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Two links relevant to my interests (and possibly yours too, if you like sweet things!) [Feb. 26th, 2010|08:23 pm]
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Hat-tip to aster_dw:

KitKats of the World

Pocky, Pretz, and Pretenders

I don't know why I find snack foods so fascinating. I just do.
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Home again, home again. [Jul. 31st, 2009|12:00 pm]

Well, I'm back in Iowa.

I don't have anything particularly post-worthy to say about my final days in Japan, other than that they were a whirlwind of awesome, and yes I did cry a lot on my final day at Achi Middle. Especially when Ayaka said goodbye to me. That was when I really started to lose it. But anyway, the Achi Middle teachers gave me a fabulous farewell enkai and an even more fabulous goodbye karaoke party. Plus the Namiai teachers also gave me a lovely goodbye, and the members of my adult English conversation class took me out for yakiniku and more drunken singing. And two days before I left was my final Achi Fire Festival, so that was definitely one way to go out with a bang. :)

I should write in more detail about all of these things, but I can't. I just can't. It would be too emotionally draining. I'll just stick with my memories for now, without bothering to write them down. I was also far too caught up in the moment during my last week to take any pictures, unfortunately. So again, I've just got my memories, but no visual or verbal recordings of my final days. Maybe it's better that way.

Anyway, Achi was my home for three years, and it still hasn't quite sunk in that I've left, yet.

I miss the ready availability of ice coffee in restaurants and stores already, though.

In a total stroke of randomness, today while Debbie and I were in the Sprint store in Davenport to get me a cell phone, the only other customers in the store happened to be a family who, it turns out, lived in northern Nagano for two years! The father was US military stationed in Okinawa but then transferred to Nagano for some Olympics-related business. Their two kids were born in Japan. The mother told me that she was amazed the first time that she ventured outside of Nagano City and discovered that there was so much rolling, open countryside in Japan. "I thought it was all congested city living, like in Tokyo," she told me. "But Nagano was amazing!"

"Rice fields and cows everywhere?" I joked.

"Yes, exactly!"

So wow, talk about a small world!

Anyway, even though I am done with living in Japan, I'm not quite done with this blog, since I still have tons of pictures to post, and I'll still be announcing flickr updates here. I might also continue to use this account to blog about Japan-related things, but I dunno, I haven't quite decided yet.

Ciao for now, Japan! Ciao for now.

But someday, I will be back. If for no other reason than because I promised so many people that I would visit them again. ^____^
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Photos of AWESOME! [Jul. 19th, 2009|03:54 pm]

Julia posted her photos from our vacation last week!

A "best of" slideshow is here.

Maybe I'll get around to posting my own pictures sometime next month. I think it goes without saying, however, that I'm going to be very, very busy over the next few weeks.
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The Punning Wars, continued. [Jul. 13th, 2009|11:07 am]


This morning:

Ken fired the first volley. Ms. Adachi asked in Japanese, "Do you understand the meaning of this passage?" (Naiyo wa daijoubu?) to which Ken responded, "Nai yo!" ("Nope!").

A few minutes later Ms. Adachi dropped her first pun-bomb of the day, although I was busy helping another student at the time, so I didn't actually hear what her pun was. I did hear the students sitting near her immediately break out into groans, however, so that's how I knew that she had made her move.

Later, the class was split into two groups, and they were each assigned parts to read in a short English script which was a conversation between two characters, Ken and Emma. "You will read Ken's part," Ms. Adachi told Ken's group. (The real Ken, not the fictional Ken. Even though the real Ken was part of the group reading the fictional Ken's part. Hmmm, maybe I should have chosen a different pseudonym for the real Ken...) Anywhoo, Ken immediately turned to his group and said, "Issho Ken-mei yarimashou!" ("Let's read Ken's part together!") which, yes, sounds exactly like Isshoukenmei yarimashou! ("Let's try our best!").

This was admittedly a pretty good one, so the other students laughed instead of groaning.

I think that Ken won the battle today, but I suspect that the war is far from over.
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Photos catch-up, and some volleyball shenanigans. [Jul. 1st, 2009|04:41 pm]
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Right, so. Since Julia is coming to visit me in two days, and since we are now officially T-minus four days and counting for Mt. Fuji, I figured that it's about time that I finished uploading the photos from my previous big vacation, waaaaay back six months ago. Here we go. New sets in the Flickr pool:

Kyoto New Year 2009

Fushimi Inari New Year 2009

Okinawa: Naminoue New Year 2009

Okinawa: Shuri Castle and Coming-of-Age Day 2009

Okinawa: Ocean Expo Park
lol sweet sweet manatee lovin'

Okinawa Miscellaneous

Oh, Okinawa. So many fond memories... and so many not-so-fond memories. My not-so-fond memories are mostly related to issues of the weather (bitterly cold in January, of course), the stupidity of the Okinawanites about the weather (LOL LET'S KEEP OUR AIR CONDITIONING ON EVEN THOUGH IT'S FIVE FUCKING DEGREES OUTSIDE BECAUSE WE LIVE IN A TROPICAL PARADISE YOU GUYZ!!!!)*, and of course, that time that Meredith and I discovered that Naminoue is actually the world's ugliest beach. I am so not kidding about that. It's in the photos, you guys. Just look.

I still regret that I was never able to snap a decent picture of the fabulous host club hotties (with their fabulous hairstyles) who hung out in the 7-11 across the street from our hotel every morning. Because, yes. I totally booked us a hotel room right in the middle of Naha's night club district. Go me.

* I still find it amusing that Okinawa has this weird fetish about hibiscus flowers. Or at least, their tourism department has this weird fetish for hibiscus flowers, as pictures of the darn things are everywhere. Maybe being constantly bombarded with the image of the hibiscus flower is partially responsible for brainwashing all of the citizens of Okinawa into believing that they live in a warm-all-year-round tropical paradise, even when they totally don't?

Well, guess what.

We have hibiscus flowers in Nagano, too. Lots of them.

That's right. In Nagano. You know, where they held the Winter Olympics that one time?!

Yeah. There really isn't anything particularly special or "tropical" about hibiscus flowers. There really isn't.

(Why, no. That rant wasn't percolating for six months or anything...)

Also, the complete saturation of American culture on the island was inescapable. In some ways, this was awesome, because we got to watch American television (broadcast on the military base channels, no less!), eat spam and real Kentucky Fried Chicken (not the Japanified version), aaaand eat curly fries and drink root beer at A&W restaurants. Okay, so maybe none of that was so great for Meredith, but for me it was seriously awesome. On the other hand, however, many of the worst aspects of American culture have been well and thoroughly integrated into the fabric of life in Naha, including trash on the streets, pushy cab drivers, and the world's most hideous architectural horrors. My God, Naha is an ugly city. I mean, it's just ugly. It was and still is the first genuinely ugly place I've ever visited in Japan. And yes, I realize that it's America's fault that Naha is such an eyesore. We're the ones who razed the original city during World War II, and we're the ones who "rebuilt" it using the finest techniques that 1970's-style concrete architecture had to offer. So yes, as an American, I am both repulsed by Naha's architectural travesties, and yet deeply ashamed to be a citizen of the country that's responsible for inflicting them upon Japan in the first place. Yeah, I know. It's... complicated.

Well, on to happier news. Today at Achi Middle we had our big annual volleyball tournament between the two third-year classes. Students from each class went head-to-head in teams of six, but since we only had one volleyball court to use, that meant that the students who weren't competing in any given match were supposed to cheer on their classmates from the sidelines. During the first game of the morning, six students from the 1-gumi class took to the court and then immediately engaged in a quick round of rock-paper-scissors, in order to determine their serving order. Watching from the sidelines, another of the 1-gumi students - we'll call him Tetsuya - suddenly began rallying the other boys into cheering on the rock-paper-scissors match. "WHOO YEAH NICE ROCK!" he started shouting, and then his friends immediately joined in:




Unfortunately, Tetsuya did not end up cheering nearly as loud or as enthusiastically during the actual volleyball game.

I do have to give the Achi Middle students credit, though. The volleyball matches were pretty intense, and definitely exciting to watch. We have more than a handful of talented volleyball players in both third-year classes this year. Honestly, I'm really impressed by the students' mad volleyball skillz. I remember back when I played on the Bettendorf Middle School volleyball team, during the strange, strange year that was seventh grade, when somehow I ended up playing on almost every extracirricular (or did we call it "intramural"?) sports team that BMS had to offer. (Seriously, how did that happen?! What was I thinking?!) But anyway, I remember that back during *my* middle school volleyball matches, we all sucked so much that whichever team served the ball almost always ended up winning the point, since nobody could actually return a decent serve. Yeah, we all sucked hardcore.

Oh, nostalgia.

In other news: Shiso-flavored Pepsi. It is not very good.
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The punning war, and my adventures at the jimusho. Or not. [Jun. 23rd, 2009|05:28 pm]

Click to read a long-ish entry.Collapse )
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Furusato. [Jun. 13th, 2009|06:56 pm]

I was feeling really stuffed-up, snively, and feverish yesterday. I had to bow out of what sounded like a delicious dinner at the new Indian place in Iida, since I hoped that staying home and vegging for one night would stave off the worst of whatever I was developing.

I guess that was the right thing to do, because today I feel 100% better! And a good thing, too, because the Amanos visited me in Achi today. We had a blast at Inadani Douchu, where I also scored some delicious nigorizake, specifically one of the sweet, creamy brews from Kikusui. Then we went up to Sonohara to see the Komatsunagi Sakura, the Broom Tree, Misaka Shrine, and the Waterfall Lookout.

I think it really hit me today, how much I'm going to miss all of these little local places. The hike up to Misaka Shrine, Achi Park, the Komaba Trail, Mt. Amikake...

Even the local food. I'm going to miss the cabbage-and-sauce style of serving katsudon, the goheimochi, the horse sashimi, the nigorizake, even the fried crickets that they sell in grocery stores around here. I don't care how gross those friend crickets are. They're a part of Achi, and a part of my memories here. When I see fried crickets in a grocery store, it feels like I'm home.

As Sumiko said, Achi is my furusato (country home) now.

I'm going to miss this place.

(I apologize for the schmoopiness of this entry.)
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Insanity. [Jun. 7th, 2009|12:41 pm]

Was in Nagano and Nagoya this weekend. The Amanos are coming to visit me in Achi next weekend. The weekend after that, I will be going back to Nagoya to hang with Yoshiko and present at a conference. The week after that, Julia and Bryce are hitting Japan. Whew!

So yeah, my last two months in Japan are obviously going to be completely insane.

I'm so glad that I began the process of cleaning out my house and getting it ready for the next teacher back in February. I'm still not done with everything that I need to do, but I'm close. This week I have to clean up the backyard, replace two last tatami mats, and repair the dent that some anonymous asshole graced my car with while I was parked at Saty last month. You know, so that my house and my car don't look totally trashy when the Amanos come to visit. I also have to square away all of my paperwork to get my pension refund (seven thousand-ish dollars, mofos) and my visa extension (which I plan on doing in Tokyo the day before Julia and Bryce arrive, but still, I have to get the paperwork done now). Oh yeah, and working on my presentation. I'm supposed to be doing that.

Oh, and if anybody reading this happened to hear that bloodcurdling scream that probably woke up half the village at 6 a.m. this morning? Yeah, that was me. I opened up my underwear drawer and a foot-long centipede came jumping out.

I'm going to burn everything in that drawer. I'm serious.
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The end of the world as we know it. [Jun. 2nd, 2009|10:58 am]
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Overheard yesterday during class at Namiai, when students were supposed to be drawing illustrations for their English essay projects...

STUDENT A: What is that?!
STUDENT B: This is a banana and that is a fried shrimp.
STUDENT A: You can't draw a banana and a fried shrimp on the same plate!
STUDENT C: That's gross.
STUDENT A: Yeah, that's really gross. You can't put those on the same plate.
STUDENT B: Yes I can. They go together.
STUDENT C: No they don't!
STUDENT B: Yes, they do. They go together because they both look like penises.

Why yes, Student B is indeed a twelve-year-old boy. How could you tell?

Also of note...

Oh, Japan. It's bad enough that you've got delicious giant chocolate wafer cookies on sale for about 70 yen each in convenience stores throughout the country. But did you really have to up the ante by creating chocolate wafer cookies with pop rocks in them?!

I repeat: Pop rocks.

Pop rocks.

Pop rocks.

Yes, now Japan has chocolate wafer cookies THAT ARE FILLED WITH POP ROCKS. And you know what? They taste FREAKIN' AWESOME.

Pop rocks. Pop rocks inside the chocolate filling of your crispy wafer sandwich cookies.

Game over, ladies and gentlemen.

Game over.

Japan wins.

Edited to add: The cookies in question are made by Lotte, FYI. There are a couple different kinds.
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Nearly half a year later... [May. 21st, 2009|06:29 pm]
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...I'm finally getting some of my winter vacation photos online. Go me!

Anyway, here are some Flickr updates:

Tokyo New Year 2009
Oh yeah, Meredith and I totally saw the Emperor. No kidding. See for yourself.

Winter Sunset at Sunshine 60
A fairly spectacular sunset over Mt. Fuji.

Halo Over Mt. Fuji
I think maybe I already posted this once? Oh well, here it is again.

Tokyo Über-Set
Old set with new photos at the end. Specifically, STAR WARS PACHINKO. Because Meredith and I are dorks.

Jigokudani Monkey Park

And here is a really crappy video of some cute monkeys.
The fight breaks out at about 1:34 and keeps going for a while.

Next up: Photos from Kyoto and Okinawa.
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I'm sorry again, Japan. But now China has just PWNED YOU FOREVER. [May. 5th, 2009|04:03 pm]
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Aw hell yeah:


Check out the 2:00 mark on that one.

Now just try to top that, Japan.

I dare you to top that.
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I'm sorry, Japan. But Korea just won at life, the universe, and everything. [May. 3rd, 2009|04:07 pm]
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Top that, Japan.

Top. That.

I dare you to top that.
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Cards, cards, cards. [Apr. 23rd, 2009|09:51 pm]

Today I went to a stationary store in Iida to buy my annual batch of Mother's Day cards.

Now, what I've been doing the past two years has been to use wedding cards as Mother's Day cards. Yes, yes, I know, LOL cultural appropriation. But Japanese wedding cards are just so beautiful, and so... I want to say girly, but that's not quite the right word, maybe womanly would fit better... Anyway, unless you're familiar with the cultural context, there's nothing written or drawn on these cards that would indicate to your average American that they're supposed to be *wedding* cards, so I go ahead and use them as Mother's Day cards anyway. I mean, they're absolutely perfect for the job. They're these perfect origami concoctions made of pastel patterned paper, decorated with glittery mizuhiki knots and bows, and often topped with tiny pearls, cloth flowers, and sometimes even little golden fans and tassles.

And, to be fair, I always include on my note inside the card a disclaimer along the lines of "In Japan this is actually a wedding card, but you can go ahead and pretend that it's supposed to be a Mother's Day card anyway!"

So anyway, I have five total mothers and grandmothers to send out cards to. So at the stationary store today, when I walked up to the check-out register with my five wedding cards in hand, the store clerk gave me an amused look and asked, "You really have that many weddings to go to? Well, I guess you're at that age when everybody's getting married."

And I was like, "Oh no no no no! I know that these are wedding cards, but I actually use them as Mother's Day cards for my relatives back in America."

And then she laughed and said, "That is completely amazing!"


"They do look like they should be Mother's Day cards, don't they?"

I'm glad that a random Japanese stranger could appreciate my genius. ;)

For the record, Mother's Day *is* celebrated in Japan, but card-giving does not appear to be part of the deal. It's more of a flower-giving holiday over here.
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Whoo-hoo! [Apr. 19th, 2009|11:09 pm]

Tokyo Boishakhi Mela 2009!!!!

I was there today!!!!

It was awesome!!!!

Also of note: I saw a tanuki near my house!!!! Which is a Pretty Big Deal, actually. Even after three years of living in the Japanese countryside, and three years of doing lots of outdoorsy hiking and stuff, this is still the FIRST tanuki I've ever seen (that wasn't already roadkill).
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Interesting language link. [Apr. 15th, 2009|04:10 pm]

This might be of interest to some of you reading this journal...

How to Swear in English

"Real" English. Not American English. (We Americans are lazy. We just swear by infixing the F-word into everything.)
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Cartoon Network in Japan? [Mar. 9th, 2009|03:18 pm]

Okay, I wasn't aware of this, but apparently Cartoon Network is available in Japan. Not for those of us without cable, of course. Drat.

I wouldn't have known this if not for the fact that, in English class at Namiai last week, we were practicing the word courage, and one of the students suddenly shouted out, "Ooooooooh, you mean like that dog! The purple dog that's scared all the time!"

And I was like, "Uhhh... You mean Courage the Cowardly Dog?"

"Yes, yes! And he lives on a farm and his owner is mean and there are monsters!"

I really freakin' couldn't believe that Courage the Cowardly Dog (known as Okubyou-na Courage-kun in Japanese) was on TV in Japan. But apparently most Cartoon Network shows are. Huh. I was totally unaware of that.

Unbelievably, Cartoon Network was brought up in the same English class again, today. This time the vocabulary word was wrong, and the class wiseass thought it would be funny to shout "WROOOOOOOOOOOOOONG!" like Kevin Spacey did in Superman Returns.

For some reason this started the kids talking about Superman, and one girl said, "Did you guys see the anime version?"

"I tried to watch it, but it was really boring."

"I tried to watch it and I thought it was gross."

"Gross, meaning...?"

"Superman's face looked like a square and his body looked like a triangle."

And I thought, ZOMG they are talking about Bruce Timm's animated Superman! and then I was sad that apparently they did not appreciate Timm's genius. Genius, I tell you.

Then again, I haven't seen the Japanese incarnation of whatever DCAU show they were talking about. So it's entirely possible that it got an awful Japanese dub or some other crappy treatment, which can easily turn an otherwise good show into something utterly unlikeable.

Or maybe they're just not the audience to appreciate a show about an alien dude who flies around and punches things while rendered entirely in an art deco animation style.
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The scent of snow. [Mar. 5th, 2009|07:34 pm]

This happened on Tuesday at Namiai:

It had been snowing all day long. I was in the teacher's office. We had just finished up after cleaning time, which meant that all of the windows in the office were open. One of the new, young teachers (yes, I am a terrible person, and I don't remember her name) suddenly said, "Ahhh, it smells like snow in this room!"

And then all of the other teachers were like, "Jigga-what?"

"Snow. You know. The scent of snow." They were all looking at her like she was crazypants, but she kept going. "Don't you ever notice? The way that snow smells?"

Mr. Makino said, "I've never smelled snow before. I don't think it has a smell."

The school secretary added, "Snow doesn't have a smell."

So then *I* cut in with, "No, it totally does!" And I swear to God, y'all, it really does. I told Mr. Makino, "You go skiing, right? Haven't you ever smelled the snow while you were skiing?"

Apparently quite excited to have some support in this argument, the first teacher added, "Yes, yes, yes! And you know the way that air smells right before it starts snowing? That smell that means that it's about to snow?"

And I was all like, "Yes, YES! I know what you're talking about!"

And then we squeed back and forth for a few minutes, while everyone else in the room probably concluded that we were off our rockers. Finally the school secretary said, "I wonder if maybe this is something that only young people notice?"

I don't know about that. But I do wonder if maybe this is a cultural difference? I mean, I've always thought of snow as having a scent. The same way that, you know, rain has a scent. Or at least, the world smells a certain way after it's been rained on. Or the way that you can detect a certain scent in the air right before it starts raining. You know? To me, snow has never been any different.

I distinctly remember having read novels that included phrases like "the scent of freshly-fallen snow," etc. So I know that the other teacher and I aren't the only two people in the world to have noticed this. We're definitely not crazy. ;) Frankly, I was surprised to learn that not everyone thinks that snow has an identifiable scent. It baffles me, because the scent of snow is one of those things that I've always taken for granted. I guess anybody who doesn't smell snow must be equally as baffled by those of us who do.

Again, I wonder if this is maybe a cultural thing? I grew up exposed to the idea that snow has a scent, therefore I notice the scent of snow. On the other hand, the scent of kamemushi, or Japanese "stinkbugs"... Man, let me tell you about me and kamemushi. My first two years in Japan, I couldn't smell kamemushi. Like, at all. All of the Japanese people that I knew would be able to detect the scent of a kamemushi from clear across the room. Whenever one appeared in a classroom, it was an immediate cause of distraction, because the students would all start gagging and exclaiming, "It smells soooooo baaaaaaad..." But me? I literally could not smell the kamemushi. Not even when one was being held right under my nose. I was totally baffled by this.

Sometime last summer, however, I just... I dunno how or why, but I started to finally notice the scent of kamemushi. I don't know what changed - maybe I finally got exposed to the idea of the scent of kamemushi enough that I finally started to actually smell them? (How does that even work?) But at some point, I started to smell them. For the record, kamemushi smell like gym socks. And now that I can smell the kamemushi, I wonder how I was ever able to *not* smell them in the first place. Just one of those little buggers can emit a powerful, room-filling cloud of stinkiness.

There are other things, too. I've had Japanese people tell me that you can identify Korean people by their scent - that they smell like kimchi. Now this is obviously racist, duh, but I'm wondering if there's not a psychosomatic component as well. If you believe that Korean people smell like kimchi, will a Korean person actually smell like kimchi to you? I'm guessing that the answer is yes.

If you believe that snow has no scent, will you never smell it?

If you are skeptical about the idea that tiny little beetles can smell like gym socks, especially if you suspect that your students are being overly melodramatic about the presence of said tiny little beetle crawling across a windowsill near their desks, then... will you just not smell the beetle's scent?

How about you guys? Do you think that snow has a scent? Is there any time that somebody has pointed out a particular scent to you, even a scent that they claim is quite strong, and you've been all like "Der, what?" about it? Inquiring minds want to know.
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Today at Achi Dai-Ichi Elementary [Feb. 24th, 2009|04:39 pm]

I ate lunch with the fourth grade students at Dai-Ichi Elementary today. The kid who was sitting next to me immediately introduced himself to me in English: "My name is Obama."

"Oh," I said. "But your nametag says 'Yushi Ihara'."

"That's a lie," he said in Japanese. Then in English, "I am Obama. Black Obama."

"Barack," I corrected him, "not Black."

"Oh, really? I thought it was 'Black.'"

"Nope. Barack."

"Okay. My name is Barack Obama. YES WE CAN!"

To be fair, the way that many Japanese people pronounce black ("bu-ra-ku") does sound pretty much exactly the same as the way that most Japanese people pronounce Barack ("bu-ra-kku"), so it's an easy mistake to make.

I thought that the joke would end there, but then the other students in the class started rolling with it. A boy on the other side of me asked Yushi, "Obama, do you like Pokemon?"

"Yes, I do! I like Pokemon!"

"Obama, do you like baseball?" another girl asked.

Yushi stared at her, then went "Ehhhhhhhh?"

"Obama, don't you understand English?" she asked him, in Japanese.

"What is 'baseball'?" he asked.

"Yaykuu, yakyuu."

"Oh, I got it. Yes, I like yakyuu."

"Obama, why are you so bad at English?" the same girl asked.

"I hit my head and I forgot all my English."

"Obama, why are you so good at Japanese?" the boy on the other side of me asked.

"Because I ate a Japanese person's brain."

At that point the entire table that I was sitting at cracked up, whereas I was still doing a double-take because I wasn't entirely sure that I had heard Yushi correctly. But Yushi ignored everybody else's laughter, turned toward me, and proudly proclaimed in rather well-pronounced English, "I am Obama! I'm from America! I like cat! Nice to meet you! Thank you!"

I said, "I'm Elena. I'm from America, too. But you're not Obama."


"Not Obama."

"Peanut Obama?"

"Not. Not. Do you know what 'not' means?"

"P-not? Peanuts?"

Then I took the opportunity to teach Yushi and the rest of the table what not meant. For the rest of the lunch period, the other students addressed Yushi as "Not-Obama," and I had to deal with about a dozen students attempting to tell me that they were not American, that our macaroni salad was not yummy, and that Mr. Yoshizawa, their homeroom teacher, was not kakkoi.

Ah, teachable moments.
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Best misspelling of "speak" ever. [Feb. 10th, 2009|01:51 pm]

Written by a second-year student at Namiai today:

Many people spork English.

I'm certain he doesn't realize how very true that is.
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Quickie update. [Jan. 22nd, 2009|10:25 am]

During my most excellent, excellent vacation with Meredith, I did many fun and exciting things, such as partying with snow-monkeys, hiking all the way through Fushimi-Inari, discovering the location of the world's ugliest beach, and getting to see the Emperor of Japan himself.

And yes, I have pictures from all of that, and yes, I am working on uploading them still.

But! In the meantime, I am making this journal entry solely so that I can link to something mind-blowingly awesome:


Be sure to scroll all the way down.
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