Wednesday, December 9, 2009
(Read the text below the Christmas Tree in the picture above before reading)
I found this little paper sign hanging all over a local market in Sado. Let me try to explain what may have happened here. The word 元気 (Genki) is used a lot in Japanese and it is most often used in the question, 元気ですか Genki desuka or “How are you/Are you well?” The main issue here is most likely meaning vs definition. The meaning of Genki in context is “well” but the direct translation is more like “lively” or “full of life”. If you poorly cross referenced “full of life” in a Japanese-English dictionary you might just find something about a strong beating heart or lively motions. Take that and look for synonyms that sound fun and “English’y” and you might finally arrive at throbbing. Therefore, the sign would/should have read something like “The Wonderful Lively Christmas”. Not perfect but not quite as blog worthy as throbbing. While this poster is no doubt miles away from inspiring proper Christmas cheer, if you are willing to see where they might have started from, you can laugh without poking too much fun at the creators. Then again, I teach English at a school less than 100 yards from these signs and no one ever thought to ask me if Christmas throbs. So here is this blogger's wish that all of my faithful readers have a Very Merry Throbbing Christmas!
Monday, November 30, 2009
After my day in Osaka I made my way to Hiroshima to visit my old roommate and sensei Toru Ishizawa and his girlfriend Tomomi. They showed me a fabulous time from beginning to end. Our first day included a visit to Miyajima to visit a famous shrine and see the Japanese maple leaves. The leaves had fallen awhile ago, but thankfully the temple was still as beautiful as ever. Local oysters were the treat of the afternoon. We then headed to a famous sake brewery for a lesson in brewing and of course tasting. I don’t think I have to mention that I greatly enjoyed that part of the trip. For our evening meal, we elected to have a yakiniku (literally, grilled meat). At yakiniku, you buy meat in small trays of varying kinds and cook them on a small grill at your table. My grand finale was yukke, raw beef dipped in a raw egg. I know many of you have to stop reading and go get that taste out of your mouth, but I loved this stuff. Japan has this amazing talent for making raw meat and fish tasty. It may not be the next California roll but whatever. The next day included a trip to the mall for shopping, a movie, a wonderful lunch, and finally OKONOMIYAKI. This is a local special not to be missed if you are within any distance of Hiroshima. Imagine thin grilled pasta, a thin layer of batter, squid, cabbage, shrimp, pork, green onions, kimchi, mayonnaise, cheese, an egg all put in one giant omelet looking mound and topped with shallots and bbq sauce. It may not sound great when described ingredient by ingredient, but this is a taste tsunami. I was sad to have to leave my friends and what could be my favorite city in Japan, but alas, there is English to teach and this Southern Boy is currently the man for the job.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Let me start out by admitting that I will never be able to totally convey what a great time I had on my last trip. My 4 day weekend entailed enough fun to count for weeks of good times. From seeing one of the greatest symbols of feudal Japan to reuniting with old friends to eating foods that some would consider toxic, it was well worth the trip. I have decided to break this article in two to make for easier reading. Osaka will be posted first. As usual, enjoy!
I started out on a night bus headed for Osaka on my way to Hiroshima the following day. Little did I know that my night bus had been exchanged for a sweat-box on wheels. My hopes of catching 7 hours of comfortable sleep were quickly dashed. After arriving at Osaka and finding some breakfast, I will admit to succumbing to the unholy glow of the golden arches and indulging in McDonalds’ breakfast, I headed to Osaka Castle. Being a student of Japanese history I had long heard of the spectacle that is Osaka-jyo. Built in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a “maverick” (curse you Palin for ruining that word) in Japanese history so to say, the castle was finally conquered by the ultimate unifier of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu, in 1615. The castle itself is simply superb, and the sloping outer walls are a marvel of martial engineering. I guess what I am trying to say is “If you are even in Osaka, drop by for a visit.” I managed to kill the next few hours just roaming around Osaka. From what I saw, it might just turn in to a trip all to itself quite soon. More fodder for the hungry blog.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
There seems to be no shortage of endurance races on Sado. Over the past 2 weekends,I've taken part in 2 ekidens; distance relay events of varying distances normally composed of 5 or 6 man teams. I was able to run the All Sado and the Boka Ekiden. Ekidens are held all over Japan and Sado has several itself. The Sado Ekiden drew 24 5 man teams. The distances for each of the 5 legs were: 6k, 10k, 8k, 8k, and 10k. I ran the second leg with the Sado Triathlon Club A team. I was able to post a decent time of 36 minutes but the real show was the high school senior and the 51 year old triathlon champion that ran the 10k in 32 minutes. Amazing show!
The Boka Ekiden, sponsored by the Firefighters of Southern Sado, was held last Sunday. In a bit of meteorological irony it rained throughout, so the brave men in the red trucks had little chance of being called back to work. I only had to run 4k this time as this was more of a “sprint ekiden”. Since the course was very close to my home town of Hamochi, a few people on the sides cheered for me by name! Never expected that would happen in Japan. I thankfully did not hear anyone cheer "Go Whitey!" My team finished 2nd overall and we each got a 6-pack of beer for our prize. Don't worry, the high school team got sports drinks and coffee. I’m sad to see this racing season go but I’m sure the rest will be easy to get used to. (The picture is one of my friend Ito passing the relay band off for our team)
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Last Sunday marked my biggest and longest race in Japan, the Niigata Half Marathon. I signed up for this race only 2 weeks after I got to Japan, so I was really excited to finally see it come around. However, I was not happy when an odd pain in my right foot that had me limping came around just 3 days before the race. Despite my best efforts to alleviate this mysterious ache, it persisted right up to race day. Although the pain had gotten steadily more bearable it was still noticeable when I walked. After a 20 minute warm-up jog I surmised that racing was not going to hurt it any worse. However, in convincing myself of that statement, I had to remember the subtleties contained in its meaning: Not hurting it any worse did not mean it was not going to hurt. I could only smile and say, “No one ever said 13 miles was going to be painless.” I was quite strong for the first half of the race, but as my body began to wear from the effort it became harder for my mind to overcome the pain in my foot. My pace dropped precipitously over the last 5 kilometers. I finished in a time of 1.30.23, a full 10 minutes off my goal, but I was proud of my effort considering that I had contemplated not even running the race only hours before starting it. I will be taking place in a 2 distance relay events this month, so I should be able to supply my wonderful readers with more running stories very soon. Hopefully they will not include prefaces about hobbling.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
• A 5th grader had this on his shirt "Blood Regular 77 Do You Want to Die".
• As the clock struck noon at my school today, I realized that I knew the bell chime for this week. The Titanic theme "My Hear Will Go On". What a joy that was.
• Warning: To anyone who is on a diet or attempting to lose weight, this next entry may induce the following effects: Crying, Computer Smashing, and a Exorcist-esk Spinning of the Head.
A student asked me how much I weigh (a pretty usual question) and then he asked the teacher his weight. After telling the student that he was what I considered to be quite slim he told me, and I painfully quote "I am so busy with work that I cannot increase my weight" Please don't take your anger out on this innocent blogger.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Last Saturday I took part in the Kawaharada Seaside Marathon. For clarification, all running competitions in Japan are called “marathon” (pronounced Ma Ra So N), and this “marathon” was actually a 6 kilometer race. The majority of the competitors were actually kids from my Jr High Track team. Several of the men with numbers signifying them as “Male Open” competitors looked like they had been around a race before, so I did not know what to expect.
The course was beautiful; the majority of the race was right by the ocean. I was in close second to a man who I had met briefly though the Jr High track coach for the majority of the race. He had a 10k personal record 2 min faster than mine so I knew I’d have to be careful. We kept it easy for most of the race, but with 1 kilometer to go we started testing each other. Over the last 200 meters or so I made my move and took advantage of being the tallest guy in the race by taking my stride out. I finished in 23.34. I later found out that several of the open male competitors will be members of my distance relay team next month. My win made me the fastest member of our team, and I thus inherited the longest portion of the upcoming relay. I received a really nice Nike running bag for my winnings. Great gift! What did I take away from all this you might ask? I learned that victory tastes sweet even when you eat it with chopsticks.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The kids were really excited to get to learn about Halloween. Some of the vocabulary (Jack-o-Lantern, Witch, Vampire) was a little hard for them to do at first (I got Bampire a lot that day) but most of them got a hold of it. It also became school policy for the day to jump out from corners and try to scare me. Some of these little guys are about 2 feet below my eye line so this was not hard to pull off. My favorite part was the one class that dressed up. Black Cat was the most popular with black paper tails and cat ears being the costume of choice. A few kids draped black garbage bags over themselves to complete the look. The one that confused me the most was the kid who was only wearing a garbage bag. He was simply wearing a black garbage bag with eye slits cut out in the front. I asked him what he was and he informed me he was a vampire. I will proudly admit that I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer back in the day (Who else missed the WB?) and I never saw Buffy take on the Glad-Bag Vampire. All in all, the day was pretty fun. I am sure getting them back on their regular lessons will be near impossible after this.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Vegas yesterday, and I had a bit of an awakening. I will admit, as will anyone who has seen the film, that this movie is not a good place to find any kind of enlightenment, but nevertheless, I did.
As Johnny Depp`s character was speeding down a Nevada highway while on massive amounts of drugs I decided to have a chuckle over the fact that he was driving on the right side of the road. “MAN! He is so blitzed out he is driving on the wrong side of the road” I thought. Then the awakening happened. I slowly remembered that in the US of A people are still legally encouraged to drive on the right side of the road. It seems that driving on the left side of the road in Japan these past 2 months has helped me forget that little legal fact that I spent 6 years abiding by back home. Further, I sadly realized that although Mr.Depp`s character had taken enough cocaine to kill a small horse, he was still in a better position to judge which side of the road to drive on than I was. A bit of advice: If you are feeling like you need to be taken down a peg, let a stoned out lunatic wearing a Hawaiian shirt and aviators correct you about basic driving safety. It`ll do the trick for sure. ; )
Sunday, September 27, 2009
I had Monday through Wednesday off work for what is known in Japan as Silver Week last week. I chose to go to Tokyo with 4 friends from Niigata for a hodgepodge of good times. There is far too much to write about everything, so I will be giving some bulleted highlights and focusing on one bit of Japanese culture that I have already had some experience with: SUMO! First, the bullets.
• Pendulum and Prodigy Concert Sunday night. Maybe the best concert I have ever seen and certainly the loudest
• Asakusa Shrine and Meiji Shine (where I saw a beautiful Japanese wedding taking place)
• Ueno Zoo, Akihabara Electrical District, Roppongi Hills, Harajuku and Shibuya for shopping, and Ikebukoro’s Sunshine City
• Lots of other randomness including karaoke, dinner with Furman friends, and Denny’s at 4 am
Ok, the sumo. Prior to last week I have never seen live sumo before, but most of my Japanese friends and co-workers had not either. They only hold 6 sumo tournaments a year, but the wrestling goes on for 15 days at a time. The stadium was huge; something along the lines of a D-1 College Basketball Stadium. The ring is itself is not that large, unlike the wrestlers. There are 6 different skill levels in sumo that determines who fights who, but no weight classes. A sumo wrestler wins by forcing his opponent out of the ring or tossing him to the ground. If any part of his body other than his feet touches the ground, it’s over.
Now, everyone is fixed on how big these guys are, and yes there are some big, BIG boys out there, but if you look at them in relation to American football players, they’re about the same for the most part. These guys stare each other down, stomp around, throw salt (to purify the ring), and really know how to wrestle. One guy was facing a much bigger opponent and basically just let him charge right out of the ring. He barely touched him. I had a good laugh there. The grand champions, yokozuna, were really good. They hold these bouts till the end and everyone gets in to it. Ok, enough here. If you want any specific info on Sumo, Tokyo, or anything else that happened on my trip, feel free to email me. I know my blog readers are endlessly entertained by my digital scribblings, but I try not to test your patience.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
After carefully examining the event, I can only assume that the students have long pondered how they could express their undying affection for trousers in a foreign language whilst simultaneously taking part in a physical activity based on violence and degradation. Then I come along with a bag full of “I like” phrase and a dodgeball. Thanks to me they no longer have to wonder. Goal # 1 – Change a student’s life - Check!
My first week of school has passed, and I’m still alive. I have visited all of my 6 schools at least once now, so I have a decent picture of what I will be getting in to this year.
I learned that 2 of my elementary schools are being closed in April, when the Japanese school year starts, because they are too small; 18 and 24 kids total. So, as you can imagine I have very small classes. Most of my classes at other schools are about a dozen kids, but one of my small schools handed me a 1st and 2nd grade class of 2 kids and the other school gave me a 3rd and 4th grade class of 3 kids. This makes things interesting. I have to be very energetic and plan lots of activities because they fly through games. However, they are all really sweet. I eat school lunch with one class every time I visit, and they love that. I must say though, eating lunch off a tray, sipping milk from a carton made to look like a bird, and sitting in a desk designed for someone ½ my size does take me down a notch. The meal is generally quite delicious so it balances out. My pride and my stomach are at war daily around 12:15.
My co-workers find me quite entertaining. As is custom in a small town, they naturally ask if I have a wife/girlfriend. This information is hurriedly funneled into the gossip chain so that the local sewing circle can begin plotting which Japanese daughter they can set me up with. I am sure there will be a “Random Blind Date” blog entry in the future. (Insert awkward situation here)
I also got to witness Sado’s International Ironman and Half Ironman triathlon last weekend. I missed the registration by about a month so no tri for me this time. My friend Yuki (2nd picture), an auto-mechanic and Sado native, competes every year and generally does very well. This year he placed about 15th in the half Ironman and 4th place among Sado-ites. His first question after crossing the line was “Phillip, next year, we do?” Yeah, maybe…
Indeed, the most amazing site was the one pictured above; the smoking area just outside the finish line. No comment, EVER!
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Ok, hold on to your kimono’s, this might be my most excited update yet! Sado holds one of Japan’s biggest and most popular festivals every summer called Earth Celebration. The festivals centers around a 3 day concert featuring the internationally famous taiko drumming group Kodo. Taiko drumming was born on Sado, and Kodo is the band to see if you want to hear good taiko. Let me tell you…well, not let’s talk about the festival first, then Kodo.
The festival is your typical Sado festival turned up to 11 (Spinal Tap reference, anyone…?). More food stalls of greater variety, more music from all over Japan and the world, more people, and lots of hippies. Yeah, hippies love them some Earth Celebration. Japanese hippies are serious too. The whole get up head to toe and some of them actually pull it off quite well. I saw a few good fringe performances held around the concert grounds; a fire dancer, a trio with a pianist from Atlanta, and a very skilled guitar player. Mostly I just walked around to the different stalls, met people, and hung out until the concert later that night.
Let me first explain how you get to the concert. First, you buy a ticket in the weeks before the show. Next, on the day of your concert you go to the bottom of the “mountain” that the concert is held on top of and get your “color”. This allows them to seat people in waves. This concert is a big deal so we got there at 6:30am and the lines opened at 9:00am. There were about 150 people lined up by 9:00. Then, 2 hours before the show, you show up at the place you got your “color” and go up the mountain when your color is called. Finally, you set up your tarp, chill out, and wait for the show.
I love live music, I love the outdoors, and I love seeing people having a good time. This concert gave me all of that and more! Kodo played first and MAN! No words do them justice. We were really close and actually feeling, literally, every beat of these taiko drums was amazing. Listening to it on Itunes or YouTube just does not inspire the feeling I got from their live show. The entire group gives it there all and it shows!
They had drums of all sizes, from hand held to some at least 4 feet across that require a baseball bat size ‘drum-club’ to play. They dance around, play games, play off each other, everything! It’s a real show. Blof was the visiting band this year. A pretty big deal in Holland, this Dutch band really impressed me. I am used to not understanding song lyrics from Japanese music so maybe that makes me more tolerant. Seeing Kodo and Blof play together was a real treat. Both bands were having such a good time, and their collaboration was really well done in my opinion. I’m no music expert, but you are reading my blog and are therefore entitled to my opinion.
I have no idea what this song is about, but I do know that it was AMAZING to watch live. I love to see people with nearly nothing in common on the surface come together and make something beautiful. Give it a listen. Oh, my concert had about 10 more drums than the set up in the video. Well, and an open air stadium at the top of a mountain. Jealousy is the natural response.
Here is the Kodo/Blof collaboration song - Click HERE
This is the “About Kodo” page in English - Kodo in English
Enjoy. Sorry for the long article.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
After an amazing BBQ on the beach, where we all ate more red meat than we will probably even seen this year, my friends and I headed down the road to a town in the north of Sado called Ryotsu for their summer festival. The main attraction at this festival, as is common on Sado, is Oni-Daiko.
Sado is famous for this drum driven dance where men dressed as Oni, mythical figures most common translated as goblins or demons, dance to the beat of huge taiko drums, a large barrel shaped drum that was invented on Sado. The purpose of this dance, and the festival, is to drive away evil spirits and to bring fortune on the town. Generally, Oni are not thought to bring fortune, but in Sado they are considered divine. Each prefecture in Sado used to be separate from the others, but Sado recently incorporated into one prefecture and the old provinces are now towns. Each old prefecture, now town, had its own Oni so now there are many Oni at each festival. Each Oni has its own special mask and its own special Oni-daiko dance. It is an amazing performance, almost like a ballet or a scene from an opera. The Oni flip their hair up with their drum sticks, strike fierce poses at the crowd, chase dragons, and in general manage to look pretty serious. If you are even in Japan in the summer, I highly recommend coming to Sado for a festival. You won’t regret it.
The video actually comes from the Sawata Matsuri and is a little dark because the festival was at night. The picture is from the Ryotsu Matsuri. I hope they both turn out alright.
I got this info from 2 of my friends that have lived on Sado for the majority of their lives. One actually taught at Xavier University for 5 years, and the other is boss triathlete (puts me to shame). The information is what they believe to be true, so if the text books say something different, well... I'm going to believe the natives
Yes, I, Phillip Martin, the self proclaimed “Skinny White Boy” has competed in sumo. And not just any sumo, Water Sumo (Japanese – Ume sumo). The town next to mine, Akadomari, held a festival where water sumo was the main attraction. My team of 5 was made up of 5 Asst. Language Teachers all from the US. We were pitted against the Post Office Team. Now, I’m not calling BS here, but no letter pusher I’ve ever seen was that jacked! Our team pretty much got rocked, and the other team went on to get second! Oh with the exception of ME! Yes, this Skinny White Boy won a sumo match! My opponent was about my size and gave me a good struggle for about 15 seconds, but once I had his leg, I spun him and tossed him into the sea! YEAH! I’d like to say thanks to WWE! All of the wasted hours I spent glued to the TV to watch Wrestlemania in Jr High suddenly seem worth it. I also entered the open match and got rocked by the guy who was the first to win 3 in a row. Some of the other ALT’s I went with won a match in the open round. It was great fun. Enjoy the pictures!
The orientation was pretty much just meetings and seminars about the JET program, but we were pretty much free to sleep or walk around Tokyo after 3:00 each day. I did a little bit of both. There were actually a few people at the orientation that I knew from Waseda. Small world.
I left Tokyo by bullet train and ended up in Niigata City where my supervisor, Mr. Otsuka, a very kind and helpful man, showed me and the other Sado ALT(Asst. Language Teacher), Charles, to the jetfoil so we could get to Sado. After a 1 hour ride, I arrived at Ryotsu Port and met the other JET teachers on Sado, all of whom have been very welcoming. I was then carried off to meet the superintendant, my Board of Education director, and I was finally taken to my apartment/house. (Pictures are coming soon in a MTV Cribs: Sado Style Blog Update).
Sado has just about as much green on it as Tokyo has steel and glass. There are rice fields all over the place! The sea is as blue as it can be, the forests are a rich green, and they are packed full of trees. Being as there is so much nature here, there is little else. Don’t get me wrong, Sado has pretty much everything we need, but it’s no metropolis. My own town, Hamochihongo, is very small, but it has all of the things I need to live within walking distance. It has a “This is ‘town’ “ (Enter Joe Dirt accent here) type of feel to it. All of the Southerners reading this know what I’m talk’n about.
So far I have really just been meeting with teachers, filling out forms, and preparing to live here for the next year. There are going to be several festivals, about 5 or so, on the island within the next month so lots of pictures and good stories are sure to come. I’ll try to keep these entries shorter so they are easier to read. Thanks for being interested guys ; )
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Since you probably don’t know anything about Sado, here are some facts so you can know a little bit about where I will be living.
- Sado, AKA Sadogashima, is an island off the west coast of Niigata Prefecture. (Picture Above). It used to be used as an exile island. (I thought it was a joke at first when I found out they sent me there. EXILE! Really?)
- It is 330 sq. miles in area and it sits about 30 miles off mainland Japan. By ferry, the only way to get on the island, it is around 2 ½ hours.
- It has a population of around 66,000 people. The island is rather rural; a noticeable portion of the island fishes or farms for their main source of income.
- The winter in Sado is known to be quite bleak, but the mainland gets far more snow than Sado. Despite the rough winters, spring, summer, and fall are supposed to be amazing.
- Sado is famous for taiko drumming, sake brewing, Noh plays (traditional Japanese masked performances), and being a good place to see a bit of traditional Japan.
- Sado sports beaches, 2 mountain chains, and plenty of lush landscape.
- Important to me personally, they have a very active community that is quite involved in sports. The island has quite a good number of local races throughout the year. Oh, and the crown jewel of all the races: A Yearly Triathlon held every September. Thank you God!
- My town, called Hamochi, only has about 4000 people in it so I’m probably going to stick out.
Oh well, I posted the Wikipedia page as a link above so you can go to that as well. Enjoy!
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Starting July 25th, I will be living and teaching English in Japan. I will be stationed on the island of Sado off the coast of Niigata. I will be posting some info about it soon.
If you are reading this, I'd just like to say, Hey Friend/Family Member, and I hope you enjoy this blog.