Well, today is fun..

We’re back for another post!

No matter how boring life gets, the story of Matt in Japanland must go on! Unfortunately, there are no exciting new stories of nifty strangers I’ve met whilst adventuring. No wild nights, exquisite cuisines, or groundbreaking discoveries. Instead, I shall bring you
to a land of grey horizons, where the once mighty rays of the sun called adventure no longer shine. All the new things I have grown to love here have suffered through a two week long hiatus known as the ‘NOMONEYPOCALYPSE’. Of doom, and despair. By now, you probably get the point.

Know that all of my suffering that I am about to lament over is a product of my own poor financial decisions, and that I deserve all of the blame for the tragedy that has befallen me. Indeed, I am the engineer of my own monetary destruction. If I had simply followed the rules laid down in my excel budget spreadsheets, I would never have reached this point. I’ve spent the last two weeks eating rice, rice, and more rice. With a total food budget of about 25 dollars (for the two weeks), I’ve experienced the cheap side of Japanese cuisine.

So, what’s the absolute cheapest meal I can eat save bread? Curry. Curry and rice. You may know I’ve never liked curry the way others do, and honestly, just the smell had always been enough to give me pause. But here I can buy sweet (non spicy) curry for only 88 yen!!! I didn’t really have much of a choice when you think about it. So 88 yen curry courtesy of 7/11 has been my lifeblood. Cheapest lunch a guy could ask for in my position. And guess what?! I actually like it. I like the taste of this curry. It’s the strangest thing. I’m totally full and satisfied after half a cup of rice and a convenience store bag of curry. Trying to expand my palate is working.. This new commitment’s bringing me to places where I can finally experience all the new flavors I’ve suppressed the urge to try for so long. It’s what my parent’s always hoped I’d be like as a kid! (Sorry guys)

I’m talking too much about curry… It’s such a system shock to me. Anyways, budgeting out two weeks on 25 bucks took much more thinking that you’d expect. The curry lunches alone took up about twelve dollars of my fortune, which left me an incredible collection of 13 dollars to make the rest of the meals a thing. So breakfast was either cereal or a piece of toast, lunch was the curry, and dinner (you won’t believe this) was actually pizza. Pizza. PIZZA. That’s right, I survived the nomoneypocalypse making budget pizzas. I wouldn’t have, in my wildest dreams, suspected that making pizza would be one of the cheapest food sources available to me… I can get enough cheese for about eight pizzas off of three dollars, and a combination of pizza squeeze and various breads make it happen. (this pizza squeeze from Jeff and Heather was a lifesaver). I basically dipped into all of my emergency food reserves, scrounging food from every hiding place I didn’t know existed. Mystery kit kat flavors? Eaten. Leftover pancake mix? Eaten. Pasta and Ramen? Eaten. Any and everything has been devoured dear readers, and all that remains is the soba from Nagano that I haven’t tried cooking yet. Other than that (which is dinner tonight) my kitchen is pretty much a wasteland. Needless to say, this weekend I’ll definitely be that guy at the yakiniku (korean BBQ) place who eats infinitely more than humanly possible.

I can’t wait for dinner tomorrow, I just want you all to know that. CAN’T. WAIT. I’m literally going to go to the grocery store and buy just about anything I can fit in my basket, and I will feast like a king. Meat my friends, delightful, freshly cooked, joyous meat. I really wanna change the subject now (I might die thinking about this). BTW, if you’re still reading, way to hang in there. You can probably tell that I’m a bit hungry at the moment, and the subject matter has gotten a bit stale (ha…like stale chips…food…) Right, done boring you with my food longings. I don’t really have anything else that I can think of other than food at this point, so instead of writing about how hungry I am, I’m going to eat lunch and continue this not very exciting story only after I’ve stopped obsessing over food. That way I’m not going to have to worry about how bored you probably are, AND I will no long be starving, the thought of which brings a warm feeling to my heart. Side note, whatever everyone is eating for kyushoku (school lunch) today smells incredibly delicious (ugh, I really gotta eat now [also, why am I writing all of this out?]) Right, time to go to the microwave at the other end of the room, and use it to make my delicious beef curry warm enough to eat. I’LL BE BACK DEAR READERS!

You will be happy to know that this blog post will begin to start making sense again. I have eaten, lesson planned, relaxed, and now understand what I’m supposed to be doing for the rest of the week… Oh frabjous day!!! I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I actually never got my schedule for this week due to an administrative memory error. As a result I have no classes today and tomorrow, so I’m gonna take time to make what will probably be the most badass game of jeopardy these kids will ever play. Ideally this new game will give them a chance to practice new grammar points and learn a bit about the world. I’m pretty excited about this lesson. Either way, you should know that it’s going to be awesome…That’s the take home message here.

Up until now I’ve neglected to comment on upcoming plans in my blogs. I’ve always written stuff about what I’ve already done so far, never what I intend to do, so here’s to a new blog category: Plans. I’ll be wrapping January up with celebrations. This weekend I’m gonna be going out a couple times for dinner, and the following weekend will probably be birthday celebrations. It’ll be a good time to let myself bask in the joys of financial stability (obviously with intent to stay a bit more thrifty this month). Reading this post, I’m sure you know I don’t want another nomoneypocalypse. Feb. 7th I’m heading out to Hokkaido for Yuki Matsuri. I’ve already put money down on the hostel, and the plane ticket has been purchased, so that shouldn’t cost too much money (unlike Nagano). I’ve actually never been to any of the big festivals out here, and the one in Hokkaido is supposed to be a big deal, expect many pictures =D. I’m gonna have that sweet new camera I got for Christmas with me. The week after Hokkaido I might go to to Hadaka Matsuri, where you run around in a loincloth with 9000 other dudes in loinclothes drinking sake and brawling like monsters, all while the temperature is around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Should be an interesting story to say the least, hopefully I survive. That’ll probably wrap up February, and will most certainly bring me to the next payday (which I’ll be saving for the next set of visitors [excited]). I’ll probably have to desert my plans to have Kobe beef and shabu shabu once again, but that can wait until march’s visitors arrive in Kyoto. Then again, you never know what will happen.

Never have I imagined that I would actually write this much in a blog post about nothing. Honestly, I surely wouldn’t have if I wasn’t gonna try to finish writing these damn song lyrics into the post. I’ve had to use quite a bit of strange phrasings that I normally wouldn’t make into sentences. Nevertheless (I  always have this image of Luke Skywalker laying the law down on Jabba when I hear that word), you have still managed to get through the 1654 word essay full of my ramblings, and if I wasn’t stuck here at work doing nothing at all (/cry), I’d raise a drink to your name, because reading this entire block of ridiculous text is something to be proud of. In this world, never has such a useless string of information been presented for sane people to read, and I commend you all. When I get home, I’m gonna have a drink for you dear reader, in honor of your stoic resolve. Trudge on with me, as we finish this post off. I do not want to say adieu, but I fear that I must, for the day is almost done here at this magnificent Junior High School. Soon I will be bidding everyone goodbye, and going on my merry way.

Never forget what you’ve done here today, good champion of literary tolerance. You show the world as you read on, that you’re not gonna give into the distractions of real life when there is nonsensical essays to be read. You’re going to stare at the world outside and tell it to wait. “Wait!” you say to that outside world.

A small side note, I am incredibly bored right now, and I apologize for writing so many paragraphs that could so very easily be made to lie in a much smaller post. Honestly, I could have probably wrote ‘I ran out of money, so I sat around a lot and ate curry.’ But I didn’t, and despite this you’ve read the whole thing. Hopefully the next time that you and I see each other, you’ll have no intentions to go and hurt me physically as recompense. With that, dear readers, it is finally time for me to say goodbye, so have a fantastic day, and thank you for reading! Also, Ravea asked me to write ‘Ravea is the best black person ever’, so there’s that.

Happy New Year!

If the title wasn’t enough, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I miss you all back home, hope things are well.

I’m going to kick this post off with a party! A $70 year end staff party hosted through my base school at some fancy Japanese restaurant. Here we go…

After aimlessly wandering the streets around the train stop this bounenkai was supposed to be at, I had the good fortune to encounter a coworker outside of the building I suspected to be my destination. After confirming said suspicions, we headed into this fancy pants place. The second floor was completely reserved for my school, and upon entering I was directed to pick a number (to decide where I would be seated). Hopelessly wishing to be seated near people who spoke English, I drew the number ’11’, which seated me at the opposite end of the room. Blessing in disguise! As fate would have it, right across from me sat the student teacher who works at my school, who happens to be studying English, and next to her was the gentleman who, aside from the English teachers I work with, is probably the most competent English speaker at this school (much to my surprise). On top of all this, to my right was a good man who happened to have a vigorous appetite, and was easily able to liberate me from all of my food related woes.

It was a great time, but there was waaaaaay too much food. There is no way I could ever eat that much, even if it were pizza. Seriously a huge assortment of food. The dishes were served one at a time, but they just didn’t stop coming. Needless to say, I definitely appreciated the assistance of my champion eater neighbor. Food I ate: Eggplant (good), Tofu thing (alright), Spinach thing (good), Gelatinous peppery thing (alright), Lotus root (good), salad (good), whitefish (good), mackerel (alright), salmon (meh), eel (abhorrently disgusting), meat plate (beyond delicious), noodles (I was so full but they were good), brownie (yum), ice cream with what I think was red bean paste (meh), beer (good), and sake (good). Right…too much food.

After 3 hours of endless food, drinks, and delightful conversations, the bounenkai came to an end, and we all headed outside. Despite the fact that I planned to go snowboarding early the next morning, I lingered in hopes of finding an after party of sorts. I was rewarded with two options: 1. join the girls and go to a cafe to presumably drink coffee, or 2. go to an izukaya of sorts with the gents and drink more. Seeing as how I hate coffee, the choice was pretty easy (all of this was a bad idea when my financial situation is taken into account).

The after party was pretty fun, and many jokes were had, but I think a bit of a misunderstanding led to a running joke that has since left the nights festivities and bled into staff room life (I thought this wasn’t supposed to happen). When they asked me how many girlfriends I had back in states, they were surprised with the number I gave them for my answer, and called me a playboy (which I vehemently denied). Perhaps they thought that the number of girlfriends I gave them were all at the same time? Either way, they started calling me ‘Horny Champion’ and I’m 98% sure they don’t quite realize what they are saying. I actually had someone come up to me today and call me ‘horny champion’, AT WORK. But how do you explain the actual implications of what they are saying, who do you explain it to? This is going to prove to be a difficult issue to rectify. Sigh….

As I mentioned, the next day was a snowboarding warm up trip (before going to Nagano) at a place called Biwako Valley. It’s only about an hour or so away by train, and is relatively cheap to get to. So, hangover in tow, I woke up early and headed out to take my first crack at boarding in Japan. Turns out it’s just like boarding in the states, except that the handy lift tickets I’m used to aren’t a thing here, and I found myself needing to purchase an armband mounted lift ticket holder.

After spending some time with the beginners, another ALT and myself headed towards some steeper slopes, and it was in the blizzard at the top of the mountain that I concluded my lack of hat, neck warmer, and goggles may not have been the best idea, and successfully formed my first ice helmet.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

It took nearly all of lunch to defrost. Anyways, after buying all that stuff I needed, we headed back out into the blizzard to get as many runs in as possible. Due to poor visibility paired with foggy goggles, I can honestly admit that this was not the most favorable ski trip of my life. Eventually we headed home, intent on wrapping the night up with pizza and clubbing, because…..well just because. It was one guy’s last night of the year in Japan so…ya. My personal plan was to go home, eat pizza, take a bath, then head out to the club. I only accomplished 1 of the 3 tasks, and woke up on my couch the next morning to a still full, warm, temperature regulated bath. Oops.

So then Nagano happened. For those of you who don’t know, Nagano is the place where the 1998 winter olympics took place, and it’s a bit famous for it’s mountains and ski slopes.

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

We took an express train bound for Nagano out of Kyoto station, and after a 4 hour train ride we reached our destination (kind of). We missed the shuttle bus we had hoped to catch by about 5 minutes, and decided to kill some time at a cafe. We ditched the first place on account of smell, and the second place we tried ended up taking us through a tiny 2 story bookstore (with luggage and snowboard in tow) to a miniscule (and full) cafe. We found a good place on the third try. After a short rest, we hopped on the bus, and headed for our hostel.

The hostel we went to was called K’s House and it was nothing like what I was expecting. This place was awesome! Look at it through the link above and you’ll see what I mean. The people who ran the the hostel were exceptional as well, and they had an unbelievable adorable little 1-ish year old named Amo who was probably the cutest kid ever (We played with her a fair bit).

The night we arrived, we ate this delicious steak:



then went to the onsen. For those of you who don’t know, and onsen is basically a hot spring kind of deal mixed with being a public bath. I know that sounds a bit odd to those of you back home, but skinny dipping apparently isn’t really a big deal around here. So you go into a locker room, strip, take a shower in the shower area (super important) and head into the bath. Usually the baths are segregated, there’s a Men’s side and a Women’s side. On the men’s side at this place there were three baths, and one of them was outside. Seeing as how it was super cold out, and there was snow everywhere, we opted for the outside bath….BECAUSE THAT’S AWESOME. So awesome in fact, that we went there every night as a result.

The next morning was Christmas! Merry Christmas! We had a lazy morning, but ate eggs and toast for breakfast. This is what it looked like outside:

I got that white Christmas I wanted

I got that white Christmas I wanted

Next was snowboarding. Wow. Let me preface this by saying it was the PERFECT day for snowboarding. It was incredibly clear, and the slopes weren’t incredibly busy. I spent the first half of the day with the newbies, and cut loose for the second half. Satisfied with my progress on the greens, I headed up this incredibly high gondola:

Don't sit on this side if you're afraid of heights. Also...oops.

Don’t sit on this side if you’re afraid of heights. Also…oops.

and hit my first ‘red’ of the day. Here in Japan a green is the easiest (like a green circle back home), a red is intermediate (like a blue square back home), and a black is expert (like a black diamond back home). OR SO I THOUGHT. It turns out that the red here is more akin to the hardest black diamonds Wisconsin has to offer (which I guess shouldn’t have been a big surprise) and going down the steepest slope and narrowest run I had ever encountered in my life took quite a bit out of me.

This sign really scared me

This sign really scared me

I was exhausted by the end of that run. Realizing that I realllllllllly needed to work on my technique before trying that again, I got started on learning not to suck at riding fakie and doing jump turns, which was a surprisingly successful and productive decision.

We caught dinner at a Pizzakaya (haha cause… pizza…and..izakaya….get it?) where I had my Christmas ham…(on a pizza), then hit the Onsen.



If I thought Christmas day was magnificent, I was sorely mistaken. The day after Christmas (which I learned is called ‘boxing day’) blew Christmas out of the water, hands down. It was the first full day of boarding, and the practice I had invested time in on Christmas really paid off. I did that run that destroyed me the other day like…7 times (I should point out that round trip is about half an hour, and it takes longer to get down than up). This run was without a doubt the most enjoyable slope I have ever had the opportunity to board. The snow was perfect, the crowd wasn’t too thick, the weather was phenomenal, and the difficulty was manageable after getting back in the swing of things. Here’s a picture from the top:



Awesome, so awesome. The next day was a big foggy (see below), and it was a fun experience getting lost at the top of the mountain due to poor visibility. The end of the day consisted of trying my first black course in Nagano (which was referred to as the ‘Snow Diving Course’ whatever that means), which was pretty steep. The slope was at a 34 degree angle, which I know doesn’t sound like much, but take into consideration that the steepest course at Happo One (where the Olypmic Alpine skiing event was held) is 35 degrees. The steepest course in Nagano is 45 degrees (fun fact). IT WAS STEEP OK?!

I don't know which way the cliff of doom is.

I don’t know which was the cliff of doom is.

The last day in Nagano was kind of a veg day. We sat around and did nothing important, and it was incredibly relaxing. It ended a bit hasty however, as our dinner took so long to arrive that we had to practically inhale it and rush for the bus. Our NIGHTbus. This nightbus (I’ve learned) was a very cramped and uncomfortable overnight trip that took about 7 hours, with a few stops, delivering us straight to Kyoto. (On the bright side it was cheap)

I got into town early on the morning of the 29th, headed home and took a nap. After sleeping for a few hours, I woke up, cleaned my apartment, bought a futon, and headed to Kansai airport to meet Bart (my brother-in-law), and join him in waiting for my sister to arrive. Her plane landed at 10:35, and we somehow miraculously managed to catch the last train at 11:09 bound for Kyoto. Luckyyyyy. We got home, and pretty much immediately passed out.

Whew, this is a lot of typing.

Part 2: The Visit

We woke up early the next morning (I slept until about 7) to watch the Bears game on TV (I streamed it). Since I somehow managed to purchase groceries the previous day, we were able to make pancakes and eggs as we watched the game, and it would have been the perfect morning if the Bears hadn’t gone and lost (at least they’ve been avenged). Without a solid plan in mind, I took Jen and Bart out on the ‘Matt’s Morning Commute’ tour. It was here that they got to see what I consider Japan’s lowest bridge over a walkway:

People ride bikes and mopeds under this, for serious

People ride bikes and mopeds under this, for serious

I then took them to a Uni Qlo store, where Jen bought a fancy new packable down coat. I also showed them a sega game center, at which Bart won some strange flavored cheeto thing, and we ran into one of my students (oops). Next it was off to Daigo Station (on the Subway Tozai Line), where I showed them a couple of my schools, as well as my favorite recycle shop in the world. After that, we headed out on a quest to find 回転寿司 (Kaiten zushi) which is conveyor belt sushi. It took forever to find, and just as we were about to give up, we spotted it across the street. Sigh. Anyways, we headed next to the Gion District, where I took them to see the Yasaka Shrine:

This one

This one

Like most big shrines in the area, they were setting up shop for the big rush of visitors that come around for ‘Hatsumoude’, which is a tradition where people go to a shrine (usually with their families) and pray for the new year. From Yasaka shrine, we walked over to Kiyomizu Temple. The road to Kiyomizu is a very narrow walkway with many small shops and confectioneries selling sweets and nifty little Japanese souvenirs. It’s along this route to Kiyomizu that we were graced with the appearance of some Maiko (I think…Apprentice Geisha’s). The second one we saw may have been a full fledged Geisha, but I’m not an expert on the topic.

Exhibit G

Exhibit G

This day was a bit exhausting, so we headed back to my apartment for a quick breather before going to yakiniku at Chifaja (I’ve posted about this before, it’s the one where you grill your own meat). We chose the medium course, all you can eat and all you can drink, and spent the next 90 minutes in heaven. We even ventured out a bit and ate heart, tongue, and diaphragm (diaphragm is super delicious). Full of drink and food, we headed home. The next morning was a lazy one, and we took our sweet time preparing for the day’s adventures. After a late (and tiny) breakfast, we grabbed some snacks and headed for Fushimi Inari Taishi:

Probably the best picture I've ever taken

Probably the best picture I’ve ever taken

We wandered around a bit, got lost, and eventually backtracked our way to the entrance. It was really a magnificent place. One path that we took had a bamboo forest on the left, and a deciduous forest on the left, which was a neat sight to behold. We accidentally visited a grave site, and Jen started her celebrity status in Japan, when a random girl asked to take a picture with her:

She geeked out when Jen threw up the peace sign

She geeked out when Jen threw up the peace sign

On the way back to the train station, we stopped by a street takoyaki vender. Takoyaki is Japanese for Grilled (yaki) Octopus (tako). Much to Bart’s misfortune, I forgot that the food stays remarkably hot right after it’s cooked, and needs time to cool off. This is when I taught Jen and Bart about the Japanese term, ‘Neko-jita’ which means ‘cat tongue’, which apparently implies the food is too hot to eat. As the takoyaki experiment failed miserably, we decided to head to Yodobashi Camera, which is this crazy huge store, for lunch. In Japan, it’s been my experience that many places for fine authentic foods are located usually in the same place. Some of which might even be on the top floors of department stores or malls. It was on the 6th floor of Yodobashi Camera that I took them to try Kushi Katsu, which deep fried everything on sticks. It’s pretty good, but also a lot of fried food to take in at once. After that we headed back to the apartment to rest up before the New Years celebration.

Soooooo, for New years we headed over to another ALT’s apartment for some drinking games and pregaming. After drinking probably a bit too much here, Jen, Bart, and I headed to find a club to celebrate New Years at. We ended up running into some people on the street, one of with which was originally from Palatine (believe it or not) and went to a new club called ‘Ibiza’ with them which was pretty fun. After a somewhat lackluster countdown (compared to home) we shot off to the bar called Ing, where we wrapped up our night before catching a taxi home.

New years day was pretty restful, and we spent the whole morning sitting around watching movies and relaxing. Around 4pm or so, another friend who was visiting named Adam showed up. As a group we headed into Kyoto to do some shopping, and see the Teramachi shopping area. It was here that a member of our party accidentally purchase two small pieces of jewelry for $187.00, as opposed to $18.70. They made us wait a long time to reverse that transaction. A curious note, in Japan many stores have a mystery bag thing that you can buy for a certain amount of money that may or may not have some special items inside. From the looks of it, they are almost all worth their cost, but sometimes people get lucky. I guess this is a new years thing, kind of cool.

After some wandering and searching, we happened across an okonomiyaki place, and I finally got an opportunity to have Jen and Bart try this delicious mix of food that I have come to love:



We headed back afterwards, and entertained ourselves playing some light card games and drinking sake (which was really good). Thursday morning we bummed around for a while until we were all packed up and ready to go. Despite the fact that their plane took off the ext day, it was a flight so early that it would be impossible to get to the airport from my apartment before the flight departed. As a result, Jen and Bart had to spend a night at the airport hotel in Osaka. Our trip into Osaka was a bit hectic to start. We spent waaaay too much time looking for a Coco Ichibanya (Japanese curry) for lunch, but still had a great meal. Afterwards we did some browsing at the Namba City Takashimaya. Namba City is this massive partially underground shopping district area around the Namba stations in Osaka, and the Takashimaya is the giant store full of designer outlets like Gucci..and..uhhh….Luis Vitton….and…those….other designer people.

Right. So we headed to Shinsaibashi next to visit Amerikamura. I’ve mentioned this place in my Halloween post, but as a quick refresher, it’s basically like American-town, except more Japanese. There is a lot of interesting fashion here, and interesting shops that bleed out onto the street full of a grand variety of things. It was really the perfect place to wrap up their visit, and was a lot of fun. From here we met up with Blake and Naoko (neighbors) back at Namba and went to a Torikizoku to have some grilled chicken and beef kabobs, which were delicious. After dinner, Jen, Bart, and I headed to wrap up the night with one hour of all you can drink Karaoke! It started a bit lame, but once we started picking random Japanese songs and singing English lyrics to the lame music videos, things picked up fiercely. I showed them the AKB heavy rotation song, and we ended the night with some Rick Astley. We then hurried to the station, got the tickets and I bid farewell to my sister and brother-in-law, as they hopped on the train for the airport. Twas a sad goodbye for me. I then trained my way back to my apartment and spent the next day doing absolutely nothing. The following morning Adam and I had french toast and watched the Orange Bowl, then he headed off to Nagoya, and I vegged out until Monday, when classes resumed.

And that, my friends, concludes what will hopefully be the longest blog post of my life.

After a lovely weekend

Hello again everybody. I suppose I have a lot of updating to do once again. Many things have happened since my last post, and almost all of them are good! What a lovely situation to be in! This blog is actually a bit old, but this is the first real chance I’ve had to upload everything that needed to go with it. Expect the Christmas blog sometime tomorrow. That being said, Let’s be about it shall we?

It all starts out with the loneliest Thanksgiving of my life. I ate leftover food alone in the dark in my quiet apartment. Living the dreeeeeaaaammm. Seriously though it wasn’t all that bad. I will not pretend for a second that I don’t miss the good times back home during this season, but you know…when in Rome…

I spent the next week running the gauntlet of elementary schools, a new school every day certainly keeps the week fresh. Tuesday, the 26th of November gave me a lovely opportunity to have a nice long chat with one of my JTEs at the one school where I felt the least amount of connection with. Needless to say, since then my opinion of days spent at that school have significantly improved, and I actually received my first invite to an Onsen! (Those public baths where everyone gets naked together). Due to a prior scheduling conflict, I had to decline the invitation (which I should point out was actually an all inclusive spa kinda deal). Next time spaland of Japan, next time.

Anyways, thanksgiving was uneventful, but I did have the delightful opportunity to go do another one of those Yakiniku all you can eat kind of deals, and let me just say, I crushed it. So much food. SO much food. SO MUCH FOOD. It was like the Brazilian steakhouse all over again…except…Japaneseish. I had to complete the night with a powereating last hurrah which subsequently left me full for the next day.

I was very happy to have a chance to visit some Shrines during the fall changing of the leaves, and I have to say, it was beautiful. I have never seen such a vibrant display of autumn in my life. There will most assuredly be pictures of this. With the group I ended up going to two different temples. One of them, I cant remember the name for the life of me, but it was a night visit and many of the leaves were actually illuminated. It was very cool.

I get the feeling this part hasn't been illuminated like this for hundreds of years.

I get the feeling this part hasn’t been illuminated like this for hundreds of years.

Take that Reflection Pond

Take that Reflection Pond

The second temple was called Yoshiminedera, and it was spectacular! The leaves…what a sight. Getting there wasn’t all that difficult either. It was about an hour worth of train rides followed by a 45 minuteish bus ride up the side of a mountain. Definitely worth it. I purchased my very first stamp book! It turns out that the thing to do around here is to get this super fancy stamp and calligraphy done at every shrine you visit and get it put in your book. Like this:

I think it says 'Moose'

I think it says ‘Moose’

After another delightful week of teaching children about English (this week I introduced my ‘Obama’ line of Mood pictures), I reached the magical day of Friday. Not just any Friday either. This was my first time going to an Enkai type party here in Japan, and it was with the people the Kyoto city board of education. Hot damn, it was awesome. For starts, there was a freaking beer dispenser. I mean like…this thing was gold. Check it out:

Essentially this place was a buffet, all you can eat and all you can drink for about 3 hours. Even the drinks were buffet style, we had free reign of a fully stocked bar, and between the ALT’s and the BOE staffers, we easily polished off enough alcohol to drown a whale. It was as this bounenkai (end of the year party) where I met a few of the younger girls from the BOE, and learned a new Japanese word…gōkon (合コン), which is essentially like…blind dating group style. This was all learned the following day of course, and I spent a couple minutes looking like a complete idiot when I didn’t understand what the BOE guy was talking about. Especially when he pointed to myself, another ALT, and the two young single girls from the BOE and started spouting off all these new Japanese words. Embarrassing. Also played a drinking card game in a restaurant for the first time in my life, and learned that people here like to party hard.

The evening certainly panned out interestingly enough, and after slamming a few beers with all the important people, I headed off to karaoke (with a bunch of BOE people). Karaoke was…well, it was a lot of fun, and the evening ended in the most memorable of ways. (The internet can’t handle this story)

The next day (which I can proudly states did not even remotely consist of anything resembling a hangover) I headed into Osaka for an ALT’s birthday dinner Outback Steakhouse. Apparently they have Outback Steakhouse here in Japan. Very similar to back home, it was an alright steak. BUT IT WAS ALSO A FREAKING STEAK. Needless to say I was exceptionally happy to eat it.

So then, another week of teaching. This week I started doing my Christmas lessons for the kids, and showed all sorts of pictures of Christmas and New Years in the states. The highlight of the show, definitely the Christmas light shows those crazy people do in the winter. The kids were also extremely surprised to hear that we in fact don’t eat KFC for Christmas dinner. Apparently that’s a huge thing here, I dunno if I mentioned it. The santa colonel sanders statues are pretty terrifying.

Merry freaking Pizza

Merry freaking Pizza

After teaching them about all sorts of lovely Christmas traditions, I had them make cards, and let them choose from a list of 5 where those cards would go. 1. Their Family, 2. Their teacher, 3. Their friend, 4. An American Student, 5. Obama. (they ate that shit up, and the white house is getting a fair chunk of cards). I should point out… these kids are CRAZY good at drawing…see below.






That brings me of course to this past weekend, where I made mochi and celebrated a delightful team birthday party in the happy land of Osaka. Mochi is this Japanese seasonal thing that we often refer to as a ‘rice cake’. It’s essentially rice beaten into a mush, then possibly (I’m not actually sure) cooked with some other ingredients to make a delicious little snack, which I literally had to stop writing this blog entry to eat in the staff room here. (They totally hook me up with Japanese culture at this school, I love it.. WHICH REMINDS ME I totally got to participate in my first ever Japanese tea ceremony at this school and it was awesome. There’s pretty much a special way to do everything, which adds a certain level of depth to the whole procedure, sorry, long tangent [it’s what I do])

His head was not an ingredient

His head was not an ingredient

So that’ll do it for this one, expect another post remarkably soon.

As the heat tones down

Things have been interesting these past couple weeks, and I think I’ll kick it all off with the Thursday, the 24th of October.

So here I was, sitting in my apartment watching some form of video media when lo and behold, the doorbell rings. Who was it? Amazon! My Halloween costume had arrived! Hooray! Or so I thought…. The dark tragedy that consumed me immediately after could only be described as a soul crushing one, for my costume was easily two sizes too small. TWO SIZES. This costume, according to the measurements the seller provided, should have fit perfectly, maybe even have been on the big side. But no. Tiny. Thus began the terrible pre-halloween extravaganza.

Fortunately, the rest of that evening went without incident. The next day (friday) turned into one of those days where nearly every possible little thing could go wrong. Forgetting chopsticks for lunch. Not having your battery charger, the convini not having any decent lunch food (which if you lived here you would know is unheard of), missing the train by 10 seconds, running out of black socks, the woman in front of me at the ATM taking 20 minutes, getting random calls from strangers, the school teacher having a meeting that no one told you about, phone dying, bugs on your computer, late food, being exactly one yen short of exact change, and so on… it was truly magnificent, nearly artistic, the way this day was forming up. Needless to say, I was in a bit of a funk. After work, I tried to call back the random number I had received a call from and it was answered by a magnificently quick speaking woman from who knows where. After about 10 minutes of Japanese phone conversation failing, I told her I would call her back with a friend who is actually competent when it comes to speaking Japanese. Unbelievable, I was pretty much spot on with my theory on what she was actually saying. It was the company I ordered my snowboard from asking when I want it delivered. Fancy that. So anyways, after embarrassingly asking for help from Blake and Naoko again (I really owe the two of them, they’ve saved me quite a few times) I finally got all the shipment details worked out. So next: food. I had to be near Sanjo (inner city) around 8 for pub trivia, so I was in a bit of a hurry for dinner. I decided to order pizza, which, in the interest of time, I tried to do from my laptop before walking back home. This is where the bugs came in. It was a bit dark, and I set the laptop on a ledge to type in my order. Unfortunately, the ledge was crawling with some sort of monstrous creature, and a fair number of them got onto my computer. Eventually I got the pizza ordered. Sweet.

Next I went home, showered, and waited for my pizza to show up, I was perfectly on schedule. Then I waited for my pizza to show up. Then I waited for my pizza to show up. Then I waited for my pizza to show up. Then the pizza place called me (15 minutes after it was supposed to be delivered) and told me it would be delivered in 15 minutes. IN JAPAN. Eventually the pizza guy showed up, and for some ridiculous reason, he had NO CHANGE AT ALL. NONE. What kind of delivery man has NO CHANGE? I ended up going to the store on my way to the train station (after literally shoving this food down my throat) to pay for it there. Fail. After that the night was relatively uneventful. Did a pub quiz with a bunch of other JETs, got second place. Went back to a friends place to lose in some FIFA (soccer video games….woe is me), then went out for more drinks
and ended up doing some Yakiniku where I may or may not have gotten a minor case of food poisoning.

Infinite Meat and Beer (for a time)

Infinite Meat and Beer (for a time)

So Saturday, I was feeling very ill from the night before (I blame poorly cooked food on my part), and still without a functional Halloween costume. I spent about 4 hours searching, but nothing fit me. Not even the ridiculous emergency Elton John blazer that I thought was a sure bet. So my plan? being Mario in a bath robe. (I know, terrible) I actually went to the train station looking like that. Never again.

After all was said and done, I met up with some JETs on the train, who immediately proceeded to save Halloween for me. A few costume tweaks later, Midget costumed Mario was born.

We went to a place known commonly as Amerikamura and I got my first dose of awesome halloween time in Japan. I can’t describe how amazing some of the costumes were. It was incredible. Here I am, in this two size too small Mario costume surrounded by some of the best costumes I have ever seen in my life, and it was still an awesome night. (Probably because of my mustache and ridiculous blue aviators [thanks three lakes ace hardware!]) I ended up playing pool with an old Japanese dude in a polka dot dress, a lumberjack, a mariachi band guy, and a pirate until about 5 in the morning, good times.

So that was Halloween, good times to be had by all, and despite an overlying feeling of misery, still awesome. Oddly enough, the next week (which I expected to be a real pain given how I was feeling) turned out to be one of the best weeks I’ve had teaching yet! Happy Matt.

Due to previous rain cancellations, one of the schools I was teaching at was having an Undokai. Now an undokai is really something else. The word means ‘sports day’ essentially, and that’s exactly what it is. BUT INCREDIBLE. It started in the morning with an opening ceremony, where all the kids danced to their warmup song in adorable student fashion and cheesy procession music was played (a lovely reminder of home) while happy parents record every bit on their incredible expensive looking cameras.

The opening ceremony also included the each of the two teams’ fight songs, which were quite literally awesome. It was this magnificent chant/song thing with all sorts of choreographed moves and acrobatic flips and stuff. THIS IS GRADE SCHOOL. ACROBATIC FLIPS. All to the beat of a merciless Taiko (drum). It was really impressive, and no, the awesomeness doesn’t stop there. Event number one was this ridiculous race between the red and white teams’ 3rd and 4th graders. To the sound of goofy music playing on the loudspeaker, scores of kids started this race by putting their foreheads on baseball bats and spinning three times. After that they dashed to a net, which they had to crawl under (half got stuck…priceless), then a mad dash to an envelope explaining what they had to put on the tennis racket as they ran through the next length. Once each wave finished, the next started. Magnificent. Heartwarming sidenote, the handicap kids did it too. Even the ones who could barely walk got a chance to hurry as fast as they could through the obstacle course. The classmates raised the net up high for the kid who physically couldn’t crawl under it. I’ll tell you right now, from the incomparably joyous smile on the faces of these kids, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Beautiful.

The second event was a relay race for 5th and 6th grade, followed by a goofy race put on by the 1st and 2nd graders. For my coworkers from Grant back home, Cherry Bon Bon was the music for event number three. After the third event the cheer leading club hit the floor and did their thing. The fourth event was another relay race. Event number five is where things got even more awesome. It was this massive tug of war game played with giant bamboo poles. Each team would start at either end of the field, and when the gunshot went off, they would sprint towards to middle to grab one of these poles in tug of war fashion. Once they got their poll back to their side, they could run back to assist their struggling team mates. It was really cool to watch, and red team totally dominated (the underdogs I was rooting for). Event 6 was this ‘toss the ball in the net’ game, which was taken to town by the red team 3rd graders, who nearly doubled everyone else consistently. Event seven can best be described as… umm, towers? To the tune of slow, intense music the kids (5th and 6th grade) made a multitude of human towers, and performed a ‘beautiful’ (as the principal described it) choreographed display of strength and coordination. They were able to stack 5 people high. AT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. After that, there was a closing ceremony and everyone ate lunch. Good times.

The rest of the week was just a bunch of good times at my schools. The classes went well, the lunches were fun, the students were good, and the teachers were awesome. At my favorite school I spent an hour or two just goofing off with teachers. I ate a fire baked sweet potato, which some teachers made just because. Side note, Japanese people say sweeto potato. Sweetopotato. I can’t get enough of it. I have a recording:


Anyways, the teachers at some of my schools really just make life awesome. They’re good people, fun to talk to, and always lead to interesting conversations. For example, animal sounds:

Animal – American Sound – Japanese sound
Dog – Woof/Arf/Bark – Wan Wan
Frog – Ribbit/Croak – Kero Kero
Cat – Meow – Nyan Nyan
Pig – Oink – Buu Buu
Mouse – Squeak – Chuu Chuu
Fish – Blub – My coworker says ‘…..FISH? FISH?!?’ Because why would anyone have a sound for fish, especially when they dont for:
Fox – tba – kon kon

Anyways what’s next? My snowboard showed up the other day, a teacher learned I could cook ton katsu and told me it will make me fat, I got all my winter stuff and delicious cookies from my parents, and I totally lost my phone on the train. In a city. Needless to say I was less than happy the next day, however through some miracle of Japan, I got it back. That’s right, I got my $800 phone, that I lost on a city train at 1am, back the next day. Take that Chicago.

Side note, Izakayas and Yakiniku. Two wonderful things that America needs more of.

To wrap up this delightfully long post, I’d like to briefly mention the past two weekends. The first Friday night I went out for okonomiyaki with some co-workers from one of my schools, and had a great time. The next day was a birthday party in Osaka for a new friend, where I met a guy with his hair cut to look like sunglasses on his head:

You wish you were this cool.

You wish you were this cool.

annnd North Korean wine:

It smelled like straight whiskey, but was surprisingly tasty.

It smelled like straight whiskey, but was surprisingly tasty.

Sunday consisted of sleeping and another one of those delicious Hawaiian burgers.

The following weekend (after a week of introducing kids to jeopardy [huge success]) was less eventful, with two minor exceptions. I totally got this badass tv:



and this badass oven/microwave thing:

Totes awesome.

Totes awesome.

So ya, that’s life as it is. Living the dream. Also, it’s cold. Japanese schools don’t have heat.

A slow day

Hey team, it’s been about a billion years since I’ve updated this, so…..it’s about that time. Aside from the good old normalcy of going to work, teaching children about English and the world that uses it, and returning to my home, things have been pretty uneventful. I suspect this is due mostly in part of the fact that I have been…frivolous with my spending, and lack financial resources. Oops.

So to give you an update on the professional life, things have been going well. I’ve managed to find myself a rhythm at most of my schools and my lessons are improving, as well as my relationships with the teachers I am working with. Junior High is still a bit tricky for me, but I’m getting the hang of it ever so slowly (the majority of my work is ES). Last Monday, (Oct 21st) I went to watch an example lesson taught by another ALT at her school (which was completely on the other side of the city). It was really encouraging to see that I am definitely on the right course as far as how I run my classes, so that was nice.

This week I’m working at Ritsuryo JHS. Today I was supposed to have two classes, but due to schedule changes I’ve found myself in a situation where I have absolutely nothing to do, hence the long overdue blog post. This week has been a bit different than usual. The teacher for the 2nd graders (US 8th grade) always has them sing a song in English at the beginning of class. This (month?) they are learning ‘I just called to say I love you’ by Stevie Wonder. Well, after using the opportunity to walk around the class and serenade random students like an idiot, idiot Matt decided to let the kids talk him into playing the guitar next time. Soooo this week I’ve found myself bringing my guitar to every class so far. For the 1st (US 7th) grade classes, I’ve been teaching the National Anthem (you should see my chalkboard pictures of ramparts and whatnot). For the 2nd graders I’ve learned ‘I just called to say I love you’, ‘Let it be’, ‘Call me maybe’, ‘Just the way you are’, and *shudder* ‘what makes you beautiful’. They have a bit of trouble with the verses, but the refrains actually sound pretty good. I don’t think American Junior High school kids would have done much better. The hardest part was getting them out of their shells (which I did by having them throw each other under the ‘sing falsetto bruno mars’ bus…big success). Anyways, that was fun and different.

On the social scene I’ve been here and there. One night I caught the wrong train home from Osaka and ended up dropping $55 on a cab ride home. Another night I went out to a place where I ate Kushikatsu. It’s essentially like fondue, except it’s deep frying everything. I was adventurous once again, and had octopus, fish, and some other stuff. Some food I liked, some I hated. The significance here is that it was with another ALT and some teachers from one of my elementary schools. SO! First social outing with Japanese coworkers = huge success! It was awesome. We did a nomi/tabehoudai, which is all you can eat and all you can drink for a few hours. ON A SCHOOL NIGHT!

In other news I bought a DJ controller off another JET. So that’s happening.

I’m going to take a bit of a break from the normal life story that I do and use this post for JAPAN TIME! YAAAAAAAAY!
Today you get to learn about living in Japan. Here we go:

Convinience Stores: These are everywhere, an essential part of life, and totally awesome. Imagine a 7/11 back in the states, then make it infinitely more awesome, and put them everywhere. Popular chains: Lawson, Daily Yamazaki, 7/11, Circle K, and Family Mart. Around here they are called Convini’s. Essentially Convini’s are the magical ‘I need this’ place. Every single one has an ATM, you can pay your bills at them. More so, you can pay cash for online purchases at them. I paid for an amazon purchase AND plane tickets at one. Boom.

Recycle shops: Need I say more? They’re like their American counter-parts but often much better deals.

Drivers: So you know that stereotype that asian people are bad drivers? It might make more sense to see how Japanese people drive. The rules of the road and courtesy are significantly different. For example, if you were waiting in a long line at an intersection and some asshole on a motorcycle or moped blew past you in the shoulder you’d think ‘That asshole’. Here that’s like…why people buy mopeds in the first place. Totally normal.

Pizza: They’re doing it wrong.

Technology: You know that wonderful technology paradise that you’ve always associated with Japan? It’s a trick! Sure, they have some cool things. Robots and stuff, super automated bathtubs, magical talking toilets, super fast internet, and more! But what they don’t have is a standard base of technology. At the school I’m working at, all the laptops have Celeron D processors and 512 mb of ram. No classes have projectors (they have TV’s though). Flash drives aren’t allowed, there is no air conditioning or heat in the schools, AND THERE AREN’T ANY ROBOTS. They still use paper mail for goodness’ sake.

Burgers: They don’t do it the way we do in the states. I’ve only had one burger here that really made me think of home sweet home, and that was at a Hawaiian place in Osaka. Which is the first REAL burger I’d say I’ve had since coming here (after many failures).

Karaoke: Totally a thing. Like…’whaddaya wanna do’ ‘idk karaoke?’. Real talk. These buildings have a crazy amount of booths for your drunken singing pleasure. Don’t go to Japan without doing karaoke at least once. Because don’t.

ATM Cards: ATM machines aren’t like they are back in the states. You can’t take your card to any other ATM machine and expect to get money out. It just doesn’t work like that. In fact, my ATM card doesn’t even have a magnetic strip to swipe. Just a chip (which is arguably better I guess). Either way, can’t use it at some other ATM machines, and debit for online purchases is damn near impossible.

Trains: They’re doing it right. Never late, always reliable, frequent, and not very trashy. Well done Japan! (CTA get your shit together).

Juku: This is cram school. After a long day of classes and club activities, the kids go to school again, to learn more crap all night. That’s right. Two schools, one day. It’s crazy. They are always exhausted for class the next day, which brings me to my next point….

Sleeping: Kids sleep in class. It’s a thing. Oftentimes teachers just ignore it. I’ve never seen sleeping in class go so swimmingly for the sleeper in my life.

Anime: You’re action packed, giant robot, super alien, magical yada yada anime and manga are normal among elementary and junior high school students. High school as well. In the adult world though, it’s a bit weird. Just like it is back home. Also similar to back home, some animation is popular among adults too. Studio Ghibli is your Japanese Anime version of Pixar in loose sense. (This is a debatable topic)

Shoes: You always take your shoes off before entering someone’s house. Always. Even the delivery people take their shoes off. Maintenance people take their shoes off. It’s just the way it is. I had a guy delivering my receiver and bass amp yesterday carrying about 80 pounds worth of stuff in his arms, and he immediately took his shoes off after walking in my door, WHILE holding all that stuff. What a champ.

School uniforms: It’s all true.

Relationships: Read this.

Fashion: There are a lot of shirts, bags, pants, coats, backpacks, and hats that have English on them. They are nearly always fun to read. (My favorite one says ‘Fuck Larry’ worn by a older woman) Win.

This is a normal shirt in Japan

Umbrellas: Women often have umbrellas in the summer. It’s sunny out, and they want shade. Makes sense right?

There’s some more stuff, but I’m drawing blanks at the moment. To be honest, I’m getting a bit tired of typing right now too. SO! Until next time dear readers. Until next time.

Also: Halloween might get it’s own post.

EDIT: As I mentioned most of the students were out today on a school trip. They just got back and one of them was caught smoking a cigarette during the trip. The teacher yelling at him was a sort of legendary. Incredible. I wish teachers in the states could get away with reaming a kid out like that. BAMF

After a long wait…

Hello again! It’s been quite a while! Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been this magnificent blend of lazy and busy, and miraculously found myself in a state where I uh, neglected my blogful duties. Alas, no longer can I maintain this blissfully lethargic lifestyle.

So it looks like I last left you all on a terrible ‘I’m totes sick’ cliffhanger, and for that, I apologize. It was a rough week though… I continued teaching both Wednesday and Thursday much to my discomfort, and Thursday afternoon I had to go to an all ALT meeting at the general education center. Every so often we have these meetings where all the ALTs in Kyoto get together and talk about important stuff. The September 12th meeting focused on volunteer opportunities, employee benefits, pension info, and travel expenses. Twas a joyful time indeed, especially because I looked like this:

It's a fashion thing

It’s a fashion thing

The other reason it sucked had something to do with the fact that I literally could not talk. I don’t just mean I lost my voice either… I legitimately lacked the ability to communicate effectively enough to speak in a meeting (I tried though), and there was absolutely no chance that I could possibly talk over a class. Because of this, with the help of Mr. Kawaguchi (The bosses’s boss) I called my school and informed them of my inability to work the following day, which I then used to go to the doctor and get medicine.

So! First doctor visit in Japan! I was told there was a Doctor (Dr. Yu) who works at a Clinic just a short walk away from the Saiin train station. So, to get there, I walked a kilometer, hopped on the Keihan Uji line for 4 stops, transferred to the Keihan main line at chushojima for 11 stops, got off at Gion-Shijo, walked to Kawaramachi, got on the Hankyu line for 4 stops, and hopped off at Saiin, where I proceeded to wander around for a while until CJ (the other Johnson) send me a pin of exactly where the place was. Concisely put, 2 hours later…

I found it!

I found it!

After a shaky conversation featuring Japanese, English, and something in between, I was proscribed 3 different medicines and sent on my way (I spent about $35 total, $20 for a doctors note to my school, that’s normal here. I got home, took my medicine, and spent Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in bed doing nothing (save for some Okonomiyaki with my JET neighbors Monday night).

Oh yes, I tried this.

Oh yes, I tried this.

I also found a Fender Bass for $45.00. Bamf.

Come Tuesday, I was back into the swing of things! Fun! Tuesday I spent teaching the kids colors, shapes, and directions. For the colors and shapes I had them play some ‘what’s missing’ games, as well as my new, super effective, ‘run around the room and do something’ game (Working title). Basically I put a different shape of a different color in each corner of the room and call out aspects of that corner (i.e. ‘Red Star, or ‘Green Triangle’, etc….) The student would then have to run to that corner and do whatever action that spot required. Red star was spin, green triangle was clap, black heart was squat, and orange circle was jump. The kids love that stuff (which makes learning fun! yay!) For the 6th graders I had a bunch of different locations printed out and laminated for sticking to the board. after teaching the kids the directions, we played ‘Simon Says’. After that, we practiced the city plan. The would start on a road (in their books) and I would say..’go straight, turn left, go straight, turn right, go straight, turn right, go straight, turn right, where are you?’ Once they got the hang of that, the next step was to make it fun..ish. So I asked for a volunteer, and called him Mario in my best Italian accent (which is terrible). I then had him close his eyes while I drew crude pictures of cat, cars, and princess peach under each of my locations. It was then up to the rest of the class to lead Mario to the princess. They almost exclusively led him to all the wrong place with picture intentionally (at least they’re learning!)

The rest of the week it was Ritsuryo JHS, at which I had yet to give my self introductions. So I did, to most classes at least. It was lots of fun. On a slightly less awesome note, third graders at JHS (America’s Freshman) are a real pain some times. In my first freshy class, I had to deal with this crazy loud miscreant who was trying to shout over me the ENTIRE PERIOD. THE ENTIRE PERIOD. Since Japanese schools don’t have a place to send those monsters, I had to try to deal with him on my own. Suffice to say, mission accomplished (peer pressure doesn’t have to be a bad thing). The rest of the kids were pretty good.

The following weekend was pretty nice, Friday was a night off, Saturday was clubbing in Osaka (we ended up going to 3 different clubs, ugh), and Sunday was a lovely day full of siesta. To make it all sweeter, Monday was a ‘bank holiday’ which for some reason means there is no school! So what did I do? I’ll tell ya, after a short side note.

Back home, a real Sunday night football game day was like this. Wake up, have a nice relaxing breakfast, go to church, pig out on some crazy lunch, have some friends come over, have a beer or two, grills some burgers and brats, and watch the game on a huge tv. Now, back to Japan… SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL! er.. MONDAY MORNING FOOTBALL!
7:30am- wake up
8:00am- leave home
9:15am- arrive at Darren’s tiny apartment
9:30am- watch the kickoff on his tiny little laptop screen (not in full screen cause the laptop has seen better days)
9:45am- Eat eggs, and drink orange juice
9:45 on… gloat at how awesome the bears were playing.

No beer, No brats, sad times. WHICH WAS IMMEDIATELY FIXED. We decided to celebrate our Bears victory with a trip to Lake Biwa, which consisted of sweet, tasty, delicious, beer. Yay life. Also, for the record, I was talked into helping some Japanese people get their shuttlecock (yep) out of a tree, and they thanked me with fried cheese and almonds. What a world.

There isn’t all that much to report from last week, it was pretty tame to be honest. I taught at 3 different schools, Daigonishi, Ikedahigashi, and Kansyu ES. Again, kids, so freaking cute. I wish I could post pictures (Kyoto-shi has instilled the fear of ultimate doom should we social media any pictures of our classes). Anyways, I’m loving it here so far.

This past weekend was super relaxing… I did almost nothing. It was delightfully inexpensive, which is a nice change of pace. Sunday, on a bit of a whim, I joined a few others and climbed up Daimonji. (Remember that cool flaming mountain? same one.) Picture below:

Hi Mountain

Hi Mountain

So this week, Monday down, Tues-Fri to go. Planning on trying shabu shabu this weekend, I’ll let you know how it goes. Missing you all!

(I need to get a haircut, and I’m afraid, fun fact.)

Well then…

Hello you wonderful readers you! Happy Tuesday!

It’s been about a week since my last update, so I figured it’s about that time… I’m sitting here at Kansyu Elementary School, having done absolutely nothing since lunch, and have found myself nearly nodding off…but I’ll get there later.

Beginning Tuesday of last week, I had my first opportunity to go to a Junior High School (one I was actually teaching at I mean…) Unfortunately, for Tuesday, I had absolutely zero classes! I can tell you, I was immensely bored. But don’t worry, it got better, Wednesday came around and I finally got to go teach a…oh wait nothing this day too. How do you fight the boredom you ask? I’ll tell you! A good book, wandering around, asking teachers questions you don’t really need to ask as an excuse to engage them in conversation, and visiting clubs! That’s right, clubs! What a blast this week was. Tuesday I was wandering outside and heard some band music, so naturally, I hunted it down and completely interrupted the band club’s practice. Wouldn’t you know it, they were practicing ‘Entry of the Gladiators’ (more commonly recognized as ‘that circus song’). They actually sounded pretty good, given the fact that the song isn’t all the easy. After this event that I can only assume was sight reading, they switched to marching instruments, stood up in the classroom, and blew me away with some magnificent jazzy marching tune. I was utterly shocked. All memorized for the record. (I’d like to take a brief second to describe this ‘band room’. It was essentially a large classroom that had egg cartons strung together with coat hangers for sound proofing.)



Anywho, they were great, that was Tuesday. (I ended up staying a bit late that day) Wednesday was a bit funny. One of the teachers asked me to look over some English speeches that some students would be giving for a speech competition coming up. Misunderstanding, I went through all seven of the speeches correcting all of them. I was blown away that two of them were nearly perfect! (A couple were obviously written by students…or so I thought…) Turns out, all of these speeches were supposed to be final products provided for the kids to RECITE only. So I corrected about 7 papers that were supposed to be good to go. Oops. When I showed the teacher the color practically drained from her face…she felt so bad that I had thought she wanted me to correct them.

Either way, with that out of the way, it was time to listen to the kids attempt to give their speeches. For the most part, they sounded pretty good, and for a ‘low level’ school, they were remarkably close to being on par with those hyped-up ‘wonder schools’ they show you during orientation. So that was Wednesday.

Thursday was my first actual time with a class for Junior High! It was wonderful. The teachers had it planned out that after I gave my introduction. the students would give their own introductions in English using posters they had made. This was a lot of fun! It kept the kids engaged, I was able to learn about them, and I didn’t have to spend the whole time talking! I had a grade sheet of my own to rate all the kids on their speech, memorization, posture, and attitude. Twas a blast. After all of my classes, I stayed late to visit the ‘table tennis’ club. It was pretty interesting to watch, they are freaking incredible. I got a chance to volley a little bit with one of the students, but no score was kept. (No I didn’t get decimated.) Then, as I was about to leave, the small cute little teacher that sits next to me in the teacher’s room stepped up to the mound against the ping pong teacher. I nearly crapped my pants. It’s JUST LIKE THE MOVIES. WHOAOAOAO. So in closing…Thursday.

Friday was just like Thursday, more classes, less boredom, and more talking with students. After class Friday I helped two of the English teachers with one student each perfecting English speeches that they have to record and send in for a bigger speech competition. The first girl, did very well. Her speech was about ballet, and with a few pronunciation issues and tonal inflection corrections, she should be well on her way to getting in to the competition she’s applying for.

The other girl did a good job too, but she over pronounced a lot of words. It was funny because it actually reminded me of how a know it all snoody girl would talk like when she was being all ‘matter of fact’ ish.

The real shocker of the day was this; The marching band had a competition on Sunday, and I wanted to go. So I asked an English teacher earlier in the week about where it was, and after helping his student with her speech, this guy gave me the most detailed set of instructions on how to get to the competition, and a ticket that he had purchased for me. It was truly too much, but I couldn’t really turn it down, so I graciously accepted it and left the school.

That my friends, concludes the week. As for the weekend, all I’ll say is this; It was fun, extremely expensive, and if you want the stories (which are on the cusp of legendary) you’ll just have to ask me.

On a sad note, I completely missed the band competition, and I’m very upset about that. I don’t know what to say next time I see the teacher…sigh.

So MONDAY! Yesterday was fun…ish. I woke up feeling a bit under the weather, went to Kansyu Elementary for the first time this year. The kids were little angels. I even ate lunch and played dodgeball with them. So fun. Like a ninja, I snapped a quick picture of the school grounds when no one was looking. So here’s your typical Japanese Elementary (or Junior High) school (they look the same):

This is Kansyu ES

This is Kansyu ES

Tuesday (today) has been a bit more rough. I slept terribly last night because I am quite thoroughly sick (I rightfully blame my weekend). My throat is killing me, my nose is stuffed, and I feel worse than I have in a long while. That being said… I totally rocked it today. Take that sickness. On the downside, the 6th graders at this school were a little less well behaved with their questions. The kept asking me how much I weighed, if I liked Hamburgers (most likely related, Japan is probably a bad place for someone who is insecure about their weight to be [which I’m quickly discovering I am not]), and one class kept trying to kancho me. It was my first experience with a class where the teacher was late…which is to say, I ran the first 10 minutes of that class flying solo.

September 21st is Kansyu’s Physical Education festival (called undōkai, which means ‘sports day’ I guess), and they were out in the field practicing some stuff the you would normally expect high school cheerleaders to do. THE ENTIRE 5th and 6th grade class, doing crazy acrobatic stunts, throws, and other magnificent things. It was amazing.

So today’s plan, go home, sleep, hope I’m not sick tomorrow, because it really makes the day less awesome when you feel like collapsing in the corner.

Daigonishi ES, Ikedahigashi ES and Ikeda ES, Oh my!

My my friends and family. These kids are freaking adorable. I’ve never really considered myself good with kids in life, but in these elementary schools I can’t help but smile. Daigonishi ES yesterday was my first actual attempt in front of the students, and it went MAGNIFICENTLY! The kids were rowdy, and I had to talk pretty loud more than once, but in the long run they weren’t all that bad in the slightest! (I know that any of the veteran JETs reading this are probably thinking ‘just you wait’)

As I may have mentioned before, the elementary and Junior High schools in Japan operate a bit differently than they do in the states. Each class has it’s own particular room. So there is the room for 6-1, which means 6th grade, class #1. In this system, the teachers of different subjects move from class to class, and the students stay put. Each class also has a ‘homeroom’ teacher, which is essentially a person who is with them all day. So for Daigonishi, Mr. Sawamura (the English teacher) and I go to each of the classes to team teach the students. Usually the homeroom teacher will just sit in the back messing with papers during the lesson. So for my first day in the ring, I only had two classes (easy start). The kids were well behaved, Mr. Sawamura was easy to work with, and we spend the rest of the day making teaching materials for future lessons. It was an awesome day. I would love to show you all pictures, but Kyoto-shi is very strict about not taking pictures of students and posting them on social media due to current events, so I can’t. Sorry =(.

Thursday, I went to Ikedahigashi ES. When they say every situation is different during orientation, they aren’t kidding! The school principal greeted me at the door and led me to the teachers’ room. This teachers’ room was a bit smaller than all the other schools, and much hotter. So here’s basically how the day went down (A DAY IN THE LIFE OF MAAAAAAAAATTTTT JOOOOOOOOOHHNNNNSOOOOOOOONNNNNNN’)

5:30 Wake up. Realize it’s not time to be up. Go back to sleep.
6:15 Wake up. Freak out a bit. Realized I’m right on schedule.
7:00 Leave the apartment (sometimes I’m a bit later, but I plan for that)
8:00(ish) Arrive at work.

When I arrived, I had to take off my shoes and change into my second pair in order to enter the actual building. After changing my shoes and finding my shoe locker, I was led into the room to a chorus of ‘Ohayougozaimasu’ which sounds more like ‘gozaimas’ because everyone is…idk lazy or something. Annyways, at this point, most schools will have a brief morning meeting. Today’s school did not in lieu of the fact that they had a staff meeting after work today. So I did NOT introduce myself to the staff in the morning. Instead, I was led to my desk, where I immediately met the school nurse (she sits across from me…Ms. Yamauchi. She studied a little bit of English, and is probably one of the better English speakers in the school. So for first period, I sat around talking to the nurse. Second period on of the teachers snagged me and brought me up to my first actual class of the year.

This was the 5th grade class, and they were demonic monsters of cuteness. Seriously, ya just wanna hug them. It was a bit difficult to keep them focused, but once I got to the ‘me being awesome’ part of my presentation they piped down. I introduced myself, used my fancy shmancy powerpoint, and afterwards actually went around and personally introduced myself to every student in the class.

Class 6-2 was my next group. This class just consisted of the homeroom teacher and myself, but it went very well! I had a bit more practice this class learning to keep the student busy on my own. My powerpoint introduction (which I displayed on the classroom TV (which is like…a 50″ flat panel)) took about 20-25 minutes. This included my name, where I was from, my family, my friends, sports, interests, music, more music, a picture of Chicago, and so on. After the intro, I had the students break into their groups and come up with a question for me as a team. Questions ranged from ‘How old are you’ to ‘How strong is your grip’. Afterwards, I had the students pass a ball around the room, and when a student got the ball they would have to introduce themselves to me. At the end there were still a few minutes left, so the teacher had this great idea to have me arm wrestle the students. So in turn order, I wrestled the strongest kid in the class (pretty beastly for a 6th grader), the…second strongest kid in the class? And the baseball team pitcher (strongest of the three, but probably because he put his entire body into it). Anyways, it was fun.

Class 6-1 was pretty much a solo show. The teacher didn’t really do anything, and I had to work to get her into the game. It went pretty well! I learned from my earlier mistakes, and pretty much did the exact same thing. I HAD A PROBLEM THOUGH! During the ‘pass the ball to the next person’ game, a kid chucked the ball at the face of another (a lovely accidental combination of throwing too fast and a terrrrrible catch). So instead of introducing himself, the kid pretty much shut down and kinda started crying, so there’s a new one for me. I just kinda…retrieved the ball and passed it to the next kid, and let the JTE work out the crying student. It all seemed to shake out, but I hope to have a chance to talk to the JTE about what to do if that happens in the future. (I talked to her about it, apparently what I did was exactly what I should have done.)

Friday marked the end of my first week of actually teaching! Whoooaaaa! It went very well. I had 4 classes that day and I was fortunately a little more prepared for class. My game plan with these classes is basically this; give my 20 minute introduction, have them work in groups to come up with two questions to ask me, and then play a key word game. It was lots of fun, and the kids love the games. Good ol kids. There are two teachers there who seem more willing to speak English than the rest, Mr. Nagai and Mr. Mizowaki, who happen to be friends it seems.

Friday night was……you guessed it! Clubbing in Osaka!! How did you know?!? That was fun, we supported a couple JET DJ’s at a place called Lapichu, then headed off to Azure (not Osaka’s hottest club) for a night of adventure? I hit up a BK at about 4am (which was incredible) and ended up getting home at 7:30ish. Intense.

Saturday was a rest day mostly, aside from a few hours I spend playing some mario cart/mario party on the n64 at a buddy’s place. We ordered pizza, and I had the lovely privilege of paying about $20 for a Domino’s pizza. eesh.

Sunday was a chore day, getting the life back together for Monday. I met up with a few guys and got some Nepalese curry, then went to the bar to watch Liverpool (who is apparently my favorite soccer team now) beat Manchester United.

All this of course brings me to today (Monday). I had four classes today, all of which were NOT self introductions. This was the real deal people, and ya know what? It went well! The kids were crazy energetic and a bit tricky, but all in all, things went really well. I had to give two different lessons, teaching the kids directions and color/shapes. I was far more prepared for the directions lesson; the colors/shapes lesson I nearly made up as I went along (I had a skeleton idea of what I wanted to do, but trashed most of it in the classroom). The hero of the day? Four colored shapes in the four corners of the room, each with an action the kids had to do when they got there. One corner I made them spin, the other they had to jump…man, they eat that shit up.

So to put it simply, life is good. I miss you all.

And so we begin!

Hello again team.

It’s been 10 days since the last update, apologies for that. Things have been a bit, uh…busy…ish.

The week of the 19th started orientation week for us city JETs. So first thing Monday morning all of us newfolk trotted over to city hall to introduce ourselves to the city hall board of education staff, which went smashingly. I think the only thing that sucked was the heat, which, for the record, was in the happy 100s for the entirety of orientation week. Thanks universe.

So here’s the rundown…

Monday – Board of education introductions, GEC introductions, explanation of contract, Honesty Time, and a brief Japanese lesson.

Honesty time was a fun one. This presentation (put on by two veteran JETs) was essentially a day in the life of an ALT, fo realz yo. We learned about the wonders of Kyushoku (school lunch) and a bit about the food culture in Japanese schools. In elementary schools apparently lunch is a bit of it’s own subject. Students are given a nutritionally balanced meal and are supposed to explain the various nutrients and why they are beneficial (at least I think that’s what I heard). Eating the entirety of the meal is strongly encouraged, and were I not to finish a Kyushoku I’d be setting a bad example. WHICH REMINDS ME of the other part. If you do Kyushoku in an elementary school, you eat WITH the students, so there’s that.

I picked the worst google had to offer...

I picked the worst google had to offer…

Honesty Time also included various tips on how to survive in Japan. Buying shoes, how to dress, transferring money back home, and so on. It was the most festively cynical presentation the world has ever seen (in a good way, I enjoyed it a lot).

Tuesday – Travel expenses discussion, SHS presentation, JHS microteaching presentation, the Afrikaans immersion lesson.

So for travel expenses, I spend about $8 a day riding trains here and there. Fortunately, I get reimbursed for it by the board of education, which is awesome (this is a new thing). The SHS presentation was an informative explanation of being a High School ALT, the JHS microteaching was how to teach in a classroom with a JTE.

For the Afrikaans lesson, a JET from South Africa gave us a class in Afrikaans so that we could experience what many of our students experience. This way we can know what it’s like when they are being taught English by a teacher using English. It was cool.

Wednesday – Presentations for SHS, JHS, and ES from the board of education, and round 1 of JET self intros.

The morning was filled with presentations about the goals of the foreign language educations program in Japan and what teaching in the schools should be like. These presentations were given by teacher’s consultants for each school level. The second half of the day was round 1 of us newbies doing our self intros for the vets to dissect.

Thursday – ES microteaching, SHS microteaching, Gender Discussions, round 2 of intros

This day was pretty self explanatory, we had example classes given to us target towards ES and SHS students. For the gender discussion we separated the men from the women, and had ‘the talk’, Japan style. It was….interesting… If you’re really curious I’ll tell you more elsewhere. After that there were more self intros.

Friday – ES Microteaching, Learning from Mistake, Special Needs presentation, Staying positive in Japan, and the last of the intros.

Soooo this one was interesting. We experienced a sample elementary school class, were taught how to work with special needs classes (which we all will have), and had two other presentations.

One can be summed up here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZeJgySra6g
Seriously, watch that.

The other (Staying positive in Japan) was about how culture shock might hit you, and how to cope with it when it does.

I’ve decided that everyone doesn’t want to read about every single time I go to a bar, so I’m going to try to keep all that to a minimum (no promises). Friday night we met up for a veteran JET named Jonathan’s birthday. After some pre-gaming at his apartment, we headed out for Butterfly, Kyoto’s hottest club (this place had everything {for those of you who don’t get it…click here}). Anyways, it was a dance club, it wasn’t terrible. After that I watched my new favorite soccer team Liverpool (by proxy) and got myself stuck in the city with some Australian guy name Dwayne. Essentially, I missed the last train home (because it might have been 3:30 am) and was forced to stay up all night waiting for the next train at 5 am. So what did Dwayne (the Australian guy we randomly met at the club who was in Japan for his brother’s wedding) and I do? Go to the river (big surprise) where we met and had a pleasant conversation with a German fellow named Wolfgang…all night.

So naturally Saturday I slept in, then pretty much rinsed and repeated. This time we went to an Izakaya style place. These Izakaya places are pretty cool. You go there with a group usually, order a boatload of different types of appetizers, and that’s about it. It’s almost like bar food, but better. Also, I ate some raw horse meat, so there. After Izakaya time, was karaoke time, where I was gently reminded by life that I’m not fluent in Japanese.

Sunday was a ‘prepare for your first real day of work’ day.

Just a bit of an aside before I go on to my first day. As per usual, my name is common. Honestly, I thought that if I left America and went to JAPAN, I’d get away from all the other ‘matt’ and ‘johnson’ people out there. Nope. There’s a Johnson and a Matt out here. Seriously, what the heck universe.


I left my place bright and early at 7 am (take that old job), and commuted only 40 minutes (in your face again old job) on trains for only $4 each way (old job is getting owned). Got to work around 7:45 (had to be there at 8:25) and was nearly immediately greeted by a teacher who recognized me as the new ALT (I’m guessing it had to do something with the whole me being a shining beacon of America). He led me to the ‘Teacher’s room’ and closed the door behind him..leaving me outside…

So after an awkward minute a Japanese Teacher of English came to greet me! She (Ms. Nakabo) took me to meet the Kouchou-sensei (Principal) and Kyoutou-sensei (VP). I briefly conversed with them (after taking off my shoes and wearing these ridiculously tiny slippers) and was told that I would be introduced to the entire student body. They told me that I didn’t have to say anything and had to stand there and look pretty. After this short meeting, I went to the teacher’s room again to introduce myself to the staff during the morning meeting (every morning they have a 5-10 minute meeting to discuss stuff). After giving my lovely introduction in Japanese (and actually not screwing it up) I sat in the corner and pretended to know what I was doing while the rest of the meeting went on.

Not my Teacher's room, but pretty similar

Not my Teacher’s room, but pretty similar

After the meeting, I met the other English teachers at this school (which is Ritsuryo Junior High School for the record), all of which deemed it necessary to tell me how bad the students are at English and discipline, and how much they hate English, hooray! (I’m actually looking forward to stepping into this ring.) At this point, a bell rang, and everyone left me. So… I just kinda sat there for 20 minutes twiddling my thumbs until some random teacher hurried into the teacher’s room to collect me for my introduction to the students.

So he leads me into this gymnasium, where all the students are sitting, and motions for me to step up in front next to the school principal (after taking off my shoes). The principal says a few words about me, then HANDS ME THE MICROPHONE! I was like a deer in headlights for a second…What do I say? In English or Japanese? How much do I say? Ahhhh! So in English I winged the crap out of my introduction to the students. I’m pretty sure the only thing they understood was ‘Chicago’. Ah well.

After doing that introduction, I went back to the teachers room and sat there for 3 hours. I tried to keep myself busy with planning, but there’s only so much you can do when you have no idea what you’re supposed to plan for. At noon I used my best Japanese to tell the VP that I had to go to a meeting at the GEC, and I left the school.

At the GEC we had our official appointment ceremony, and got a niftly little certificate saying how we’re the real deal. Then we got some drinks, and wend to some indian place for food. It was wonderful. Side note, I think it’s time to break out of the ‘anti-spice’ shell…

Anyways, to wrap it up, all I did today (Tuesday) at work was talk to the English teachers at my school about nothing important. We covered resale shops, ketchup (so maybe something important), and all sort of odds and ends. I’ve now been told at least 5 times that my school is full of rowdy kids. The real test starts tomorrow at Daigonishi ES, where I will actually be instructing my first class. Ohhh maannnn

I worked so hard this week…er…

Hey people!

This week was a magical one. It’s been nice to be able to take a bit of a break and spend some time getting myself settled in here, and it was all due to having this week off. Kyoto-shi is celebrating a festival commonly referred to as O-Bon, which has it’s roots in the Buddhist tradition of honoring one’s ancestors. It’s a three day festival, and because of it (I think) the board of education was closed.

Monday I finally got a chance to do some more karaoke, joining a few other JETs at a place called rainbow karaoke. Twas a grand ol time, and one of the veterans gave a heartwarming rendition of this which is hot stuff around these parts…I guess. Anyways, it was lots of fun, but an expensive night.

Which brings me to Tuesday! This was day I realized I was pretty much out of money. So I did nothing. Brilliant. So Wednesday I finally got a chance to go to Lake Biwa, the largest and oldest lake in Japan (estimated to be around 3.5 million years old). The beach was a bit crowded, but the water was perfect. I mean perfect. The temperature was wonderful, the sun was out, there were mountains in the distance, and the lake bed was extremely comfortable to walk on. Lake Biwa is definitely a place I plan to visit more often in the future. Side note, turns out jet-skiing is totally allowed on the lake, SO GAME ON! (When I have money….) After the lake, we all headed home and I proceeded to do some more nothing.

Awesome place

Awesome place

Thursday was another day I was intent to stay in and finish all my laundry and cleaning (due to lack of funds for adventure), but Mr. Joel Benjamin Crabtree and his wife Mrs. Natalie Jean Crabtree were planning on visiting a temple that had come highly recommended to me by one Mr. Franklin Ishida. So I found myself exploring the wonders of Kiyomizu-dera. This temple was founded back in 778. Ya, 778, so about 1235 years old. Apparently this Buddhist temple was among the top 21 finalists for the new 7 wonders of the world, read here. We went during a special night opening, which only happens about 5 times a year. As you approach the temple, you can see a great light shooting forth into the sky from the temple grounds. Look in the pictures and you’ll see what I’m talking about. This place was incredible. The architecture was astounding, the beautiful forests were illuminated, and the artistry and craftsmanship of the entire shrine was mind blowing. The place had a sort of profound power to it. Fun facts, Kiyomizu means clear (pure) water, and no nails were used in it’s construction.

Kiyomizu Temple

Kiyomizu Temple, I totally took this picture.

When we were at the temple, we stood in line to drink water from a fountain there, shown in the picture below. We were unaware at the time that this was actually called Otowa-no-taki, and is believed to have curative properties. Depending on which of the three streams you drink from, you are believed to be granted health, longevity, or wisdom (I drank from the wisdom one looking back).

Otowa no taki

Otowa no taki

The same day we visited Kiyomizu-dera, we happened upon Ryozen Kwan-on, which is a massive statue of a Bodhisattva, and a tribute to the unknown soldier during World War II. I’ve got some pictures of that as well.

Ryozen Kwan-on

Ryozen Kwan-on

After all that, we ended up back at my favorite river spot again, where I saw a guy doing some fire stuff, and met some cool retired Japanese guy intent on teaching me a few words.

Last night was the final night of O-Ban, commonly referred to as Daimonji. Meeting on the rooftop of Joel and Natalie’s place, we had a wonderful view to the event where they light giant fires in the shapes of different characters, signifying when the spirits of the deceased (who have been visiting during O-Bon) return to the spirit world. It was truly remarkable. Due to only having a phone camera, I couldn’t get many good pictures, but I’ll try to get some for the blog sometime next week.

These are all the fires we could see (not my picture)

To give some reference to the size (also not my picture)

Afterwards Joel and Natalie welcomed everyone into their home for a few drinks and some good times.

As with all the blog posts, we come back to today. Twas another nothing day strictly due to financial restrictions. I literally need all the rest of my money for the train until my paycheck arrives. On the bright side, I was able to (for only $10, yay bargain shopping) attain goods that should last me until payday for food. I got this.

Thanks for reading everyone! Sorry these blog posts are always so long, please leave any tip/requests in a comment =D. Also get the app called line and add me as a friend (mvjohnson is my user id). Then I can text and call you from Japan, and that’s cool. Goodnight!

*New pictures added to the gallery btw