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Thursday, 19 October 2006
Niners Pride
A quick tip of the hat to fellow Charlotte 49er alum John Maine, for shutting down the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the NLCS to win his first postseason victory. Click here for a recap. Facing elimination, Maine pitched 5 1/3 innings of no-hit ball against the likes of Perennial All-Stars such as Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen. Even better, he's a rookie. While Charlotte's baseball program has had the occasional player land in the Bigs, this is easily the biggest accomplishment for a former player. So congratulations, and who knows, he just might end up with a World Series ring before all is said and done.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:40 AM EDT
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Sunday, 15 October 2006
Bloggin' Again
OK, so it's been quite a long time since I blogged. All I can say is, sorry about that. In a weird way that totally snuck up on me, I've actually been really busy recently. I guess that is a familiar refrain by now but I haven't had enough time to just sit and type on the computer for awhile. In fact it's been so long since I've blogged I needed to check my previous entry to know when to start.

It's been over two months here and I'm starting to get more and more adjusted to life in Oita. Teaching isn't too much of a problem normally, I'm just trying to make sure that the classes stay interesting. I've made a couple of more trips to the elementary school, which again is quite challenging at times. But again, over the students are great fun to be with and makes the work worthwhile. The sports schedules are winding down, so I've got a little more free time, but not a lot more. I've also met a few more of the other local JETs, which is nice. My foreigner contact is still pretty limited though out here in the country. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Anyways, on to what I've been doing. Last weekend ended up being pretty crazy without it being planned that way. Saturday at 9 am I get a phone call from Mishiro-sensei inviting me to go fishing. Well, it was a nice day so I said sure. First, though, was a "peace" march of sorts, protesting against new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's proposals to reform the education system. OK so I was kind of conned into this one, but if you know about Japan's history, a more "patriotic" (ie nationalist) education system only led the country down a dark path, so I didn't mind participating at all. Then we stopped by a cool limestone cave, and went fishing. Unfortunately conditions weren't ideal, and I didn't have much of a clue what I was doing, but I did manage to catch one decent sized fish. So hooray for me.

The next day, I went to see TAO, which is a fairly famous Taiko drumming group. It's not your traditional drumming performance, it's definitely more "modernized" and the speed of precision of the drummers is impressive. There was fireworks too which is always nice, although it was bitterly cold in the evening, and I didn't dress very warmly at all.

Well that wasn't too bad compared to what the students were doing. Some one thought it would be a great idea for the students to walk 42 kilometers (marathon distance) from Oita City to Ono Town. I guess it is tradition but I can't say I approve of that, just seems a little too dangerous to me. Now exercise is good, and there was constant teacher and parent support, but still. I have to give it to the students, almost all of them that started made it. It took the last group about 11 hours though. Every one who finished received a certificate and a hot bowl of udon soup. I'm sure if I stay, I will end up participating next year. Hope I have some good walking shoes.

Also, a couple of weeks back I saw Honda's humaniod robot ASIMO in Beppu. It's an impressive machine, although I was surprised by how small it is (4 feet or so). It can walk on two legs, stand on one, dance, has five movable fingers, talk, recoginize objects, kick, run (to a limited extent), lift stuff, etc. Like I said, very impressive, but also kind of creepy. ASIMO's movements were so smooth, it was really weird to see it coming from a robot. Having a bunch of those around will definitely take some getting used to.

It is starting to get cooler here, but still pretty warm during the day. October is a very nice time to be in this part of Japan, the weather is pretty much always perfect, but you can definitely tell that fall is on the way. Yesterday I dropped some pretty good money on fall clothes, but it's really important to dress warmly since Japanese homes can get really, really, cold.

Also on the docket, it's about time that I put up some pictures. I promise that will happen soon, and everyone will love the pictures. I should have some mountain hiking pictures, sports festival pictures, Asimo pictures, and some other random stuff up as well.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:40 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 26 September 2006
Long Time, No Blog
Well, what can I say, it's been a crazy week or so. First of all, the sports festival was delayed from Sunday to Tuesday thanks to the typhoon, which ended up being a big nothing here other than for the rain. At a Japanese school sports festival, everyone gets together, including parents, and plays games, does dancing, and of course some athletic competition. I participated in the 100m run and got totally smoked, those kids are fast. I also did the souran bushi dance which is really more like a workout I'd say, very dynamic with lots of movement. Unfortunately there was an encore performance I wasn't aware of, so I only did the dance once instead of twice like everyone else.

That evening was a yakuniku enkai, basically a big drinking party for the teachers. The yakiniku (beef you grill yourself) was excellent and everyone seemed to be in a pretty good mood. Unfortunately, that night I went a little bit crazy. There was an extremely loud insect in my apartment, and I literally spent hours looking for it (I think I was still a bit drunk, that's the only way I can explain my behavior). I even tried sleeping in my tiny car at one point, with no luck. Finally I put on some headphones and went to sleep, but I only got about 2.5 hours of sleep that night, which I'm still catching up on it feels like.

The next day, tired and hung over, I did something pretty foolish- played soccer with the kids after lunch. It was so hot and I got so tired, I felt like I was about to pass out. Not good. Fortunately I got some liquids in me and cooled down but that was not a pleasant experience at all. The soccer was fun though.

Next up, Thursday, I had a demo lesson. Luck of the draw apparently, all of the teachers from the area came to watch Mishiro-sensei and myself teach a class to first-year students (7th grade equivalent in the States). There was a lot of preparation, and everything went fairly well, but of course I was pretty nervous which didn't help my state of mind much. Afterwards, another drinking party, but this time it was kaiseki ryori, which is basically Japanese gourmet food. Quite an experience but I definitely took it easy on the alcohol this time.

Saturday, I slept for about 12 hours (no joke), woke up and heard the Ono JHS baseball team playing outside. I watched them play, then drove over to Chitose to watch the Chitose baseball team play. They didn't do so great, the coach was rightly pissed, so there was an impromptu practice scheduled afterward. At the practice, I took a grounder to the face, but don't worry it wasn't serious and the balls they use at the middle school level are a little softer than regular baseballs. Just a flesh wound, as they say.

Sunday was another big day- I climbed a mountain! No really, Ono Town organized a small group to climb up Mt. Kuju, which I believe may be the tallest mountain on Kyushu. I was under the impression it would be a fairly routine hike, but it was definitely more of a climb/vertical scramble- very demanding. It all depended on which route you took I guess. While I was going up, all I could think was, "This is torture!" But when we summited after about 2 1/2 hours of climbing, it was in fact really cool and felt like a big accomplishment. The sights were nice, we could see a smoking volcano, a brilliant green mountain lake, and plenty of cool rock formations. I definitely want to go back again. Then it was a good 3km hike on a different trail to get back to the bus. After that, we had some soft serve ice cream which is supposed to be famous, and I must say it was in fact pretty darn good.

But the main thing is, I'm just really tired. I need to sleep more. I might need to cut back on the activities a little bit, but last week was probably just a situation of a bunch of stuff happening all at the same time. But yeah, sleep is good.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:40 AM EDT
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Friday, 15 September 2006
Darn Kids
I had one my my crazier experiences when I went to teach at Elementary school this past week. By "teach" I guess I should say more like "trying to control hoardes of psycho kids". I was actually really nervous about this, I didn't feel like I had prepared at all, it was a different school with different teachers, and I had never done anything like it before. In fact I had to wake up extra early and make some extra printouts, without the help of one of my regular English teachers, Moriki Sensei, I might really have been in trouble. First off, I had an assembly in the gym, in front of the old school. For about a minute I was just stammering, surely boring the kids to tears, then I remembered "audience participation" and that got them into it some more. It was still kind of a sloppy presentation, but not a total disaster.

Now I said the kids were psycho, but actually the school was full of really adorable kids. They just have a little too much energy at times is all. My first class, was the first graders. They already knew the alphabet song, so I tried to make some games and songs out of that. They went crazy for a game where they had to circle correct letters on the board. Then I stopped by the kindergarden class which was in a different building. Wouldn't you know it, these were the best-behaved kids I had all day. Very well behaved, asked lots of questions. Next, the second graders, where I played the "color touch" game- I say a color, for example red, and the students would have to touch something red like a backpack. Oh, there was a fight in the class too, between a boy and a girl. Fun. That was my last class at the elementary, and I headed back to the middle school, pretty tired.

In other recent news, Chizuo Matsimoto, (aka Shoko Asahara), leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that perpetrated the 1995 Tokyo Subway sarin gas attacks, lost his final appeal and will receive the death penalty. A part of me is glad that he will die, that some vengeance will be served. Simply put, the man is basically a monster who used the promise of religion to extort, manipulate, and murder. On the other hand, how much does the execution solve? It may provide closure to some, but the damage caused will remain, and of course it won't bring back those who were lost. But I suppose these are the standard arguments any time there is a death penalty.

Finally, a big typhoon is heading this way... should hit around here sometime tomorrow, probably in the afternoon. Now both my middle schools have their sports festivals scheduled for tomorrow morning, so hopefully they can get them done in time. Of course, typhoons are tough to predict, so who knows really. I'm stocking up on non-perishables and stuff like that anyway, just in case.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 11:38 PM EDT
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Thursday, 7 September 2006
Important News Update!!

This
is the coolest thing ever. Don't ask any questions! Just watch it! Go now!

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:41 AM EDT
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Thursday, 31 August 2006
Oita City Orientation
Orientation Time again this week, in Oita City for Prefectural Orientation. Well, Tokyo Orientation wasn't so hot, but the Oita one turned out to be halfway decent, but not the greatest either. Onto the breakdown. I drove to Mie Town and met Alastair and Ryan, two other JETs, then rode the train into the city. A very different experience from Tokyo trains- 2 cars, trains only every half hour, only single track part of the way. After that, it was about a 15 min. walk to the prefectural office.

Once there, we saw demonstartions of traditional Japanese dancing, and Iaido, traditional sword play. There were also some of your standard orientation speeches, icebreakers, etc. as could be expected. Later that day we went to a beer garden and had all you can eat/drink from 6-9, which was definitely fun. Met a lot of fellow JETs, which was nice, then stayed at someone's house in Beppu, which wasn't as bad as it could have been. Overall, Oita City seems like an alright place to go for a weekend, kind of your standard midsized Japanese city with plenty of entertainment options.

Now onto the negatives. Man, it was so humid, it was disgusting. I'm sweating just thinking about it. I'm gonna have to take a towel with me at all times from now on. The next morning, we had to do some little scanvenger hunt thing, which could have been fun, but I was sweaty, hung over, tired, and in an all around bad mood. Some people got their re-entry visas taken care of, so that was probably a 30-45 wait of nothing. Then it starts pouring of course. Finally, I grabbed some Yoshinoya, which apparently everyone else thinks they are too good for (seriously,wtf people). Then we couldn't find our classrooms in the prefectural office (probably the worst designed building ever), but once we got there we actually had some useful orientation sessions, and a little Japanese class. Finally, it was over, and I just headed home and took a long shower. The End.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 11:16 AM EDT
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Thursday, 24 August 2006
Car and Mobile Phone in Japan.
Next in our exciting series of "Mike Living in Japan" is the one-two punch of my car and my keitai (cell phone). First, my car. It's a special species of cars in Japan known as "kei" cars. Kei cars are essentially subcompact cars, that are engineered to fit within certain parameters set by the gov't such as of engine displacement, size, and horsepower.. If it qualifies, you can save a lot on insurance and inspections, not to mention savings on fuel. You can tell Kei cars apart from normal cars because they carry yellow license plates. There are kei trucks as well, although most Americans would have a tough time classifying them as such.

As for my car, it's a Mitsubishi Minica- they seem to be pretty common. I bought it off my predecessor, so I'm really not even sure what model year it is. It gets me from place to place though, and can actually be somewhat fun to drive being very small and nimble. It's got A/C as well. Just forget about acceleration and top speed. Anyway, some pics:


First, a side view. 2 doors, and a hatch back.

From the front. That's one bad machine.

Back view, see the yellow license plates?

Interior view- two adults can sit comfortably in the front, forget about the backseat. My knees are a little bit up into the steering wheel but not too bad.

Can you read the name on the tires? The Bridgestone "Sneaker". Cute.

Overall, a no-frills machine. Manual windows, probably no power steering, casette radio, no tach, no brights, about three wiper settings, no trip odometer, three gears. But for utility, it can't be beat. Easy to park as well.

Now for the cell phone. Japan has a well-deserved reputation for great cell phones, so I've been looking forward to getting another one for awhile. Unfortunately, I had to wait for my alien registration card so it took a little bit longer than I'd like. I stuck with au, which I used when I studied abroad, and by coincidence also got another Sony Ericcson phone, so it's very similar to the one I used previously. Even with this being the introductory model it's still far ahead of what you can find in the states.... music, movies, GPS, internet, you name it.

Closed view, you can see an LCD display and camera.

Opened up, unfortunately you can't see a lot of detail in this one.

Ridge Racer on a cell phone! This seems impressive, until you remember that the original Ridge Racer came out 13 years ago!!

Anyways, its pretty sweet, and you can ever put in a memory stick for even more capacity. Did I mention how much better the signal is as well?

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:57 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 15 August 2006
Apartment in Japan
Here are some pics of my apartment. It's basically over the garage on somebody's house. It's nothing fancy, but by Japanese standards fairly decent. It's relatively spacious, has two aircons, and was pretty much already furnished when I got here.You might be able to tell, but this was basically two smaller apartments joined up to make one decent-sized one. On to the pics.



First off is the "genkan". It is just an open space right now, I don't know if I will utilize it that much yet.

Now on to the dining room, its got a nice little table and a small closet for the clothes hanger.

Next is the TV room, this is genrally where I relax at.. Only 5 channels though!

My main kitchen/cooking area, with bathroom sink on the left.

Next to it, another kitchen area, pretty much just used for the fridge and to dry clothes.

Bedroom area- it's actually quite comfortable to sleep on.

That's the tour, pretty exciting, isn't it?

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:47 AM EDT
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Friday, 11 August 2006
Baked
Man, it's hot here. Hot, Hot, Hot. Sweating more than you've ever sweated in your life hot. Fortunately, there are A/Cs in my school office and car, as well as my apartment, but if you step outside, watch out. Case in point, Wednesday I went to my second school, Chitose Junior High school for the first time. They needed some extra players to help with the baseball club, so I said, sure, why not.

Bad idea.

First of all, I didn't have a hat. Or any sunscreen. With only a few small trees along the sides for shade. And the heat was relentless. No wind or breeze to break up the stifling humidity. So, we had a full warmup, and then a complete 7-inning game. Our team was worse, so we spent more time in the field, i.e. the sun. So there I am in left field, with only a short sleeve shirt, sweating my ass off. The results were almost gruesome, I was dehydrated and lobster red all over. I spent the whole night trying to cool off and grab whatever liquids I could. The next day, however I was ready with a cap and long-sleeved Under Armor (tm) shirts. So it was a little bit better.Anyways, I've got to be more careful.

How did we do? Actually we rallied from six runs down, but lost 7-6. I was 0-2 flyout and strike out, with a walk and a run.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 11:22 PM EDT
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Monday, 7 August 2006
Next Post
Had my speech at school, no big problems there actually. During the ceremony, an old lady who lived through the war gave a speech. I couldn't understand it entirely, but from what I could gather she didn't appreciate having to send off her friends to die (and remember, as bad as the fighting was for the Allies, the Japanese casualty rates were much, much higher). If you come to Japan, it's easy to tell who lived through the war, because they are so tiny. It's not hard to imagine what several years of starving and malnutrition will do to a person's body.

Afterwards, around school, I've been meeting some of the kids. Most of them so far are really great (of course, we'll see how it goes once class starts). They are really friendly and enthusiastic, although unfortunately their english level is just about zero. I was hoping for a little bit better comprehension to start with, but outside of "my name is" and "I like..." there's not a whole lot going on. I'm having to try pretty hard even in just basic conversion to convey words and ideas in english. Hopefully there will be some improvement over time, but we'll see.

Anyways, I've started on my first assignment, an introduction poster about the United States. If you had to break down US culture, history, and geography into one neat poster, what would you choose? So far, I've got a lot of famous landmarks, some notes about the US flag, etc. The political scientist in me wants to break down the US Constituion, Separations of powers, etc. but at the same time I don't want to put the kids to sleep. So I'll try to keep it somewhat interesting.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:38 AM EDT
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