the Fire Department does not tolerate the use of strong Higoben (the oldschool Kumamoto accent). The regimental sub-leader summoned a strong "Iiyussha!" and was reprimanded several times after this for continuing to use this corruption of the word "Yosh(i)", meaning "A-OK".

What perplexes me about "Fire Brigade Practice" is that at no point is there any fire or fire drills. This time I didn't even get to watch the other firemen shoot the waterhose because today was devoted to marching and formation drills. I'm not sure what the average resident of Ubuyama feels, but personally I want the firefighters in my area to be trained professionals and wise old hands. That is, I want them to be specifically trained to deal with real life situations involving fire-based problems, and for performing other rescue operations such as but not limited to the use of the fire hose and water pump (remember, fire hydrants and cisterns are not cost effective or particularly useful in the deep country), various fire extinguishers, shovels, picks, rescue axes, fire (in case they need to make a fire line), fire retardants, ladders, ropes, climbing equipment, use of special suits and masks, educating the general public about fire avoidance and mitigation techniques, first aid and CPR, and being able to save cute little fluffy kittens and puppy dogs caught in all sorts of perilous situations. I don't particularly care if they march to the scene in a tight, professional formation in cadence, or if they can snap off a crisp salute. In fact, when that alarm bell rings, I want those guys to drop their instant ramen, quickly and carefully don their equipment, and haul ass over to the problem. I don't want them marching at double time, I want them to drive at three times the speed limit, obliterating any inanimate objects that dare to be in the path of the fire engine!

However, I am not complaining about the Fire Brigade. I am merely baffled and find myself asking many questions. Why don't they devote at least as much time to practice putting out fires as they do marching? Why do they want me on the squad just to hold the flag? Why do they want to award me with a Fire Cheif commemorative patch when I leave Ubuyama? Why are they going to take me to Okinawa for the second time in one year later this month? No, I am not complaining.

Wait, what? The Fire Brigade is paying for me to go to Okinawa again? That's right! On the last trip after hearing that diving was one of my hobbies, everyone decided to try it and they all immensely enjoyed themselves. And so this time, we're diving off of a boat close to one of Okinawa's smaller islands!

So what does a token gaijin learn when he is in the service of the Fire Brigade in the cho inaka? He learns how to march, he learns how to present the flag, but most of all, he learns about the best omiyage to buy from the other firemen on his trips to Okinawa.

April Foolishness

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Ah, UCSB: We partied at Del Playa, Sabado Tarde, Picasso, Anacapa, State Street, and too many other places to name. Long Island Iced Tea night, 5 gallons of hurricaine punch, a hundred jello shots, a fully stocked bar, runs to Trader Joes for cheap booze, riding Bills Bus and drinking from the Trolley on the way downtown, the 5 keg birthday bashes with the Sierra Nevada and Rolling Rock keg hidden in the back room. These were the telltale signs of epic nights and countless birthdays, of finishing your finals, of graduating, of any given weekend, or of a week where no one had any tests. Barbecues next to the beach in the rain, mud football (I wonder if we played with Jack Johnson, es posible, no?), and watching TV off of the scratched 5 inch screen and my VCR with no rewind. This was the time where quarters were more valuable than any other form of currency, when everything was shut down for the night in the dorms, when we bought 2 Wildbreads from Woodstocks instead of 1 large pizza to make those meager dollars and coins from under the couch cushions stretch. Ramen saved our asses on several occasions, and we learned to make chowmein and other variations on this versatile staple by frying the noodles. We staved off scurvy with lemon drops and lime and tequila shots. Adaptability was a way of life rather than an occasionally useful personality trait. Ah, "back in the day when I was young I'm not a kid anymore...".

Which brings me to the focus of this post: Having fun at the expense of our friends. There are many reasons why it is not a good idea to have any group of young men living together in close proximity for too long. The sink piles up with undone dishes providing a better growth medium for fungus and bacteria than an auger/blood medium, the trash becomes a giant game of Jenga, and the endless battle against Entropy is only fought when parents or prospective dates are brought home. Even the neat members of the group succumb to living as slobs, because it is just not fair that they should pick up after the other pigs in the house! The pigs are more than happy to let the pad degrade into a biohazardous dump because they resent being called pigs, are generally lazy, and find a sort of joy in watching the neat freaks suffer while trying to fight their Vietnam.

Eventually there comes a breaking point. Sometimes harsh words are exchanged and people storm out. Impromptu wrestling matches break out on the deeply stained, chunk-style (chunks being chips, pizza toppings, toe nails, and other various detritus), carpet that reeks of gallons of Red Dog beer. Conspiracies are formed and alliances shift around like dominos being washed (Domino Muthafucka!). And agression slowly builds, ever mounting higher and higher. Reasons? We don't need no stinkin' reasons! And so begins the cycle of vendetta.

The best plans are either the epic ones that take a lot of planning, or the flashes of inspiration that only hours of Warcraft/Starcraft/Counterstrike/Pirated Cable TV can bring. Enter my part-time job. One Christmas, I worked with my sister and her boyfriend doing a job with no general fitting description other than "miscellaneous". One of the charges of the job was packing gift baskets, and sending them off to people like Jerry Falwell and other people with horrifyingly bad taste in Chrismas presents. They buy this crap for aquaintances and people that you don't necessarily like but still have to give a token of recognition due to social pressures with money culled from the collection plates. Do they even try to justify their sacreligious spending of the Lord's money on frivolous baskets of decorated candy, or do they laugh frequently and heartily at all of the suckers? Anyhow, at the end of the season, we had two huge bags of styrafoam peanuts left over. I didn't know what I was going to do with these environmentally unfriendly curls of white death, but I knew that I needed them for something.

And then the perfect opportunity came: Chris' 21st birthday. Me and Brian painstakingly developed a plan to make sure that everything was in place. The door was locked during the party to keep out the roaming stranger kleptos and so I told Steve, who shared the room with Chris, that I needed something out of his room. Leaving him to tend the keg (the kleptos love to steal keg taps! we give them free beer, and they steal the hardware that allows everyone to get the beer out of the keg? go figure!) sneaked into their room with the foam and dumped it on the ground, covering up scattered cairns of textbooks, soiled laundry, nuggets of mystery, and computer parts. Next, we set up the box fan, creating a feathery blizzard. It was Art in motion, truly satisfying work.


Rebecca took pictures of our triumph, and we turned off the lights, locked the door, and got back to the festivities. Steve walked into his room and discovered the chaos soon afterwards. He was really pissed off but he also found humor in the situation, punching us with a big smile on his face. Chris, who arrived right after Steve, did not share the same sentiments. He was in a bad mood, and we didn't understand why. This was obviously some well deserved birthday hazing, and all in good fun, so we were relentless in making fun of him. This just added to his anger, instead of grudging laughter as we had expected.


No smile on this face. The girls were the first ones to spot that something was wrong, and the rest of us went on partying. However, we were forced by the girls to appologize and it was not accepted. This sucked: we just wanted to shock and annoy Chris and Steve, not to drive Chris into a rage on the night of his birthday. There was nothing to do but to give the man his space. We couldn't get into our rooms because Steve had locked our door which didn't have a key (payback of roughly the same magnitude as our joke), but this would not be a problem. We saw Chris come into the kitchen, grab the 5 gallon bottle of water, and then heard a resounding "BOOM!" as the hollow framed door buckled. The bastard had kicked down our door like Cochese, and was pouring water all over our matresses. He tossed the spent bottle to the floor, saying "O.K., now I forgive you.". Now although this was the equivalent of getting back at at someone by punching them in the face for talking smack, there was nothing to do but laugh in this situation. It was funny after all, it really was.


That night, I slept on the soggy slab of plywood that had held my bed off the floor. I slept pretty well, but woke up sore with a hangover, still laughing from the previous night's events.

For the remainder of our time in college, Chris remained bitter about the incident. It was "not funny". I think that he had always secretly thought that the incident was funny, but just didn't want to admit it out of pride. Then again, maybe not.

All of shit that we gave one another was given out of the desire to humiliate and to entertain, but also to share our own brand of love. Only good friends can be so cruel to eachother, and still be good friends after so long. These are among my fondest memories of college.


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This weekend was just what I needed. I took a roadtrip down to Miyazaki City for the Cheesy Disco Party with Mark and Joe Fingerhut to meet up with the usual suspects. To say that things got out of control would be an understatement, and there are many good stories from Saturday night, but I will limit myself to posting an email I got from Joe Debiec:

Dude, shit is natural.
Mine is toxic. God speed.
I am nasty. Please forgive
it was funny at the time,
but now I feel like crap...
no pun intended.

I will let you ponder the meaning of this email, and give you some pictures from Yabe in Southeast Kumamoto to look at while you're thinking.
This is Tsujyun bridge, famous for shooting sustained arches of water out of both sides, just above the apex of the stone arch. On the day we went, they had turned the water off...

They're pretty good at making things out of wood. I'm good at burning things, but unfortunately I didn't have any matches.

Musashi has two wooden swords, like one that you start out with in the very beginning of The Legend of Zelda.

Hey, watch where you point that thing!
This guy has a serious tanuki boner.

OK, back to the story. Admittance to the disco party was 2,500 yen, and it included unlimited drinks for the night, "a bargain!" I thought. We knew it was going to be "one of those nights" right away when we ordered our first round of screwdrivers. The girl behind the bar (calling her a bartender would be streching the truth a little too much) took out some plastic bottle vodka, mixed in some generic orange flavor beverage syrup, and added soda water. It tasted like orange flavored pediatric flourinated mouthwash with carbonation. Seeing as the only liquor available came in large plastic jugs (as do Popov, Lucky Charcoal Filter Vodka, and other forms of rubbing alcohol), I stuck with shochu and tea for the night and was content.

The night got pretty wild, and eventually we made it back by 5 in the morning. At 11:05 A.M., Joe D calls me up apologizing profusely, and I thought that it was just a joke. I was mistaken. After a nice breakfast and checking out "Ed from Miyazaki's" nice collection of vinyl, his Technics, and GTA Vice City, we finally got to my car. Sitting on top is a paper bag from McDonalds. Just as he said, he had done a bad job of wiping, and there were finger-smudged bits of feces on the edge of the bag. Inside was a full loaf, and spent napkins. This pile had been allowed to bake in the sun all day, and was so toxic that it left a small stain on the roof of my car. I didn't "Just drive off really fast..." so that "...it will fall off the back." as he suggested. I was shocked to hear Joe tell me that he had left a bag of his own shit on my car, but I wasn't really surprised. Ah, what a good weekend, even if I did have to deal some shit. The only thing is that I don't really know how to one-up him. I could always wipe some crap on his face when he is sleeping, like that guy does on CKY2K, but maybe I will just pee on him... My friends are a bunch of disgusting degenerates, heh.

Life In Transit

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This picture is how I have been feeling for the past two weeks. The weather has been improving and the buds on the sakura trees are about to bust open, but I am in a cloudy mood. There are beams of light piercing through the ominous layers, but they are in the background and overwhelmed at the moment. This week I have gone to too many graduations in Ubuyama. Monday was Ubuyama Chugakko, Wednesday was Yamaga Shogakko, and today was Ubuyama Hoikuen and Nambu Hoikuen.

To me Japanese graduations are about three things: tears, bows, and boring speeches (there are good speeches too, but these usually fall under the "tears" category). I stopped counting how many times I bowed, but 100 for this week seems like a good guess. Sometimes when I'm not thinking I look at the person's face to whom I am bowing, a vestigal habit from taking Tae Kwon Do when I was 5 (my Sensei explained that one should NEVER take their eyes off of their opponent at ANY time. now that man was truly a badass!) and sometimes I do the proper deep immersion eyes-cast-to-the-toes bow. I wish that they would just adopt the handshake to replace bowing at these events. It just seems silly to have each person giving a speech bow a minimum of 6 times, especially when others must also bow unless, of course, the flag is being bowed down to.It has been an ordeal, having to listen to the same speeches over and over by the same old men, and sit quietly watching and empathizing with the children who are trying their best not to fidget. I have used much of this time to meditate, leaving my body and mind on auto-bow mode.

As for the crying, I am just not used to seeing so many people- students, teachers, parents, and spectators both male and female- cry with such intensity and with no shame at expressing these feelings. I think its cool how they are so open to everyone on this special occasion, but I can't relate. Sure, graduations are sad but I was always overjoyed to be freed of the classes and homework with prospects of a summer spent at the beach in the immediate future. I have to admit, I got a little misty and had a couple of lumps in my throat as I heard the little girls trying to give speaches on how greatful they were to the teachers who they were leaving behind. I suppose this was a very gratifying experience for everyone, in a sad sort of way.

Almost all of my favorite teachers are leaving from Ubuyama in one fell swoop. One is going on pregnancy leave, one is moving to Saga-ken, and the rest have been transferred to different schools. I feel like I am being forced to repeat my senior year of high school, as all of my friends are going off to different colleges, but I am happy for the ones that didn't get shafted by the switch and sorry for the ones who did.

Also, this week is the last time that I got to chill at the separate hoikuens, with my separate groups of children and teachers. No lessons, just pure 100% playtime with the little ones, and long chats with the nursery school teachers (these teachers are not subject to switching. this is the most stable type of teaching job in Japan if one wants to work in the same place for a long period of time). No one seems especially happy about being joined into one hoikuen for the village, but it makes financial sense for them. Ubuyama hoikuen is to become more of a daycare service- some of the kids are going to be spending 6 out of 7 days there, for up to 12 hours a day! If you have kids, or have taught pre-school and kintergarten, then you know why this will 1. be rough on the teachers, and 2. not be the best situation for the children. But what do I, the token gaijin, know about anything? So I just watch and deal with it.

Some of my favorite children will be moving as well, but as much as I will miss them I am glad because they seem excited about moving (I think I would too). In a way, this is good because saying goodbye in July will be much easier. I'm pleased with my decision to not stay for a 3rd year in this village, as much as I love the children here. Its time to go, and this point continues to be driven home.

But things are looking better already. Perhaps some cool, talented teachers will replace my friends (but I can't imagine that they can fully measure up to these great teachers. it just doesn't seem possible right now). I know that I am going to have a blast in my classes in April, and have some new ideas that I want to try to get the students motivated. For now, its time to pack for a weekend in sunny Miyazaki. Finally I get to enjoy this great weather at the beach and forget about this week.


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Calling a bento a "lunch box" doesn't do it justice. It is a lunch box in the sense that sometimes it comes in the shape of a box (and sometimes not), it often has the picture of a cultural icon on the lid (My Little Pony, Ultra-man, He-Man, Hamutaro, and Mr. T. come immediately to mind), and it contains a lunch inside. However, lunch boxes are typically comparatively massive, rectangular in shape, and have a hinged door that clasps tightly shut by two levered latches, located next to the handle of the lunch box. Examples of typical contents found in a lunch boxes include a thermos (usually full of milk or soup), a sandwich, some vegetable sticks, a bag of chips or cookies, a box of juice, and a stick of string cheese. It is also interesting to note that most people stop using lunch boxes after leaving elementary school and switch to the brown paper bag as the vessel of choice for their midday meals. I fondly remember my lunch box, but its contents were always predictable and partly pre-packaged. Opening a bento is more of a mini-adventure.

If you are lucky there may be treasures under the lid of the bento bako, just waiting for you to uncover them at lunch time. Geisha Asobi has some interesting glimpses Japanese culture, including a link to some few highly stylized bento designs. As for a bento that emphasizes equality in form and function, I like these bento made by Mizuko Ito, who examines the question "Are bento an artistic form of motherly love, or are they just another oppresive tool used to shape Japanese society?". Anyhow, you may notice that these bento pictures have been snapped from a cellular phone camera (she also studies the effects that cellphones have on society- pretty interesting stuff), like the ones on Justin's moblog, or the smaller pictures that I was posting up until the demise of the camera on my D251.

This is diverging from the bento theme of this post but still related, in the sense that if your bento contained some undercooked meat or fish you might grow a 28 foot-long friend in your intestines.

Out Of The Loop

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The Japanese educational system is so frusterating sometimes. It seems that the head honchos on one side and the grunts on the other are working with very different agendas, completely seperated while working on the very same projects. They call the shots based on inferences, deductions, hypothesis, research, and other forms of information processing yet keep themselves pretty well insulated from the body of the operation.

You would think that they (the kencho, the kyoikuinkai, and the other people who call the shots) would want to get to know what the grunts on the frontline think of the decisions, kind of like an engineer physically examining the physical incarnation of their sketches and talking to the test pilots who come to know the capabilities of their aircraft based on intimate knowledge as well as study of the designs. It may be the engineer who designs the plane, but it's really the asses of the pilots and planes that are on the line should anything go wrong. You would think that these people would know how valuable direct input from the teachers, who know their classes and the materials and their plans better than anyone else, really is because these same people were probably also teachers before they got appointed to their lofty positions. With great powers come great responsibility, you would think...

See, that's where you're wrong. They don't seem to care what you think. Independent thinking and any form of dissent is discouraged among the same peer groups and especially from those belonging to the lower castes, even if it may be painfully clear that a change would be greatly beneficial. The nerves may scream out in pain from being cut and rubbed in salt and lime juice, but the synapses are being jammed, the attention is directed elsewhere.

To be fair, sometimes they get things right. Sometimes they implement good, well thought out policies that work really well. Sometimes. But wouldn't it be better if they could do it faster, more efficiently, and more democratically? Keeping things the same may be orderly and produce consistent results, but how many of us would prefer a perfect McClone cheeseburger over a Fatburger (they taste a bit different at the different locations and depending on who is making them, especially when you order them with more toppings and condiments)?

The words above could be in used a myriad of contexts, by many people that you know, and probably by you too. I just wonder if any of the people who are in positions of greater power and responsibility used to feel this way, and if they still do. Have there been any significant changes recently in the infrastructure of the Japanese educational system, and will it eventually change for the better any time in the foreseeable future? I truly hope so, but I have my doubts.


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A unwilling visit to the Monterey branch of the Bubba Gump Shrimp franchise.

Memories Of Little Saigon

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Visiting Little Saigon, unlike other designated ethnic areas, gives me the feeling that I'm in a place that lives up to its namesake. Short of a trip to the real Saigon, it is as authentic an experience that you will ever get, smack in the middle of the O.C.. It's an island made up mostly of people with black hair and brown eyes and names like Nguyen, Pham, Trung and Minh (and some guy named Dr. Phouck) within the homogenous racial mix of Southern California. You know this place is legit Southeast Asia style, as 90% of the cars in Little Saigon have, at the very least, one obvious dent or scratch. If you're looking for cheap imported goods, look no further than the Asian Garden Mall, full of all sorts of strange smells, cheap knockoffs, and stuff you can't find anywhere else. When you walk in a Vietnamese supermarket, you can see black patches where the linoleum has peeled off. If you order a catfish from the tank, the butcher will grab one by the tail and smash its head into the concrete, wrapping its still quivering body (now that's a fresh piece of fish!) in a pink sheet of butcher paper. And it smells of Southeast Asia: lychee, rotting detritus, urine, etc...

But the main reason to go to L.S. is for the food, namely the Pho Restaraunts.
For all of you wondering what type of sauce is in the green capped bottle in front of Justin, that is called Shiracha and is arguably as versatile a condiment as ketchup is. Now look at the bowl in the bottom of the frame. This is the infamous bowl of Pho (no. 10), the prime suspect for causing my bout of projectile vomiting and diarrhea on Christmas Eve. However, I like the pho so much that I plan on eating it again on my next visit. After all, whats a little projectile vomit and diarrhea now and again. A fair trade-off for eating great food, I say.

Pho is not a complicated dish, and that's one of the reasons why it tastes so good. Its a simple rice noodle soup with a light beef broth, some meat, and assorted vegetables and herbs. I have eaten pho in Japan, Santa Barbara, Seattle, and other random places, but the best pho I have eaten so far is in Little Saigon.

Pho should be eaten with an order of cha gio and a glass full Vietnamese style iced coffee.
chagiao.jpg If your cha gio arrive cold, with old vegetables and no fish sauce, you should be very worried. If they come still sputtering out steam with ample freshly washed vegetables and a bowl full of fish sauce, be prepared to cry (from burning your tongue AND from the sublime flavors that your olfactory system will eventually register after the pain fades away).

The egg rolls above are known as cha gio. The filling is usually seasoned pork and rice vermicelli. They taste great by themselves, but the taste awesome if you wrap them in a fresh leaf of lettuce, along with some Vietnamese pickled daikon and carrot slices, and dip them in the nuoc mam (badass stinky fish sauce- don't be scared!). Eat them right when they come out of the frier if possible, when they are still capable of causing third degree burns. Bite off a piece and use the lettuce to shield your tongue from the intense heat as you inhale and exhale rapidly in an attempt to cool down the morsel. Trust me on this. A Vietnamese meal would not be complete without a cup of Vietnamese coffee. The coffee comes dripping from a cheap metal aparatus, into a small mug holding a generous amount of condensed milk. By the time you are half-way finished with your meal, the coffee should be completely filtered and ready to pour into the ice-filled cup.. I love this coffee because it is as thick as a cappuccino, and creamy and sweet due to the condensed milk. Iced coffee is the only way to go, and the caffeine counter-balances the urge to siesta.

There are many other mysterious, often delicious foods to be eaten in Little Saigon. The sandwitches are cheap and kick major ass (picture a sub sandwitch with butter, pate, roasted pork, vietnamese pickled vegetables, jalapenos, and lettuce), the deserts look like they were taken from the set of Star Trek, and their take on French cuisine is truly refreshing.

So if you do end up coming to Orange County, don't wuss out and go to El Torito, Applebees, or P.F. Chang's after spending all of your time and money at Disneyland. Go to the beach instead and after that get your ass down to Little Saigon, experience an adrenaline rush from almost getting into an accident, and enjoy some truly interesting and delicious food!

As for pronouncing Vietnamese words, good luck. I just point at the pictures in the menu and ask for things politely in English. This may be unfounded, but I get the feeling that these dudes are more likely to spit in your food if they think that you are a prick. At least they're not sneaky about it, like the clowns over at El Torrito.

Jump Picture Start

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A jump in front of Kaimon-dake, Kagoshima. Props to Kaori Tanaka, the photographer.

Taking good jump pictures requires a few things including but not limited to a steady hand, good timing, interesting locations, and a willing partner or group. The jumper must be willing to jump off of whatever will make the picture look its best. The photographer should be ready to place themselves in the location which provides the best angle to shoot from, framing a shot so that the captured environment will complement the jump. Both of these roles can be dangerous, and in the case of the photographer the danger may come from the jumper smashing into them. The photographer and jumper should change roles occasionally, depending on whose turn it is.

A few years back, I took part in a collaborative project with Justin, Sayaka, and Taro in taking various jump pictures. On our Kyushu roadtrip we stopped at various scenic areas and shot up countless rolls of film, a good portion of which involved us jumping. We jumped off of high places, took running jumps, flip jumps, jumped into things, onto things, etc... Some of the jumps were foolish to try and invited injury, but taking chances is how one takes part in greatness.

So now I think I will try and revive the project, maybe make it an interblog project with Justin and possibly Taro (if he should ever start writing again). Of course feel free to send in your own jump pics, and I will post any good ones that I see. Just don't cry to me if you hurt yourself or someone else in pursuit of a jump picture. That's just part of the price for such high-stakes photography.


Hifuri Asobi

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Me playing with fire. Picture courtesy of Ben Colbridge.

This is the last picture that I will post, for now. I can not stress how much I love this particular festival. For those interested in participating, it takes place every year in mid March (at Aso Shrine, located in Japan, Kumamoto-ken, Aso-gun, Ichinomiya-machi). Though not as dangerous as some of the more famous matsuris, such as the one where a hundred people ride a huge log down a hill (people get crushed under the log) or the festivals in which massive floats are carried or pulled through busy streets lined with spectators (even more people get crushed to death by crashes and trampling) or drunken horse festivals where you can get kicked in the face (death by severe head wounds or other internal injuries), the fire swinging festival feels very dangerous in comparison.

Everyone is a pyro at heart, except for those with unfortunate phobias dealing with fire. We all love to play with fire. Fireworks, flammable liquids, matches, barbecues, campfires, blowtorches, the kitchen stove, the bunsen burner in Chem. We have all melted action figures and Barbie dolls, disposed of incriminating report cards, exterminated pesky insects, shot bottle rockets at dear friends, watched meat sizzle on the grill, and just stared into the flames in a hypnotized state. These are no less fun experiences than the fire festival, but a religious ceremony that invites anyone to take part in such a wild and seemingly dangerous activity makes the experience more profound. Hell, if there was fire swinging after Mass, I would probably go to church occasionally with my Catholic friends.

27 Views Of Jigoku

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The hissing swoosh, the flaming orbit of a fiery body in motion. Yes, that sillhouetted object in the background, just under the flame, is someone's leg.

The booming thunder of Taiko drums. Unorganized, erratic swinging of massive fireballs, participation available to all who dare enter the fiery grounds of hell. Orange flames gnawing free of their tethers of smouldering rope, smashing into people, to whom I am telling stories of this very same scenario from last year to, at this very moment. Smoke in the eyes, and stepping in piles of combusting combustibles. Braving all of this to take pictures. Me and my friends and many more strangers in a strange land. More to follow...

English Engrish

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I saw this and I pictured James Bond looking at the Man with the Golden Gun as he says "Bond, I'm gonna bust a cap in yo' ass, Cracka! Any last words?", with the Golden Barrel pointed steadily in the middle of Bond's head. Bond chews on some grape flavored Bubblicious, blows a huge bubble, pops it, and repeats. The Man, in an uncharacteristic display of emotion, shows his anger and disgust by hastily cocking the Golden Hammer. With a smile on his face, Bond spits the gum out into his thumb and forefinger, and sticks the purple wad into the glinting barrel. The man is so completely and utterly shocked that he merely stares while this is happening, with his jaw dropped in disbelief that the Golden Gun could be violated in such a casual and sacreligious manner.

As you can see, these words on a simple can of "gum" put a really bizarre picture into my head, and it its not even a Japanese product. Holt's is a British company. Ah, those crazy Brits! To us Americans, "Lorry" is a girl's name , a boot is something that a cowboy wears instead of a shoe, and "I'm dying to smoke a fag!" has an entirely different meaning. Also, for the record, a windshield is the window that shields the occupants of a vehicle from the wind. If it was a real windscreen (a screen, such as is used to keep insects from passing through an open window), it would allow the wind and rain and anything small enough to pass through the small holes to smack everyone in the face. While this screen would filter out most insects, the momentum of their impact would pulverize and scatter their dismembered body parts all over everyone.

So back to the picture at the top; what is this product from the U.K.?

The Answer.
Hint: it is not what James Bond uses to patch up the silencer on his Walther P.P.K. after he uses it to deflect a laser beam.

Sad News...

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It seems that 3 of my relatives of whom I have never heard of before, a Mr. Douglas Yoshida and family (of my country), have passed away in a car accident far off in Nigeria. I was contacted by a "barrister" (that's foreigner English for "lawyer", for all of us proper English-speaking Americans) who is most likely a partner of a certain Mr. Ahmed Saleh. This is clearly the work of fate, as I have recently been working on a genealogy project with the rest of my family in order to find out more about my roots.

Dear Yoshida,

I am Barrister FUNMI FOLORUNSO,a solicitor at law.I am the personal attorney to Mr Douglas Yoshida,national of your country, who used to work with a National Petroleum company (NPC)in Nigeria.Here in after shall be referred to as my client.On the 21st of April 2000,my lient, his wife and their only daughter were involved in a car accident along sagbama express road.

All occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost there lives. Since then I have made several enquiries to your embassy here to locate any of my clients extended relatives,this has also proved unsuccessful.After these several unsuccessful attempts,I decided to track his last name over the Internet,to locate any member of his family hence I contacted you.

I have contacted you to assist in repartrating the fund valued at US$13 million Left behind by my client before it gets Confisicated or declared unserviceable by the Security Finance Firm where this huge amount were deposited. The said Security Finance company has issued me a notice to provide the next of kin or have the account confisicated within the next fourteen official working days.

For the fact that I have been unsuccesfull in locating the relatives for over 3 years now, I seek the consent to present you as the next of kin to the deceased,since you have the same last name with my client, so that the proceeds of this account can be paid to you. Therefore, on receipt of your positive response, we shall then discuss the sharing ratio and modalities for transfer.

I have all necessary information and legal documents needed to back you up for claim. All I require from you is your honest cooperation to enable us see this transaction through.I guarantee that this will be executed under legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of the law.

Please get in touch with me through this email: [excelchambers8@yahoo.com]or through my direct telephone number 234-1-474-1584 as for more tails.

Best regards,

DIRECT TEL: 234-1-474-1584

Hmmmm... Thats a lot of money. I feel so special to have been picked by Mr. Folorunso over my parents and kin.

On a serious note, the way that "Mr. Folorunso" (the official looking website is a nice touch, but a strong reminder that the internet is a dubious source of information and. Research that cites internet sources should always be double-checked at the very least to verify its validity.

This Nigerian scam is pretty low. Although fictional, I feel an inexplicable sense of loss for Mr. D. Yoshida and family, even though they died almost 4 years ago and also because I have never heard of them until today. I wonder if the D. Yoshida he speaks of is from the U.S. or Japan...

A Month Of Fire

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In Aso, the whole month of March is dedicated to celebrating fire in various ways. It is a traditional practice to light one's field, full of the dried out stalks and chaff left over from last year's harvest, on fire. This not only provides entertainment, but it also looks cool and serves to fertilize the earth.

Well, if you have never been to Aso, then you have never seen the tall, super-fast growing ocean of grass that ripples in the summer breeze. This grass, aside from bamboo, is the fastest growing grass that I know of. Once late Spring rolls around, the farmers will let their cows loose in the stuff, and they don't have to worry about feeding them after that point. In the Fall, the tractors will come out and harvest great wheels of dried grass, much like hay is harvested in other rural areas for fodder. Despite all of this consumption, much grass is left untouched.

A typical hill in Ubuyama-mura, covered in lots of dry grass.

So now comes the fire part. In order to clear way for the new grass, massive areas of grassland are set ablaze every year. From a distance, you can see a great swath of bright orange flames consuming the dried grass, climbing up the mountain with surprising speed. Much ash has been falling from the smoky skies as of late.

A couple of weekends ago in Aso town, there was a famous fire festival where they burned huge kanji into the mountain at night time. I wasn't there because I went to Kuju instead, and I am glad. People who went told me that the cold sapped all of the fun out of the experience. However, the best festival is coming up: the fire swinging festival is tomorrow. Last year, I saw what appeared to be a man being immolated by flames unintentionally, as a fireball that had burned through the straw rope tether shot towards him as if by the hands of Ryu. The burning mass of straw exploded on his mid-section and swirled around him, but he was unhurt. So of course this year I will once again brave this crazy spectacle and try and take some good pictures of people swinging fire around without any regard for anyone else's safety. If you are ever in Kumamoto during mid-March, this festival is not to be missed at any cost!

White Day

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Today, and every other March 14th, is White Day. On White Day, Japanese guys traditionally give cookies to women who they like, or who hooked them up with chocolate on Valentines Day. That's right, over here Valentines Day is the day where the ladies make romantic plans and give presents and sweets to the guys.

Where did White Day come from? I have no idea whatsoever, but I do know that you can't go into a convenience store without seeing a huge display with cookies, chocolates, and assorted gifts for this peculiar holiday. I kinda like the idea of mutually exclusive holidays based on gender, because it encourages reciprocation. Let's face it, although girls do nice things for guys on V-day, the bulk of the expectations lie on the dude.

I was pleased to see that some momentum has been building behind setting up an American version of White Day. Its ironic that this time it is a Japanese idea that has been improved on by Americans instead of vice versa. The Japanese may build more reliable cars and electronics, but surely they would even approve of this.

Yet More News Of Spam

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The largest Spam musubi in world history will be rolled in Hawaii later this April. Apparently, the Spam Jam restaraunt has successfully branched out into an official chain. It's now only a matter of time before it arrives in the continental U.S., and it becomes another trendy "ethnic food". Now is probably a good time to buy stock in Hormel.

All of this recent talk and news of spam has made me decide to pop open the one can that I have in reserve next week to make kimchee and mayonaisse spam musubi. Ah, good food puts me in the best moods. I think that most people really like food, but I'm beginning to suspect that I like food more than most people do...

Other favorite highly processed meat-based products:

Farmer John's sausages (in both link and patty form)- It is mandatory to use the sausages to scrape up the yolk of a busted sunnyside up egg, picking up some of the fried egg whites on their way into your mouth. Tastes even better when you add the crunch of hot, buttered toast to the mouthful of goodness.

Bologna and bologna-like cold cuts except for head cheese or any other loaf in the "just plain nasty" category (like this for example)- fried with eggs and served on a steaming pile of rice (with gravy sounds awesome- yet to be attempted, but sure to be delicious).

Hot dogs- preferably grilled over a bonfire while listening to oldies and watching the sun set with family and friends in Huntington Beach. Necessary condiments include ketchup, mustard, sauerkraut, sweet relish, cheddar cheese, and scalding hot chili. And what the hell, a little sand adds to the sentimental flavor.

Costco hot dogs- this gets its own listing because Costco hotdogs (traditionally Hebrew National, but also some other kosher brand called something like Sinai hotdogs or Westbank wieners or something) come with a refillable cup- something that is really special to one who has been living in Japan for so long- and also because it was often the last course that we ate when we had college brunch of free samples on Saturday afternoons in college. Yes, one of the secrets of streching that all mighty buck when eating out was taking advantage of free condiments, particularly those which were unsupervised and offered inexhaustible supplies. Take note, young ones.

Braunschweiger- its not only delicious, but its also just plain fun to say! I think that the only way to eat this is on hot toast. This is one of the very few liver dishes that I enjoy eating. The only other liver that I like is horse liver- when served extremely fresh and cold, with some sesame oil and shoyu, it is one of the more surprisingly good types of sashimi that I have yet encountered.

BTW, you can look up all of the meat products that I have listed on this page, if you are interested in seeing what they are made of. I took a good, long look at how much fat and sodium all of them contain, and I can't really say that it had any effect on my appetite whatsoever. I will continue to eat beef despite BSE (although not American as of late), and I will continue to eat poultry products despite the avian flu situation (cooking it makes it safe, or so I am hoping). Making bad choices despite being informed. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but it won't make any difference unless you ACT upon it. Time for a big fat bologna sandwitch!

In The Bathroom Of Isla Vista

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It doesn't happen often but once in a great long while, I swear that I'm still living in good ol' Isla Vista. Not necessarily one place in particular (D.P., Picasso, or Sabado Tarde) but rather, a composite of all of the places together. Other experiences have taken me back as well. Like when a really drunk acquaintance did a cannonball onto the hood of a car, scaring a woman nearly to death in front of a busy street(the Shimatori) that had, until that point, been buzzing the lively conversations of the nightlife. Or almost getting into a fight with an old man that looked like Bilbo Baggins with each arm around a prostitute (he-the old white guy- said they-the two high school-aged 100% Japanese girls- were his daughters... we begged to differ and vocalized this), after he made derogatory remarks about Yanks while pushing his way through a group of 5 inebriated Americans.

But I seem to have a strange connection with shady bathrooms (not restrooms, keep in mind, but rooms which happen to have baths in them). When I moved in to my current residence, there was much wrong with the plumbing and the tile was stained with strange growth (kinda like the Picasso apartment with the Shiitake mushroom growing out of the shower) and rich with the smells of death and decay. Also, the tile was cracked in many places (the result of an earthquake a few years prior). Well, I cleaned the place up, bleaching the evil away, but my bathroom has given me no end of troubles. The bath is large enough to fit two full-sized Sumo wrestlers, the hot water runs out on really cold nights (boiling water to take a "shower" really, really sucks!), and I need to use a heater to keep from catching pneumonia after I get out.

Last month I heard a great crash, and walked in only to see this:
I had to laugh. I knew that it probably happened because some trapped water that rested between the concrete and the tile froze and expanded, destroying the bond of the adhesive in the process. But that was no help at all, merely a boring footnote. It was one of THOSE moments. Its not that this was a big deal, as it was really easy to clean up, but it just brought back memories of bad luck (that in retrospect, was often the result of bad judgement). After shooting this picture, what else could I do but pop open a Sam Adams (a very rare beer in Kumamoto, or for that matter, everywhere in Kyushu except for the Costco in Fukuoka) lay down on the sofa, and watch reruns of the Simpsons which I had already seen at least 10 times before...

Wild Rice

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Ah, taking pictures of ridiculous vehicles in Japan (or fashion, or English usage, or... well, you get the point...) is like shooting fish in a barrel with a 12 gauge, however, I like these animobiles. I kind of wish that they had huge wings protruding from their backs.

In Oita-ken, they have an African Safari amusement park, where you can sit behind caged panels in one of these busses watching bored lions sleeping, and various Pavlovian-trained African animals feeding from strategically placed troughs. You can also get your picture with a baby lion, which will surely contribute to the impossibility of it ever being considered to reintroduced into the wild due to desesitization. It may, however, have an opportunity to move in with Seigfreid and Roy.

Those who incite their wrath will tremble under the collective gaze of the Animobiles.

rhinomobile.jpg suigyumobile.jpg
toramobile.jpg zousanmobile.jpg
If there ever comes a time where I have to make a choice, I will choose the Rhinomobile to destroy all challengers in demolition derby.


These animal-plants, sitting along the side of the Yamanami in Ubuyama, remind me of the work of Edward Scissorhands. They sit alone, with a small shack to the right, a pen full of mangy deer to the left, and the Aso mountain range in the distance. I have no idea if the person who maintains these sells them, or if they are just someone's privately owned topiary garden.

I thought this (what do you call these things? I'll just use the word...) sculpture was pretty skillfully trimmed. I want to come back here on a night when the full moon is out and take more pictures.

Though these deer are not the primest of specimens, at least they're not as dirty or mean as the deer in Nara. They are most definetely not afraid of people because just like in Nara, people buy bags of sembei (rice crackers, that are sold for 100 yen) to feed them.

Dunno why, but visiting this crappy petting zoo made me want to eat venison. I think its because I know that the small pen that these deer are kept in has probably made their flesh nice and tender...

Jelly-Coated Meatloaf

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Heh, a restaraunt that specializes in Spam based dishes opened in the Phillipines last year and is doing some kick-ass business. I wonder how my fellow Japanese living in Kumamoto would react to Spam musubi... I think that I will sneak some thinly sliced slabs of Spam in to my next enkai (drinking party) and change them out with the basashi. I am willing to bet that small browned slices of Spam will taste pretty good when coupled with onions that are cut paper-thin, a leaf of shiso, and some thick shoyu.

Why is spam so reviled in the continental U.S. and so celebrated by Asians? I wonder what Europeans make of spam- do Norwegians celebrate spam like their Viking forefathers did? In any case, the reason why I don't eat spam on a regular basis isn't because I don't like it. I just think the price of spam is a bit too high, and I only like to eat a little spam at a time. One thing that really creeps me out about spam, though, is the jelly that helps the loaf to ooze out of the can- watching the loaf work its way out of the canal somehow brings to mind nature documentary footage of wild animals giving birth. After that, I cannot help but feeling a little bit like Kronos eating his young Titan children.

This Weekend's Drive Pictures

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"You live where? How many people live in your village? What do you do out there?": These are the three questions that people always seem to ask when they first meet me. The answers are:

1. Ubuyama
2. Under 2000 people and falling
3. Many things, but I really enjoy driving.

Here are a few pics that I shot over the weekend while driving. The views around here are spectacular and the variety of driving conditions and roads are as varied as you can get.

This is a picture I shot on the Yamanami highway (also known as the 11) on my way down to Ichinomiya. This road has great views from the top of the caldera and snakes through the gentle rolling hills of Ubuyama, eventually taking you through Kokonoe, Kuju, Yufuin, and eventually Beppu.

A full moon rises among clouds scattered in the twilight. This was taken in Ichinomiya from the beginning of the Yamanami (it starts from the 57, near Aso shrine). I was late meeting a friend, otherwise I would have stopped to take some pictures of the beautiful night sky.

Ah, last night was one time where I was more than happy to drive well below the posted speed limit. I even turned the radar detector off for once. Why is it still snowing in March? I dunno, but it gave me a chance to use the chains that I bought at Autobacs (yes, Autobacs is a Japanese company). It was pitch-black when I started climbing the mountain road into Kuju and pulled off to the side, of the road. I had to work in a blizzard using the light on my cellphone to see what I was doing. I drove through the raging tempest on a road that was fully covered with snow, and didn't see one car for 45 minutes straight. The snow was so deep that mine were the only tracks visible on the road. The winds whipped the snow into dancing mini-hurricaines, and swishing around in snake-like movements. The snow seemed to move like a composite of tumbling sands and rising steam, riding the strong currents on the ground.

There's something really exhilarating about entrusting your safety to something which has time and time again pulled through for you whenever you needed it to. When all ends well, after you take that long relieved sigh, it was really worth it (but if all goes to hell, then your mood will probably turn sour and humiliation is likely to handed out in liberal portions). Last night, I strapped on my chains, and decided to meet up with everybody because had enough confidence in my car to see me through safely to the other side of the mountain. Driving was surreal. I can honestly say that I had a blast driving through those extreme conditions. On top of that, I had a blast playing drinking games inside a warm cabin on a cold and stormy night.

If it keeps on snowing, then I think I might take my snowboard up to Kuju pass next weekend! But I hope the weather gets warmer, because its hard to type when your fingers are stiff and numb.

Your New Favorite Character

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Dude, you know this shit is dope! Pooper has a one man show, and you couldn't look away even if you wanted to. I think that the word "poop" is not used enough in the right context. "Pooper scooper" just sounds lame, but when a little guy named "Pooper" is cheerfully flippin' the bird while getting a piggyback ride (from a bigger Pooper) it not only makes sense- it was Destiny.

On a side note, look at how baby Pooper has his head turned way over to the left, while he is extending his backhand way out to the right. If you try to do this, you will notice how hard it is to adequately present the middle finger clearly without straining. Clearly, the kid is talented.
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Look at how this picture is framed. Widescreen, just like a movie. Brings Resevoir Dogs to mind for some reason. Notice that although the Pooper who is about to be executed is keeping his cool, and the bead of sweat rolling down his "Simpson yellow" forehead is the only indication of his true mental state. Or maybe Poopers are always happy no matter what, and under their omnipresent state of happiness are other layers of emotion. Maybe its just a hot day. Even though one of them is about to execute the other they both look like they are having a good time, and isn't that what its really all about?

Pooper looks like Qoo, but Pooper is a bad muthafucka (thanks to C. B.'s Hasty Musings) and Qoo is merely the mascot of a tasty line of beverages in Japan. Other pictures include a WWF/Mad Max king of the ring where they are all Mortal Kombatting eachother, Pooper taking a poop, Pooperette letting out a noxious fart cloud, and many more with Pooper giving the finger. The act of giving the finger, much like the act of exacting revenge, is best done with a smile on one's face. It makes the experience that much more satisfying, and adds insult to injury.

Aeon Flux: The Movie!

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(Credit: http://zed.9hells.org)

About ten years ago Anime was not really mainstream, at least not to the degree that it is today. I mean, we had a bunch of good dubbed imports but American animation had nothing really to compete with Japanese Anime, in terms of excitement, raw energy, and coolness. Except for Aeon Flux, that is. Aeon Flux was kinda noir-ish, and kinda cyberpunk: a future dystopia with lots of action and a fast paced story. I remember that I had to stay up late past my bedtime to watch this series on Liquid TV, abut the consequenses of getting in trouble were well worth it. Now, it seems that the movie is finally going to happen! And its not gonna be starring Angelina Jolie, either (that would have been my prediction). If the movie successfully interprets the cartoon, then this is gonna be one badass flick.

Read more about whats going on here.

Yufuin Car Museum

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The Yufuin Car Museum is in bad shape. If you look closely at the mural, you can make out areas where the wallpaper glue has decomposed. Also, this room is so small, that it is impossible to take a good photo that shows off the whole car. I'm sure that it must've looked much better 30 years ago...

I want to see how people react to hearing me say that "I drive a midget".

A powered tricycle- this is a direct ancestor of the modern tuk-tuk.

You can't really tell in this picture, but the black mechanic has a huge smile on his face. Why? I can only guess that he is much happier to be working on a Model T than in the cotton fields (who was the Japanese guy who thought up this display? Thats what happens when people grow up with images of Sambo etched into their memories.).

I think that the old Mazda logo is pretty cool, and predict that someone will see this pic and create a kit for Miatas and RX-7s (dunno if it would look as good on an RX-8).

I'll just let the picture speak for itself. Feel free to write a caption...

All of the cars in the Yufuin Car Museum are in sorry shape, cramped together, and are poorly lit. This was actually a GOOD idea for an underfunded museum, as the low light, and the cars being placed RIGHT next to each other hide the blemishes much like the ugly in bars and nightclubs is hidden by low lighting and the crowd (especially after a few drinks...). Surprisingly, they had many rare cars and some of them, after a LOT of work, have the potential to be real gems. I think it would be great if the museum sold its cars to a museum with a lot of money, so that these cars can receive the restoration and maintenance that they deserve.

Holy Water

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Every once in a while, I take a picture that I really like. This one was taken at a lake in Yufuin (in Oita-ken), and I had to venture out into the water to get it.

I really like the shrines that are built in or around water in its various forms. They seem more powerful, or at least more interesting. This one made me wonder: did they drain the lake in order to set the concrete columns in place and then fill it back up, or did they build it and then create the lake, or did they just sink in the columns pre-fabricated? Of course, it would be cool if it just magically appeared from the void or if it was built by supernatural beings, but if this were the case, I would hope that they would use more exotic building materials, like an all knowing oracular slab of midnight blue sapphire that could only be awakened by the one who was foretold of by the prophecy, or a rock that would be indistinguishable from ordinary concrete, that if touched would instantly cause its victim to be disintegrated, transomgrafied, or transported to a different dimension.

Come Again?

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This sign lacks the standard misspelled words and strange grammar, but somehow it is still distinctly Japanese

Oh, how I was dying to go into this ramen-ya and mime my way through every interaction with anyone in my sphere of influence. I remember finding this same sign 4 years prior when on an epic roadtrip with Justin, Taro, and Sayaka, except this time we (Natchan and Pitia, visiting from Nara) decided to eat here. The tonkotsu was dissapointing- the broth had no soul, the noodles were limp, and the pork was too fatty. This was the type of ramen that you wouldn't even feel like making slurping noises with, because it just wouldn't seem fitting to draw any attention it.

Beppu, as a place, is kind of a dissapointment for me. They have no great specialty foods like Kumamoto and aside from the jigokus (hot springs, litteral translation is "hell" supposedly because the steaming strange colored pools matched descriptions of the hells depicted in Buddhist scriptures), onsens, and the sex museum (worth a visit to see Snow White and the 7 Dwarves: the XXX version) there are few places of interest. Despite this, I have had a great time here on both times I have visited, but this was due to the company rather than the setting, as is usually the case.

We had a good time visiting Yufuin, taking pictures, resting in the sand baths, eating sushi from the conveyor belt (stay away from the sea centipede, nato/quail egg combo, and the yellow egg sushi- trust me on this), and finding places of interest in and around Beppu.

If you are planning to come to Kyushu one day, let me give you some advice: There are many more interesting and worthwhile places for to spend your time and money instead of Beppu. Most people come either to see the jigokus or to visit the onsens. I admit, the Jigokus are kind of interesting, but I don't see how anyone can burn a whole day looking at boiling hot pools of interestingly colored mineral water, and the cheesy, poorly maintained decorations that seem to detract rather than complement them. Their onsens aren't bad, but Kurokawa is still my favorite place to soak in the hot mineral water while listening to the wind blow through the leaves and the gentle roar of the river below.

Chinese Meat Market

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The "butcher/deli" section in a market in Shanghai.

Shopping for ingredients in Shanghai is an adventure of sights and smells. We wandered in a large, grey, hulking building and found each section of the two floors packed with a huge variety of food in its virgin state (more or less). Nothing is nicely packaged here, there is no celophane wrap or styrofoam (Chris, does this ordinary word conjure up any memories?) and everything sits out in the open. You can tell things are pretty fresh, because the air is balmy, and there is no stench of decay, just the odors of vegetation, spices, blood, dirt, slime, and slowly decomposing generic cellular material.

Hah, people in California think that shopping at Trader Joe's is supporting struggling co-ops and individual farmers and craftsmen while supporting the organic farmers of the world. Shop at a real Chinese market and you know that your cabbage was Certified Organically Grown with the contents from that farmer's outhouse. It don't get much more organic than that. There are no processed foods here. And you won't be asked "paper or plastic?"- they will simply take a sheaf of yesterday's newspaper and reuse it to tie up your package of meat. If you don't bring something to put your purchases in, then you will carry them in your arms.

What kind of "meat" is that, do you ask? Dunno for sure, but it sure looks like it would make for some kick-ass barbecue. If you really want to eat disgusting meat, I don't think it can get any more mysterious, unsanitary, or unidentifiable than the "meat" found in the common taco of Tijuana. Tu quieres carne de gato y perro?

Nam is chasing the sea gulls next to Huntington Beach Pier, on a fabulous afternoon in January. Justin is sitting on the pale sand smoking a cig, and I am taking pictures. This was exactly what we wanted to do on our Winter vacation.

Today the weather is excellent. The sky is a clear blue- the kind of blue you only see in the deepest reaches of the country when there is a stiff wind blowing. A good day to fly a kite, or to go sailing. And my work for the day mirrored the weather.

Soon all three hoikuens will become one, under the watch of the windmill. I have enjoyed working at the smaller hoikuens because I have gotten to know the little kids one on one. I am closer to the little ones than almost any other JET in Japan has ever had the opportunity to be, I think. So I am enjoying the last of our time together, before I must divide the time among all of the kids in a huge group as impartially as I can. My successor will never be able to connect with the kids as I and my predecessors before me, but then again working at only one hoikuen will make the job much easier. For me, the extra work was well worth the opportunities and experiences.

Today, we all played outside, everyone shoveling sand in a pile to build a huge mountain. Everyone pitched in, and we had a small hill built in ten minutes. I taught the preschoolers about volcanos and lava, by pouring bucketfulls of water in the caldera and breaching the side to let the slurry wash down a curvy channel, filling a lake. Thats what I did for work today- playing with sand and water- I mean, who else gets paid to do things like this? It's strange teaching English to such little kids because they are probably learning concepts and symbols in English at the same time or even before they learn them in Japanese. I only wish I could teach them every day...

At the shogakko, I made a huge mural with the 5th and 6th graders of Kumamoto city, complete with a street, buildings, cars, people, and anything else that they wanted to make. Giving the kids open reign on a large, communal canvas is a great way to get them interested in learning about things in English and you can feel their desire to learn English grow. Working interactively in a lesson really helps the kids to retain what they have learned well after it is taught, even without review. As of late, I have been more informal in class than usual, and this works with my students because we have developed a good balance between fun and learning, so that they make no differentiations between the two. Learning is fun, and fun is learning for right now. I hope that I have built up enough momentum in their interests so that they continue to pursue their current interests in English and the world outside of Japan.

Putz Master

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This is a close up of a concrete pump in Shanghai, in front of a new gargantuan shopping mall under construction along the Bund. I had never seen a Putzmeister until then, and so I assumed that Putzmeister was a Chinese company that made cheaper versions of Caterpillar equipment.

"Putzmeister is considered world-wide as the pioneer for equipment plant and systems for concrete, mortar and high-density solid pumps", but the one thing that sticks out to me about this German company is its name. I know nothing about German except that:

"Jager" = "Hunter" and
"Meister" = "Master",
therefore, "Jagermeister" = "Master Hunter".
In this vein "Putzmeister" means "Master Putz".

I am guessing that "putz" is an onomatopoeic word, roughly equivalent to "putt" as in the sound that a running engine makes. If this pump does belch out the greatest of the putts, it must sound like all of the Titans letting out trouser-ripping farts in quick succession. I'm just trying to say that I think that Putzmeister has a nice ring to it, in a German-ish sort of way.


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Today I was eating lunch at the new Hoikuen with the Yuri-gumi (Hoikuen is divided by age groups from oldest to youngest: sakura-gumi, yuri-gumi, and ume-gumi) across from a 4 year old boy, while the 4 year old boy in back of me was chewing on my sweatshirt refusing to stop or to admit that it wasn't "oishii". When I finally got his jaws open and made him sit a safe distance away, the kid in front, mouth full of fried chicken and rice, lets out a monster sneeze, blowing chunks of partially masticated saliva coated food mixed with atomized snot globules. Yup, the post mortem is right there on my tray. But the teachers didn't see it and suggest that I should get a new tray full of sanitary food, so I sucked it up and cleaned my plate. All throughout the meal, the 4 year old had an evil smile on his face, and I couldn't help but wonder if he had done it on purpose. I think that was nastier than involuntarity eating bugs in Thailand.

Today's random link: Kushami Otaku- for people who really dig sneezes.

The rim of the largest caldera in the world, overlooking Aso-machi. If you look closelyasocalderasmoke.jpg,
you can see steam rising from Aso-san. Sulphuric fumes released from the top of Aso kill a couple of people each year, mostly the old or sick. Recently Aso mountain has been acting a bit "sassy", and so sometimes you can't go up (depending on how the volcano has been feeling recently).

Lately the weather has warmed up considerably to the point where I can comfortably wear two layers of clothes in the mountains, and a shirt and shorts in the city! Bugs have begun to come out of hibernation and are slowly making a comeback. I can no longer use my whole kitchen as a giant refrigerator. The snow is disappearing slowly, although the shady sections of the roads remain slick and dangerous (last year, around this time, a friend of mine flipped his car on a warm, sunny afternoon and had to get driven to the airport so that he could make it up to Osaka to watch J5 perform). Hanami is just around the corner, and I think that I am finally getting over my cold (that I caught right when I came back from Korea). Its Monday and I'm exhausted already, but at least we have good weather.

The Soccermom Gang

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A train of minivans, hailing from Fukuoka-ken, visits Ikeyama Suigen in Ubuyama-mura.

Who was it that decided to form minivan club, and who are the people who chose to join? Of all the clubs you could choose to be in, why would you want to be in "minivan-club". I have seen some pretty cool car clubs around Japan that these guys could have chosen instead or, at least, saved their money and aspired to join in the future.

Driving down the South side of Mt. Aso, I passed a group of 17 red Ferraris and Lambourghinis. In the parking lot of an onsen in Kyokushi, I lusted after the decked out Lancers and Imprezas. At a stop in Shimonoseki along the expressway(after a great weekend of snowboarding) I was truly impressed by the various hot rods that their owners obviously paid a lot of money to acquire and maintain. And these are just a few examples of great colletives of car people.

Minivan club, I mean come on guys! Yes, your Mazda MPV is in cherry condition, and yes, it has nice rims, but its still a friggin' minivan! Was your mom happy that you sunk all of that money on kitting it out, or did she suggest that you save it up so that you could move out of the basement? I think if I was in minivan club, I would put a wooden panel on the side, you know- like the ones that were common on Chrysler minivans in the 90's and on station wagons in the 70's and 80's.

Well, at least these guys didn't totally rice out their rides. They could have put ridiculously large sweeping fenders on that look like they belong on a Boeing(Got rice, bitch? BTW, why are there not more pictures up on the net of these hilarious vehicles?). Look, the ONLY van that will EVER pull off a spoiler is a certain red and black GMC driven by Mr. B.A. Baracus.

Subliminal Subjugation

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Take a careful look at this picture. I snapped this one in Okinawa but there are countless others just like it, all over Japan. Focus on it like a rorschach inkblot for a couple of secs. Now, what do you see?

What I see is a member of the Post WWII Occupational Forces, under the authority of Gen. MacArthur, holding the hand of a little Japanese girl. Notice that he's still wearing a helmet AND a flak jacket, yet he doesn't seem to be carrying a Thompson or an M-1 Garand... why don such protective gear without any form of weapons(On second though, I do the same thing before I go to shogakko and hoikuen sometimes.). Also, his left arm appears to be freakishly long and wavy, as if made of Silly Putty. Did the little girl pull on his sleeve too hard and stretch it out (this too, I can relate to).

Jumping off on a tangent, I have a theory on why Americans must take a driving test in Japan while Canadians and others that are part of the Commonwealth or the U.K. itself do not in order to obtain a liscense. These signs remind Japanese people every day that they were finally conquered by America, and that they can no longer bellow out anti-foreign rhetoric such as "Expel the foreigners, revere the emperor!" without causing shame and embarrasment to spread to anyone (Japanese) within earshot of them. Although Japan has friendly relations with the U.S., they still are able to get a small amount of retribution by inconveniencing gaijin from the U.S.. Yes, we Americans must submit to the Japanese driving test because they must look at this sign every day. A modern day example of Hamurabbi's code. At least, thats my theory.

The Presidental Erection

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Is how it would sound if you said "The Presidental Election" with a katakana accent. This post, however, is not gonna be about Engrish(at least, not very much), but will explore possible avenues for bringing your little General to attention.

Japanese have many foods you can eat and drinks that you can imbibe that are supposed to put more "boing" in the ol' wiggle stick. One famous Japanese spirit is known as mamushi-zake. Mamushi-zake is made by putting a Mamushi (a venomous snake of the pit viper family- you can tell it is bad news just by looking at the signature triangular head. Of course, YT tried to catch one that he saw in front of his house last summer, and that wasn't even the first attempt. gotta stop watching Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin programs...) into a bottle and filling it with a liquer. I have heard that most people use shochu, or awamori in the case of Okinawa, because it is a higher proof than sake. Personally, I am yet to partake of mamushi-zake, but have heard its taste described as "spicy" and "strange". The buzz from this stuff is supposed to be different from regular alcohol, but I think this is probably just the results of a placebo. Sakata-sensei's(my previous co-teacher at Ubu JHS) father used to go hunting at Yamabuki suigen for this purpose. Supposedly, the best way to make the liquer is to drown the snake in the alcohol, as it is supposed to increase the potency, and keeps the snake in good condition (what a horrible way to die!).

Okinawa (and other places in Asia) also has their version of Mamushi known as Habu, which are basically the same snake, only bigger. I don't know this for sure, but I am guessing that Okinawans claim that Habu-shu will give you a bigger boner than Mamushi-zake, because the Habu itself is bigger and more powerful- at least, thats what I would say if I was a Habu-shu vendor.

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Okinawan Habu-shu

Another great "invigorating drink" is known as Toughman, made by Yakult. If you take a look at the third set of pictures down and to the right, you will see a bottle with a golden label. Look closely and you will clearly be able to make out the "frank and beans!". When Justin first sent me this bottle, I couldn't believe it. Advertising doesn't get any more explicit than this. He also sent me some Kit-Kat style chocolate cookies called "Woody", but these were not a product designed to produce a boner. Unfortunately, this product is no longer sold and I can find no pictures of it on the net. You'll just have to take my word for it.

How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck: A Guide To Making Your Very Own Habu-shu and Mamushi-zake

Doesn't it look like this habu has 3 fangs?

Sure, you can buy Habu-shu and Mamushi-zake from a retailer in an ornate bottle and have it wrapped up all nice and pretty, but this is expensive and does nothing to prove your manliness (might as well use pink wrapping paper with sparkly pink ribbon and a fluffy bow if you buy it at a store. while you're at it, remember to pick up a six pack of Zima). In order to get the most out of these two liquers, you need to do a little more than just shell out a couple of bucks.

First, you need to find an impressive bottle or jar, preferably one that will magnify the size of your snake (the convex curve of a regular cylindrical bottle or jar will serve just fine. Rectangular vessels should not be used, as they will accurately portray the size of your snake, the equivalent of not holding a fish out in front of you to make it look bigger- try it next time, it works! Also, keep in mind that this is one case where it is not acceptable to use Tupperware or a Ziploc baggie). Regular, uncolored glass is best for this job for obvious reasons. Make sure you also bring a stick, with which to pin the snake down with. I tried using a broom with a short, bamboo handle but this proved not to work very well. You've seen the snake sticks that the pros use to capture snakes with on the Discovery Channel, right? Well, if you don't have your own snake stick, surely you can find a cheap putter at a thrift store or take one from your local Minature Golf park (ahem...what I meant to say, was to BUY one...). This has a similar shape to the snake stick, and you can use it for a post-snake catching round of golf to celebrate your victory. You really should bring a friend along with a video camera to capture the whole adventure. If you are bitten, at least your family can see how you spent your last moments writhing in agony and foaming at the mouth. Last thing to bring along: get yourself some shochu, or preferably awamori (because it's stronger). Aw hell, forget that stuff, get yourself some vodka, because vodka and shochu are pretty much the same stuff. No, scratch that, since we're going for power, might as well get yourself some Everclear (I was told that Everclear has such a high percentage of alcohol, that if shaken or exposed to light, it will denature into a lesser proof. I think that Everclear is the same as Spiritus, which I can only describe as "pure evil").

Ok, now you can move on to the next step: finding your mamushi/habu. These snakes generally live in riparian habitats, next to streams or water. I have heard that they also climb trees, but so far have seen them basking on roads or hidden among leaf litter/grass. They move very fast, so be careful! If you are bitten, get to a koban (police box) as some of them carry antivenom. Your best bet is to get to a hospital, though. My advice: don't get bitten. You should really read this to find out what you should do in case you are bitten. Some people kill the mamushi (I will refer to both snakes as "mamushi" because I am getting tired of typing out "mamushi/habu") before putting them in the bottle, but real men catch them live and pour in the liquor. They then watch with a perverse fascination as the mamushi reacts to the burning agony of drowning in alcohol, thrashing around like an enraged dragon! Slowly, the beast will succumb to its fate, and you can walk back proudly, holding the jar in front of you like King Arthur brandishing the Holy Grail.

You will need to let the brew age, so that the alcohol becomes infused with snakey goodness. Supposedly, the venom diffuses into the alcohol and this is what gives mamushi-zake its potency. You will need to let the stuff sit for a long time (maybe 6 months to a year) in a cool, dry area. But it is, at least, equally important to remember to put it in a place where everyone will see it. Personally, I would put mine on top of the toilet or next to the TV. After all, there's no point in being brave if you can't prove it to others.

Ah, you will know your snake-flavored booze is ready when it turns the color of Jack Daniels, or maybe a few shades lighter. Remember, this is potent stuff so only drink a few shots at most per session(you only really need one shot, but... ah you already know what I'm going to say...). Also, some people have an allergic reaction to mamushi-shu. If you start to develop rashes or start asphyxiating because your throat swells up, that is probably a sign that you have an allergy. It might be a good idea to use Toughman or another product instead to achieve the desired results.

To make your mamushi-zake last as long as possible, don't chug down the whole bottle. Instead, you should drink about half of it and refill with the same type of alcohol that you originally used as a base. You can do this many times over and over again, but each time it will be a little less potent.

Finally, don't throw out the snake after you exaust your supply. Like the worm in a bottle of tequila, it should be eaten by the person who takes the last shot. So that about covers everything. If this "how to" guide inspires you to make habu-shu or mamushi-zake, I would like to hear about it! Good luck.

Virus Update

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I don't feel any better about the avian flu situation in Kyushu after reading this. Yesterday I was told that poultry farmers in Ubuyama are not allowed to sell eggs or any other chicken products until further notice. This morning, the officials inspected our chicken and came up with nothing, but Kokonoe is not very far away. Take a look at the map below:

(from the Daily Yomiuri Shimbun)

Man, that would really suck if I had to stay put in Ubuyama due to a quarantine. You never know- its not beyond the scope of probability, in fact, I predict that the Government is gonna start quarentining areas if people start getting scared, like they were about SARS last year.

Sick Irony

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This year's SARS is Avian Flu. Last year, many JETs were unable to travel to Southeast Asia, and even Australia because everyone's Board Of Education was scared to death. I was barely able to slip out (turned off my cell phone because Joe warned me that his BOE had forced him and Jason to cancel their trip to Japan) with Justin and Nam to Thailand. Once there, I didn't once think about SARS, except when other people mentioned that the Secratary of Health (or some important Thai Guy in charge of the wellness of the Thai people) was offering something like 10 grand to the families of any person who died because they caught SARS in Thailand. Supposedly, really poor people were trying to get infected and come into Thailand to claim the reward...

Imagine my surprise right now. I just walked in, and on the front page of the Daily Yomiuri reads: "Avian flu hits bantams in Oita Pref." with a huge map with an X on it about 30 minutes drive from my house. I was just thinking at lunch "Hmmmm... Ubuyama has a lot of chickens, but Avian flu would never reach this far from Yamaguchi (which is located on the southern-most tip of the main island of Honshu, just North of Kyushu). Its too bad that some schools have made the teachers take over caring for the chickens, and that some have even killed all of theirs in order to be on the safe side. Ah, I better eat faster, it looks like Miki-chan is catching up to me...". And so, we will see how this affects Ubuyama. Luckily I don't live next to the chicken farm like my supervisor.

Valentines In Hiroshima

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Japanese busses are made for Japanese people. Even beer doesn't help much in these situations. These situations call for Night Formula Contac and a Jack chaser (or four)...

Here's the whole crew (from left to right): Pyon-pyon, Peek-a-boo, Ralph(read caption #1 again), demon-bunny snowman, Faceplant, Lippy, and The Menace.

The Menace wins the best jump award in the "sledding" category, Faceplant wins best wipeout. As usual, warnings were issued to members of our group. Yes that "Riding out of bounds is prohibited" announcement that was made ONLY IN ENGLISH was specifically for you, sayaku gaijin.

Pyon-pyon launching her first successful jump, aaand she's hooked. Time to buy a helmet.

On Saturday it rained and strong winds kicked up, scaring away the faint of heart and fashion boarders. We perservered through the cold rain, sledded down impossibly steep and dangerous runs both feet first and Skeleton style (with Joe's board breaking away from its tether, ricocheting off a tree, and smashing the skis from under an oblivious resting victim- no injuries luckily), had epic snowball fights, and constructed a couple of jumps and a snowman while waiting for the runs to resume. Sunday was excellent as well. The snow turned to a viscous slush under the sunny skies, but this allowed us to practice jumping without fear of smashing into ice, namely the 180. It was a day of cutting through trees, jumping off cliffs and ledges, and riding every slope on the mountain. Ah, good times in Hiroshima.

Best O' Luck, "Dirt Dog" Dempsey!

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demoneyedchris copy.jpg
Despite the smile, we all knew that Chris was absolutely livid. We could see it in his eyes.

To Chris,

The only one of us still living in Santa Barbara:

Good luck this weekend! I expect a full report on Monday, 500 words, 12pt. font, double spaced in New Times Roman. I will drink a beer or two for you as my form of tribute (Kampai!).

Ah, to quote Queen "Duna-duh! duh! duh! Another one bites the dust!" (the precedent being Brian- belated congrats BTW). So who's next? Place your bets...

Penonpen Ramen

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"Penonpen Ramen... Penonpen... Hmmmm." I pondered the katakana as we sat at a small ramen-ya hidden next to Hita's giant koban and in back of a huge pachinko parlor. "Penonpen, penonpen, penonpen.". And then it popped into my head. "Is Penonpen ramen named after a place?" I asked. "Yes, it's the capital of Cambodia" Tomohiro answered.

Tomohiro had drove me and Jaime 2 hours, stopping to sightsee along the way, with this particular ramen-ya as the main point of the daytrip. I have always had great adventures in the company of those who enjoy questing for great food while questing for great food (Kohei is the undisputed master, and everyone in my family is rather adept as well). Food is the only religion which I regularly and piously subscribe to, and there are many gods (this is a topic that would take up multiple posts to fully cover, and so I will stop here and hopefully remember to pick up on this thread later) whom I worship.

Yes, in a small, intimate, professionally run ramen-ya, not unlike the one in the movie Tampopo, I experienced Phnom Penh ramen for the first time. This place (Called Sato ramen-ya if you happen to be in Hita city in Oita-ken) had a great variety of ramen, including shio, shoyu, miso, tonkotsu, and Okinawan style to name a few. Phnom Penh ramen was vaguely "Italian" flavored because of the ingredients in the broth:

Chunks of stewed tomatoes
Bok Choi

I was a bit skeptical whether I would like this type of ramen (my favorite being a good Kyushu style tonkotsu) because it was so loaded with vegetables, but the more I ate, the more delicious it became. The broth also made a slammin' okayu when poured on top of rice. The fried chicken cartilidge (I forget what this is called in Japanese- honyarara karage or something like that) was also very delicious.

Other notable things about yesterday:
Woke up with no hangover, despite drinking too much on Tuesday night.
Went to Kuju Resort with the intent to snowboard, took one look and changed my mind. Saw steam over the ridge, and went to Kuju's jigoku (hell).
After jigoku, spontaneously embarked on said ramen eating expedition.
Took many pictures with sad, unmaintained manga statues along the way.
After lunch at the Sato ramen-ya, took a walk through old Hita looking at traditional crafts and trying to fend off numerous free samples of miso, ume, shiitake-cha, etc...
Took an onsen at Kurokawa.
Ate amazing tabehodai yakiniku (all you can eat barbecue) at the joint at the bottom of Takimurozaka.
Woke up today still full from last night.

Yesterday, I spent a whole day eating, sightseeing, and relaxing and it was really, really good.

Behold... A Five-Assed Monkey!

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Today was the day of the brand spankin' new Ubuyama Hoikuen's Rakusaishiki (Opening Ceremony). There were no good photo ops, but I will eventually take and post pictures of this great new pre-school which will merge Ubuyama, Nambu, and Hokubu into one big ball of energy. Kids will be put into giant hamster wheels, with a piece of candy hanging just out of reach, and power output is expected to exceed that of the Ubuyama fusha (the windmill, which is right next to the hoikuen) by a factor of 3.

Anyhow, after the ceremony, I went for a short drive up to Mt. Kuju and snapped a shot of this sign that I'd seen a year earlier. So what do they do here? Is it a boneless chicken farm, like that Far Side cartoon, or is a Saruman-like mad professor crossbreeding humans with cows as the lowest sign would indicate. The top sign leads me to believe that these man-cows(oh, wait- there's a precedent, right? I believe they are called Minotaurs) are giant, and so a road of sufficient girth was constructed to maximize their rate of mobilization. A future trip to this evil facility is definetely called for, but not without a BFG or some other suitable form of protection.

My Girls

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...Mmmmm... American Football wa cho-umai daro!

This weekend I finally got to meet some of the wonderful girls that I teach (via computer, and check out this description of me. not my best picture or profile, I suppose.) at Daiichi High School. Unfortunately, 5 out of 9 of them were too too sick to make it on Saturday, but we still had a great time together. It's amazing how motivated these students are to learn English, and it always surprises me when they express embarassment in their abilities. They should rightfully be proud of their impressive skillz. I wish I could speak Japanese as well as they speak English!

Saturday was a very unusual day in Kumamoto city. I woke up to find snow covering the ground and my car, and for a minute I thought I was back in Ubuyama. Needless to say, the taikan (gym) at Daiichi High School was freezing, but we all managed to stay warm by playing games and doing activities. I just wish that we had a longer time to chat and hang out. By the time I finally got warmed up and started to get to know everybody, the event came to a close. Thats the way it always seems to happen. If only I could spend a whole year with the students that I teach at these camps...

I would also like to say that my groups once again dominated in all of the contests (although they weren't necessarily recognized for it. ah, who would think that winning too much could have drawbacks?)! Ah, if only all English classes were fun and games, then more people would be speaking English.

And just to pre-emtively answer you: no, I will not hook you up with any phone numbers, dog, so don't even ask. Not on my watch.

Oh Sh*t

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(This type of snow isn't too hard to drive in. When the road is completely covered with a white layer and frozen and severely sloped. With regular tires and 2WD, you're in trouble...)

Is the song (by Pharcyde) that comes to mind when I think back on yesterday's driving experience. I was once again surprised to find 4 inches of new snow covering everything, and the roads were once again whitened. I tried driving up the hill next to my house, and despite a constant pressure applied to the accelerator, my car slowly came to a stop. No matter how hard I could have floored it with my front tires spinning (like a car in a cartoon, just before it zooms off into a chase) , or if I tried to rock my car out of this unstable position I could not have made it up any further. I put on the hazards, and shifted into reverse. Slowly I started down the ice covered hill, and when I began to slip, I engaged into 2nd gear and gently drifted to the side of the road so that my left tires bumped into the curb. Using the curb as a rail, I made my way back to my house in reverse. If the road had been banked towards the other side of the road, I would have been in trouble.

So yes, I will buy chains this weekend when I go to the city (broke the last pair). I have to admit, the folks in Ubuyama are skilled at driving in snow-covered narrow roads. Some people drive over 40km (20 is what I drive) on the slippery roads in little pickup trucks with no problems, although they have 4WD and snowtires to help them out. If I end up living in a snowy area, then I will be driving a car with AWD and at the very least I will have some chains.

All Systems Go

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Finally Higo Blog and C. Buddha's Hasty Musings are up and running and once again, fully functional after one long postless week. You may have noticed that comments were inaccessable, and that we were not updating. Well, the problem has been fixed, so feel free to rejoice once again read and leave comments as you wish. Ah, its nice to be able to post once again.

Snow Pics

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Taken at Ubuyama Bokujo. What you can't see (to the bottom right, beyond the frame) is a big treaded set of tracks that told of multiple snow donuts on the tractor.


Yuuto kun atop a mini-mountain of snow.

Tried boarding down here, but it wasn't steep enough.

Gaijin Jelly Donut

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Koreans don't take no sh*t from smartass foreigners.

Ridiculously Cold

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sinksicle.jpg Are you under the impression that Kyushu is a warm place. Come to Ubuyama, my friend...

I used all of my faucets this just this morning. Despite this, every one of them has frozen. There is a 4 inch stalagtite hanging from my Kitchen faucet, a 3 inch stalagmite in my bathroom sink, and my bath faucet is frozen solid. Thankfully, my toilet works, and so does my shower! Hahaha! Finally some luck! Who cares that the water in the bowls and frying pan have turned completely to ice? Not me- dishes can wait indefinetely (as proven in college), but I can not live without a shower or a toilet. I recall having to boil water last year when my shower froze- remembering such experiences puts it all in perspective.

More Than Meets The Eye

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When I was 5, the Transformers was one of my favorite cartoons in the action category, up there with G.I. Joe, Voltron, He-Man (remember, I was only 5), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (spot the double entrendre here), Thundercats, Inspector Gadget, Jonny Quest, Silverhawks, and Robotech. I remember thinking breifly about who would win in an all out battle- GoBots or Transformers (It didn't take long to reach a definitive conclusion). If you happen to be curious, the answer to this question is exhaustively covered here.

However, Who would win this fight?:
The Constructicons (in Devastator form) vs. (Lion) Voltron.

My vote goes to Voltron, who would first fight the individual Constructicons broken down into 5 lions. A ferocious battle between the two teams would ensue, with the Constructicons slightly getting the upper hand. Outnumbered, the lions would come together to form Voltron, a move shadowed by The Constructicons. The Constructicons would get in a few good bitchslaps (while talking major trash to the seemingly mute Voltron- of course the pilots would be shouting encouragement, spitting out profanities, and grunting whenever they were dealt a telling blow) and maybe a couple of kicks to the groin before Voltron got pissed enough to clank his clenched fists together. Once Voltron unleashed his mighty longsword (at the apogee of a spectacular leap, of course!) he would streak down with tremendous speed and cut Devastator clear in half (who would be screaming "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!"), resulting in an explosion of stupendous proportions. However, I believe that the Constructicons would win if they had help from Megatron.

And just for the record, I don't give a damn what happened in the movie (King Kong won in BOTH the Japanese and American versions of the film) or that their incarnations were equally matched in Rampage (they made Godzilla a bitch in this game if I remember correctly). It isn't even a question: Godzilla (destroyer of skyscrapers. special powers: invincibility, atomic breath, tail doubling as a bludgeon, super strength) would f*cking kill King Kong (climber of skyscrapers. special powers: super strength). Period.

Same Same, But Different

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Reading this post at Vagabonding (a great travelogue, BTW) was like reading Off The Rails In Phnom Penh: Into The Dark Heart Of Girls, Guns, and Ganja all over again (this is a great book by Amit Gilboa that talks about his personal experiences and goes over the crazy history of Cambodia. before reading this book, all I knew about Cambodia was Angkor Wat).

I really wanted to go to Cambodia after reading this book- not because it romanticized the place, quite the contrary in fact. This is a place where you can pay to fire RPGs and large caliber machine guns at livestock, live very comfortably while employing servants and AK touting body guards to serve you on a meager salary, buy the "services" of underaged girls for the price of a pack of cigarettes from their parents, do any drug you could possibly want, and pretty much do whatever you feel like without fear of getting in trouble or being judged by society. Add in the explosive political past (with such players as Pot Pol, Hun Sen, and the Khmer Rouge) and cartoonish present with the unfamiliar culture of the Khmer people, add in a pinch of truly lost expatriates, and you have the makings of some good pulp fiction style stories. I am inclined to believe people when they say that their trip to Cambodia, and Phnom Penh in particular, was a wild time. This looks like a place to visit for a couple of days, have a wild adventure, and then to go back home- a place to get some perspective.

Dunno though. After seeing the fat German dudes in Phuket walking off with teenage girls, she-males (this I found sort of amusing), and on one occasion a young boy, I don't think that I would like visiting a country that makes Thailand look like Disneyland. Reading "Hello My Big Big Honey!": Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews made me really think about these things deeply. Seeing all of these perverted losers walking around with girls (who, if approached back in the states by these guys would be methodically hosing them with pepper spray) made me feel queasy to the point where I could not finish my pizza. Then again, some of the couples in the book ended up getting married and supposedly living happily together. Life is strange.

I don't think that the sex trade is bad in general. In fact, I think that it is an important service, just like therapy, massage, and other treatments that people pay for to remain happy and in good health. Hell, legalize it and throw the money raised from taxes into our educational system. Then it could be regulated like any other legitimate business and held to higher standards while at the same time, contributing to our society.

What I do have a problem with are the pedophiles. Seeing these disgusting people openly paying to have sex with children, especially when they are obviously feeling comfortable about it, is one of the worst things that I have ever seen. It made me angry and sick, and really want to do bad things to bad people.

So maybe I will just visit Angkor Wat if I make it around to Cambodia. After all, I can always go hunting for water buffalo (or hopefully a bus full of pedophiles) with my RPG-7 on the way to the airport...

American Engrish

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Damn, this picture is so great, I was tempted to cut and post it here, but I will resist my online klepto temptations. The site's worth exploring with gems like "Chinese Hut".

I had no idea that there were Mister Donut franchises in the states (who in their right mind would eat at Mister Donut when there are awesome places like Adam's Avenue Donuts, Yong's Donuts, Krispy Kreme, and all of the other Korean- uh, ahem, I guess I have been out of the loop for a while... make that Cambodian owned and operated donut shops that make GOOD donuts). Master Donut, heh. I know that in the Deathmatch Arena, Master Donut would undoubtedly kick Mister's Donuts, and then cannibalize his bretheren, while uttering "Now I am the Master".

On a related note, I heard a rumor that there is a Mos Burger located somewhere around Mater Dei High School in Orange County. I have also heard that one exists in Hawaii. Are there any Mos Burgers in the states? And I heard that they have Circle Ks and 7-11s over there too! What, what? Those stores didn't originate in Japan?

Ubuyama Snowboarding Safari

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My snowboard planted in a foot of powder in front of Yamaga Shogakko in Ubuyama. Arguably, this is the best place for snowboarding in my village.

Today I woke up late (10:00AM- I MUST be gettin old), and was shocked to see that 61 centimeters of snow (according to the news) had fallen over night, over the snow remaining from the previous storm. It was then that I knew that I had to dedicate today to finding some more spots to go snowboarding (last year I also went, but there was not quite enough snow to make it worthwhile). I spent 45 minutes debating under the kotatsu whether to go out for breakfast, or to go down into the caldera for groceries, since my fridge was empty. Instead, I decided to save time and get moving, went over to A-mart (this is NOT a convenience store, but a baser convenience store-like shop, with greatly hiked up prices) and picked up breakfast and dinner materials. That done, I cooked up a huge bacon, egg, and cheese sandwitch that seemed to be the best thing I had ever eaten in the cold of the morning, and set out at 11:10.

Phase 2. I thought long and hard about good spots to go, and drove around, scoping out the area. Since the roads were nearly impassable for the Wingroad, I decided to only board areas that I could reach on foot. I started out going boarding down by the logging road down by the swimming pool. This offered some stunning views of the clamshell terraced snow-covered rice fields that Ubuyama is famous for, and I stopped to take a few shots. Unfortunately, it was not steep enough to get sufficient momentum to cut through the fresh powder, and the snow was too thin in some parts because it was sheltered by the trees. As beautiful as this place was, I had to move on.

Despite the dangerous roads, I decided to jump in the car (this lead to some fun snow driving, more like sledding and sliding in areas) and to go to the steep hill next to the windmill. Unfortunately, some construction worker had the same idea, except instead of tearing down it on a snowboard, his idea was to use a backhoe to obliterate the hill and to flatten the surrounding area as part of the ongoing land development in that area.

So I began thinking... Blast! I live in the friggin' mountains! Are there no new places to explore? I could go to Hokubu and check out around Ikeyama and Yamabuki suigen, but the roads are under construction, and so I might not make it through safely. I want to go to Mt. Kuju, but the roads up there are impassable for certain... And then I remembered last year, when I tried to snowboard around Yamaga Shogakko. So I walked up the mountain and through the tunnel (screaming such gems as "Echo!" and "Hey you guys"- you know whats up), up the long driveway, taking the shortcut up the long set of stairs, walking in back of the snow covered gym and past the frozen swimming pool, up the hill in back of the school. It was really steep, but also really short. I bombed down around there a couple of times and rode down the zipline, which shot my ass with a sharp parabolic curve deep down into the arctic blue powder, just below the pure white surface. As fun as it was, it was not satisfying for the purposes of a snowboard safari. I thought again of the road leading up to the shogakko...

The middle of the road was cleared by the blade of a tractor, but off to the side was a long, 8 foot wide stretch of virgin powder with a skinny, treaded groove (made by one of the tractor's tires) running the entire 200 meters down. The grade was steep enough to be interesting, and the groove gave me a starting place to build up enough speed. The first ride down, I rode the groove like a record needle, and shot down with amazing speed. It was over within 30 seconds, and I was hooked.

I then started off into the powder, cutting back into the groove when the board would cut down and submarine, regaining speed. Eventually, I had groomed the whole length of the run, and practiced riding and jumping off of the long heaping margin of snow boulders separating my snow from the hard, steaming asphalt. I also practiced riding down on the backside of the board, slowly teaching my left foot to lead.

I spent a total of 4 hours climbing slowly up this hill, trying not to build up a sweat, and then shooting down. I could not stop myself from repeating the ride over and over, and despite the shortness of the run and the small area which I was confined to, I never lost interest. It brought back memories from one year ago, spending 2 hours on sliding my car around on the snow, doing donuts, finding out little secrets on how to make my car drive like it was not meant to be driven, and busting all manner of spins all the while blasting myself into a trance-like state with the help of DJ Shadow. Ah, the simple things in life are often the most enjoyable and addictive.

Occasionally a local would drive by and do a double-take, stopping to watch for a while and I will surely be questioned about this when I go back to work on Monday. Only when it got dark and cold did I retreat back to home. I reflected on a day well spent, while enjoying a hot bowl of garlicky kimchee miso based nabe (props to Jus for the original recipe. ah, the possibilities of future variations on this most excellent dish!).

As for snowboarding around Ubuyama, I can only think of two remaining spots to hit. I must remember to check out the construction roads that lead down to the dam, and the area around the Hokubu campgrounds and Higothai hana koen. I guess there's always tomorrow.

Ah, and just for the record, snowboarding in Ubuyama kicked the pants off of going to the Mt. Kuju "ski resort" (but most likely, hiking up Kuju and then boarding down would be a better ride). Let's take a look at the trade offs:

Yamaga Shogakko's steep driveway/road vs. Mt Kuju ski resort

Yamaga pros:
Free (as opposed to 5,000+ yen)
Within walking distance of my house.
Fresh, virgin white powder.
No "Great Wall of Young People" sitting in the middle of the course talking on their keitais blocking the slopes.
No closing time.
Technically challenging areas.
Allowed to change or modify the course as I see fit
Good exercise

Kuju Ski Resort pros:
Speaking English ensures a crowd of awed people (maybe this is a con).
Cafeteria with decent food (but expensive as hell!).
Ski lifts.
500 meter long groomed "course".
Ski patrol (if I got badly hurt, I would have to crawl 1 km to my home).
Young people in abundance (this is important when you live in a demographic such as my current village).
Being the best snowboarder on the mountain (no, wait... thats the SAME as Yamaga. and sadly, this is not an exaggeration. yes, they were ALL noobs, albeit noobs dressed and equipped in the latest, most expensive gear.).
Close to the Kurokawa onsens.

And so, although I had a good time at Kuju last year (since I got fresh powder there, and the blizzard chased away everyone else off of the slopes), I would have to say that boarding locally was a much more enjoyable experience. Would've been nice to have a few snow bunnies along, and a cafeteria in which to sip on hot cocoa and to munch on a cheese burger and Snickers bar. But it was still a pretty good day.


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Snow is dumping down on my village right now, and the roads have been covered in a blanket of snow three inches thick. Thank goodness that I am driving the Yakuba's Nissan Wingroad with AWD and snowtires, or else I would have to break out the chains (although it sucks driving a car with no stereo!).

Between the residual snow from the blizzard from two days ago, and the resulting layer from today, everything is covered in pure white coldness. If you added a couple of AT-ATs and tauntauns, then I would indeed be living on Hoth!

If it keeps on snowing hard for a couple of days, then I will once again look for a prime spot to go snowboarding in Ubuyama, like the Bokujo or one of the logging roads (didn't quite have enough snow last year).

Yep, so I think I shall stay inside and sip on some hot tea, hibernating (or more accurately, estivating) under the kotatsu table and slowly working through the DVDs that I bought in Shanghai. It is also about time to break out with the Nabe-fu and see how my Japanese culinary skills have advanced. Still much to learn, grasshopper...

Kagoshima Part 2

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The very next day after I got back from Korea, I made a trip with Kaori-Sensei and her friend Emiko down to Kagoshima. But first we stopped by the city to visit a shogakko student who was in the hospital.

Ryusei Nishida is a very good student who is liked by everyone. He's good at sports, and the girls like him because he's quite a charming little boy. After feeling a sudden and excruciating pain in his hip, he was admitted into the hospital, and they discovered a problem in his hip joint. They had to put three metal pins to hold together his fractured femur, and told him that he can't play sports or do P.E. until he is 20 years old. That means that from now (the 6th grade) until college, he can't do any sports of any kind. When we went to visit him, he was in high spirits as usual. Its just too sad to dwell on, however, Ryusei is a strong boy both mentally and physically and so he will still do well, even with his debilitating condition. If it had been any other student, I would be more concerned, but I know he will be O.K. We played a few games of babanuki (old maid), and then left with a black, cloudy feeling about the future.

The original plan was that we were all going to run in the Nonahana Marathon in Ibusuki, Kagoshima. However, both I and Ko-chan (Kaori's husband) came down with colds, so he stayed home and I went along just for fun. We went to sleep at about 10 P.M. and took off for Kagoshima at 2:30 A.M. (so that we wouldn't have to spend an extra night and extra money in a hotel). This was pretty rough, and I slept most of the way down. However, it must've been torture for the girls, who had to run. We arrived in Ibusuki at about 5:30 and slept in the car for an additional hour and a half.

There were 2 courses that people ran: the full marathon (42.195 K) and the 10K. About 10,000 people ran the full marathon and around 2,000 ran the 10K. People of all ages ran, some in really strange costumes such as square packages of pickled garlic, fish-men, faeries, and a giant Olive. There were so many people running that the people at the back of the queue were only able to start the race 10 minutes after the bang of the start.

It was inspirational watching those running the marathon. There were so many old people (50 and over) and people in the 70 year old age range were not uncommon. Made me feel like a wuss for dodging out due to a cold. There's nothing like healthy dose of good old fashioned shame to crank up the motivation. So I will be running the Saga Marathon on April 4th, most likely. Then again, maybe I'm not that ashamed of not running the race.

The atmosphere of the marathon was just like a matsuri. There were food booths, a magic show, a stage where I took pictures with Miss Ibusuki 2004, and lots of people in costumes walking around. The course was also spectacular. It was all flat and next to the beach, lined by bright yellow nanohana flowers (rape blossoms). If I'm around, I might have to run this marathon next year.

After they finished the marathon,
we headed over to the sunaburo onsen (hot sand bath). This place was located right on the beach, and the natural volcanic heat rose up steaming through the sand.

First, I observed the bilingual sign telling me how to take a sand bath, and warning not to stay in for too long, or I might become baked like a piroshky. Next, I changed into a yukata (thin cotton robe), and went down to the beach, right in front of a calm ocean. I layed down between a bunch of sand mounds from which only faces protruded. A young man came over with a shovel and started to mound steaming hot black volcanic sand on top of me and asked me if I was Korean (I simply laughed as an answer, so he was probably thinking something like "those crazy Koreans!"). I was slowly covered, and when it was complete, I was entombed in a sarcophagus.

The weight of the sand bearing down on my thorax brought to mind that old puritan man who's last words before being crushed to death with a huge pile of stones on his chest was "more weight" (what a badass!). The sand was heavy, pinning my whole body. This amplified the effects of the heat, which pierced straight through my flesh to my lungs and heart. Watching the rise and fall of the mound on my chest with each breath, I noticed that my heart beat was also visible, and the heat made it so that I could feel my pulse in my fingers and feet. This was one of those strange moments in which I felt completely in touch with my body, kinesthetically, spiritually, and physiologically speaking. After 10 minutes, the heat grew uncomfortable, and so I slowly emerged from my bed of earth, like a mummy come to life under the Egyptian dunes. If you happen to be in Ibusuki in the winter, or during a bout of cold weather, I highly recommend slapping down the 1,500 yen, for it is well worth it. However, during the Kagoshima summer, I think that this might prove to be an unpleasantly hot experience, but maybe not. It was 4:30 when we left, and there were still many people running the final 5k of the marathon. They had been running for 6 and a half hours, and I no longer regretted not running at all.

After the sunaburo, we made a trip down the Ibusuki Skyline. Like the Aso Skyline, this drive offers some excellent curvy roads to practice your mountain driving technique, and the view was breath taking. We drove into the sunset, with Kaimondake looming against a golden orange sky. I had previously climbed up Kaimondake, dubbed the Fujisan of Kyushu, six months ago so it was cool to see it from a different context. It was like looking at a Hokusai print in real life. I must say, if you have the chance to climb this beautiful extinct volcano, I highly recommend it (climbing this mountain was much more fun and offered a better view for me compared to Mt. Fuji).

That night we stayed at Eyouken Hotel, a Ryokan North of Kagoshima City.
This Ryokan boasted 3 onsens and was right on a beautiful river, filled with carp and minnow-like fish. If I ever go back, I will bring my fishing equipment or fashion a line and pole out of some stray bamboo and grass.

I went to the onsen once that night, and once the next morning. Both times I was completely alone, and had the massive pools to myself. It was a bit spooky and had a Purgatory-like ambiance because the rooms were filled with steam, so that you couldn't see anything past two feet in front of you. My morning onsen was awesome. To reach the baths, I had to walk outside in the bitter cold, on a stone bridge arching over a koi pond. Once inside, I showered off and walked slowly through the mist, entering the scalding-hot red-tinged opaque bathwater. My nerves screamed in out in that sharply specific cry that is about 30% pleasure and 70% pain. Large windows situated near the ivy draped vaulted ceiling let in an strong arctic draft, so my face was whipped by the cold while my body turned lobster red from the heat. I walked around the fog, and discovered a miniature landscape with giant statues of frogs, naked women, woodland creatures, and a fake stuffed crane. Had it not been for the heat, I would have stayed in that bath for the whole day, completely happy to have the place to myself.

The women didn't have as good of an experience. Their onsen, the rotenburo, was located outside, in plain view of any who happened to be strolling along on the adjacent bridge that spanned the river. Needless to say, they quickly hopped in and out and so we finished at the same time (girls always take a friggin long time in the bath, so taking my time is roughly equivalent to women hastily racing through the same actions).

The last thing that we did in Kagoshima, before leaving for Kumamoto, was go to eat Shirokuma (white bear, polar bear, or shaved ice, depending on the context. In my case it was the latter of the three) during coming of age day. It was cool seeing all of the 20 year old girls fully dressed in kimono as well as a few guys. Everyone was in a good mood, and had gone though lengths to look their best on this important day. If you have a kimono fetish, this is the day that you want to visit Japan on.

The Shirokuma was excellent. The ice was finely shaved and had a feather-light quality, not grainy or pebbly like the cheaper shaved ice that you get at the country fair. I got the one flavor that I had never seen before, despite skepticism and rude noises made by those who chose their flavor of Shirokuma with less skill. And it turned out to be the shit! It tasted better than theirs, and they kept asking for more. So remember, the chocolate Shirokuma kicks the most ass in the "pure flavor" Shirokuma category.

I must say that traveling with girls is a completely different experience than crusing with the guys. Instead of roughing it, we enjoy the comforts along the way. Instead of getting drunk and wrestling and getting angry and laughing at other's misfortunes, we get drunk, and play games, and have in depth conversations. Instead of saving money by eating food bought exclusively out of convenience stores, we eat frequently at good sit down restaraunts and nibble on delicacies famous to the region. Instead of doing stupid things that might get us into trouble, we relax and enjoy the views and other sensory input, taking on a more reflective role in contrast to a hyperactive one. Instead of covering our B.O. with deodorant, we bathe regularly and remain in a perpetual state of cleanliness. Ah, its good to hang out with the girls for a prolonged period every once in a while, allowing the body to heal from inevitable wounds and other miscellaneous damage that results from hanging out with the guys.

Places That I Enjoyed In Kagoshima:

1. The Kagoshima Suizokan (Aquarium). A top notch aquarium complete with some excellent specimens such as adult Pirarucu from the Amazon, a giant sturgeon, various gigantic rays (but no mantas), a tiny whale shark, and an electric eel of notable girth complete with analog voltmeter that displays the electric output during feeding time. Admission is 1,500 yen.

2. Sakurajima (Cherry Island). This volcanic island sits in the middle of Kagoshima Bay, and there is a youth hostel you can stay at for around 2,000 yen a night (this is super-cheap, and better than camping out during a hot and humid Kagoshima night, as I found out). The onsens on the island have red, muddy, sulfur-rich water that is said to be theraputic (but mostly it just feels good to soak in one after a long day). The ferry is also pretty cheap, and you can even take a car over to the other side (for about 1,500 yen, if I remember correctly).

3. Kaimon-Dake.
This mountain is a medium challenge to climb. Takes about 2.5 hours at a slow and steady pace to reach the top. The view is spectacular, both from the peak, and from a distance. It is free to climb if you enter through the town. Also, the beaches around this area are spectacular, with black sand. My only complaint is that just below the tideline, medium sized stones will crush your toes is you forget to pack the aqua socks (I didn't so I was O.K.).

4. Kagoshima City. This place is a lively, decent sized metropolitan area. I feel at home here for some reason, and find it more exciting than Kumamoto city. There are many historical sites to check out in and immediately around the city center. At night time, the red light district is really lively, and the girls flirt more agressively to drag prospective clients into their snack bars.

5. Unagi Mura. This place seems even more inaka than Ubuyama, because everyone seems to be at least 80 years old. Unagi (meaning "eel") is a small town located in the middle of a dead volcano, with a lake in the bottom of the caldera. I went to the local onsen (a tiny hut) with a hairy Portugese ALT, and it was a true life anthropological experience interacting with the native "small people". Dayamn pops, yeah we're foreigners, but staring at another man's wang is poor manners in any culture that I know of. Tend to your own unagi. Anyhow, this is a cool place to drop by and experience a deeper level of hidden culture.

There are so many cool places to check out in Kagoshima, and I have the feeling I will return once again.

Back In The Motherland

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I just stepped back into my apartment after a full day and two nights in Seoul, which I will write about later when I am not about to nod off. I just want to say thanks to everyone who made time to see me, and who did stuff to make my trip a great experience. Even repeatedly puking up partially digested medium-rare lamb and recovering for the majority of my trip home could not keep me from having a good time.

It was good to go home and to see that I was not as disconnected from everything as I had feared. Much has changed while I have been away, but the main things that I love about living in California pretty much remain the same, while my appreciation of them has grown extensively.

Much to write about, but I will wait until I am coherent enough to put together a cohesive sequence of verbage. Thanks to everyone who was there, you know who you are.