Thursday, June 30, 2011

Oh, to be in Minnesota.

It's hot.  The temp has reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit for multiple days now….and it’s still June.  The intense heat and humidity lasts pretty much through September.  Which means I am going to have resist melting for the next three months. 

Perhaps you think I am exaggerating.  Well, I just learned this week that the town in which I work, Yorii Machi, is the second hottest city in all of Japan.  The town in which I live, Ogawa Machi, is also in the top ten.


It’s tolerable inside where it is shaded…well, that is, if you can stand sweat rolling freely down your face, legs and back.  Every classroom has two oscillating fans on the ceiling.  They help…a little.

The worst part is when I have to walk to school from the train station and back.  Three days a week, this is a half hour walk.  There is shade for approximately 3% of the walk. 

I work in the Japanese “countryside” which means farmland.  The air is soaked through with the odor of warm manure.  It’s so thick you can just about see it. The blacktop of the streets practically steams in the oppressive heat. 

Many older Japanese ladies walk about on their errands under the portable shade of an umbrella.  I have joined their ranks.  It offers more shade than just a hat would so I can stave off a sun burnt face, neck and arms. 

I feel so quaint, carrying around a parasol to protect my skin…as sweat streams down my body.  I take that back.  I actually just feel like I need a shower. 

Thankfully, 夏休み (Natsuyasumi-summer vacation) is fast approaching.  Which means I can spend the hottest days in the comfort of the air-conditioned library studying Japanese. 

I am looking forward to a month of activities that don’t involve profuse sweating.

It’s just not my thing.

I miss Lake Superior.
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Power-Up Time

The six elementary schools in Yorii have a lot in common.  There are, of course, slight variants but the basic elementary school schedule is always the same.

One thing the schools have in common, but each do slightly differently, is something I call “パワアプタイム,” this is katakana Japanese for “power-up time.” 

Power-up time is great.  All the students and teachers (sometimes even the principal and vice principal) go outside and do various stretches and exercises together before running around the track for fifteen minutes. 

Some schools have power-up time right at the beginning of the day, others during the mid-morning break.  Some schools have it everyday, others two or three times a week.  It varies. 

My favorite thing about power-up time is the music.  At one school, the Back to the Future theme is played followed by some genki band music. 

There is teacher at Obusuma Elementary School who makes me laugh really hard almost everyday.  He is always making jokes and giggling.  I don’t exaggerate.  He constantly surprises me with his comprehension of English.  For example:

Yesterday as the students were all running out to the track to get ready for power-up time, he said to me, “It’s prison time!”  As he ran in place, laughing.  


I suppose he is right.  Every school requires the students go outside or to the gym to exercise everyday as a group.  Even in the blistering heat (they also make the students drink lots of water, too).  Just like a prison. 
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I have a confession to make...

I grew up really disliking anime.  There, I said it.  Please don’t hate me, Japan.

Fortunately, I was introduced to an amazing movie by a dear friend of mine.  That movie is called Spirited Away. 

The story is captivating.  The animation is wonderful.  The music is enchanting. 

I changed my mind.

I quickly learned all the movies by Hayao Miyazaki are incredible.  I also soon discovered that Karl really likes his movies as well.  So much so, that for his birthday this Saturday, we are going to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum.  The studio that produces all of Miyazaki’s films.

For those of you who have never seen a Miyazaki film, I strongly encourage you to go rent one and watch it.  Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, Graveof the Fireflies, they are all good.

The stories are truly original.  They are born from the mind of a genius. Miyazaki’s movies are also an incredible way to learn about and study the Japanese language and culture. 

I liked the movies before moving to Japan.  Having lived here for a while now, they have become even better.  Every time I watch one again, I discover something I hadn’t noticed before.  And it’s fun to comprehend a bit more Japanese every time.  Hopefully someday I won’t need subtitles at all.

Back to studying I go!
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Moving to Japan?-Revised

NOTE: Due to the many comments I received, I have decided to take down the original post and heavily edit it.  I have added and changed information. Also, this list of suggestions stems from my personal experience and location in Japan.  Please keep this in mind.  Everyone’s own experience is different based on many variables including knowledge of the Japanese language (or lack thereof-which was the case of my husband and me) and where you are located in Japan, city or country, etc.

Thanks to everyone who left comments on the original post-I hope this is now even more helpful for those of you who are preparing to move to Japan.

One year ago my life was a flurry of graduations, planning my wedding, planning my honeymoon and preparing to move across the world to Japan. 

In short, it was a crazy-amazing-summer. 

Karl, my husband, was hired through the JET program.  He left for Tokyo four days after we got home from our honeymoon.  I stayed in the states for three more weeks in order to provide a smoother transition.  While Karl was over in Japan figuring out our new life, I was back home closing accounts, finishing business and packing. 

Packing for coming to Japan was…frustrating.  Because I really didn’t know what exactly I would need.  Even after communicating with former JET’s and reading the JET handbook.

For all you new JET’s and spouses of JET’s: Here is my advice to you.

Things to bring with you to Japan:

  • Stick deodorant.  They only do spray on here. Although, some people don’t mind it, I prefer my stick deodorant.

  • For all you ladies- THIS is a must. I’m telling you.  It’s wonderful.

  • Cold, allergy, fever, etc. medicine.  To get “real” meds that actually do something, you have to go to the doc.  You can’t get anything good over the counter here.

  • Advice, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc.  You can get Ibuprofen here, it is called EVE.  They sell it in pharmacies over the counter.  However.  It costs about twelve bucks for 20 tablets.

A word about meds: Some medications are illegal in Japan.  It is worth finding out what is and what isn’t just to prevent possible hassle in the airport.  Also-I just learned this-apparently some online companies ship meds to you from overseas.  Does anyone have more information regarding this?  I am afraid I don’t know much about it.

  • Do you like to bake??? Bring your own bake ware.  I brought an 8x8 pan with and that was one of the smartest things I did.  I use it all the time.  Chances are you will only have a regular/small size microwave/convection oven.  So plan for that size.  (Note: It is possible to find bakeware.  Although what I have found here was nothing I was looking for-full size loaf pans and muffin tins.  I am sure they are somewhere; I just haven't been able to find them.)

  • Top sheets.  I can’t find top sheets for our bed anywhere. They only sell fitted as far as I can tell.

  • Peanut butter (it is expensive here and I have only been able to find it in small amounts.  Even at Costco, I couldn't find any.  Also, the only brand I have really seen is Skippy. My husband likes JIF. Don’t ask me what the difference is-I don’t know!)

  • Coffee (There is lots of coffee here, but Karl and I really don’t care for any-and we have tried lots! You can get the Starbucks brand though, and that is good but expensive.)

  • Yeast, if you like baking-I JUST found yeast for the first time in an import store for a reasonable price.  If you like to bake however, I would bring at least a little with you till you gain your footing.

  • All the clothes and shoes you think you will need if you have “big bones.”  I am a size 11 shoe, and there is no hope for me.  I basically fit the biggest men’s size that is typically carried.  I am a size 12 pant size-and my inseam in 34 inches.  It is virtually impossible for me to find any women’s pants or skirts that fit.  My husband is quite tall and also has lots of trouble shopping for clothes and shoes. Frustrating.

Things you DON”T need to bring with you:

  • Towels, washcloths, etc.

  • Q-Tips, cotton balls, swabs, etc.

  • Toothpaste (we were originally informed at one of my husband’s JET orientations that fluoride toothpaste was unavailable-apparently that is false! Thanks for the corrections everyone.)

  • Blankets, pillows, etc.

  • Typical kitchen ware

  • Cough drops

  • Toiletry items.  Unless you use an extremely specific brand, you will be fine.  You can easily find Pantene Pro V, Dove, etc.  I have also seen Dr. Bonners soaps, if you like organic and natural.

Places to go to equip your new apartment.  This very well may vary across Japan, but these are the places we go in Saitama Prefecture.

Pharmacies:  These stores are pretty close to a Walgreens.

  • Matsumoto Kiyoshi

  • Welcia

Kitchen ware, home goods, etc.

  • Cainz Home Center-It's basically like a mini Menards.)

  • IKEA-oh yes.  They are here.  Even the one closest to us is very inconvenient to get to.  We do not have a car, so on our trips to IKEA we have to keep in mind that we are carrying everything back with us on the train for one and a half hours. 

  • Hyaku En Stores-These are everywhere and are basically dollar stores.  You can find lots of great kitchen/bathroom stuff for very cheap. 

Imported groceries:

  • Costco! (Also has lots of other items, of course.  House wares, books, etc.)

  • Kaldi Coffee Farm-We wandered into a Kaldi last summer a few weeks after arriving when we exploring a city about 45 minutes from where we live.  This is a great import store.  They have imports from Europe, the US, all over Asia, New Zealand, etc.  Sometimes the inventory does change though so sometimes we have gone looking for something we found before and it wasn’t there.

  • International grocery stores-These can be found! I was lucky and found one in a city 45 min away right in the train station.  Mexican, Italian, Indian foods, a much bigger and better baking goods section, imported liquor, imported snacks and cereals, etc.  Ask the JET’s or other foreigners who live near by where the closest one is-they are bound to point you in the right direction.

  • Another great way to get groceries that you might not be able to find in your local supermarket is ordering things online.  Here are a couple of great websites that are in English.     
  • The Meat Guy
  • Alishan Organic Center 

Most importantly, don’t get too stressed about moving.  If you forget something, ask someone to mail it to you. 

And remember, this is an adventure-have fun! 
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Monday, June 27, 2011


Sometimes life just…hits you.

Like when you step back and realize that…

…you have (already!!!!) been married for nearly one year.

Where has the time gone!?
 …you have been living in Japan for almost one year.

First sighting of Japan from the plane last August-Hokkaido Island
…you know how to speak, read and write a good bit of Japanese. (Something I never thought I would be able to do!) 

Kanji are pretty, but tough to learn.
…you graduated college over a year ago and are doing something that has nothing to do with your degree-but has everything to do with further education.  

Onward to "real life."
Last week I found myself being struck by a bought of homesickness.  I was longing for the time when I would move back to the States and continue on to the next phase in life.  I have always been one to yearn for the future and what it holds for me.

I need to quit that.

Because the future does not exist.  The present does.

Yesterday I was reminded that I should focus on taking full advantage of my current circumstances: The koto sensei finally got back to me.  She is very excited to have me as a student.  My koto lessons will begin on Sunday, July 10th.    

I am reeeeeally excited about this.

This is an amazing opportunity to learn not only about music and culture, but also to prompt my Japanese learning along.  Her English is very good, but our communication will be a blend of Japanese and English.   

What a great experience for both of us!
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Saturday, June 25, 2011

コストコ (Costco)

There is a place in Japan you can go when you need some staple items.

Like cheese.

Scattered about the country there are Costco stores.  When we first got to Japan almost a year ago, we heard murmurings of the supposed Costco and the magical items to be found within. 

Like cheese.

Finally, we went.  As many of you are aware, Costco is a member only store.  Karl and I like to buy as organic and local as we can manage…but we sold out to the big corporation in the name of…cheese.  We bought a membership.

As you might imagine, Japan doesn’t really do cheese… You can buy cheese in the regular grocery store.  But it's pretty gross.  (Says the girl who lived in Wisconsin half her life.)

Costco also sells other things that are imported.  Salsa, tortilla chips, breakfast cereal, bagels…the types of things that you really miss from home and can’t find in a typical Japanese supermarket.  They also have household cleaners, laundry detergent and the like. 

It’s comforting to the homesick…in a massive, corporate sort of way.  Once in a while, a trip to Costco is a definite plus when living in Japan. 

If, that is, you can stand weaving the gigantic American sized shopping carts in and out of the massive aisles…amongst huge amounts of people who are used to driving tiny carts. 

Patience is a necessity when it comes to shopping at Costco in Japan.  It just is. 

But it is soooooo worth the cheese.
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The Count

What is one of the absolute first things you learn when studying a foreign language?

That’s right.  Numbers.

I learned to count in Spanish.  Easy.  I learned to count in German.  Easy.

I learned to count in Japanese…

ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi, kyu, jyu

No problem.

But wait!…there’s more. 

You know how in English when you count something you simply say the number and then whatever the item you are counting?  For example: Three apples. (ah, ah, ah, ah!) 

Then there is Japanese counting.  In short, it’s a nightmare.  If The Count from Sesame Street existed in Japan-he would be insane.

There is a different way to counting everything.  How can that be, you ask?

I’ll give you an example:  You are at a restaurant.  You order some yakitori.  (delicious)  Instinct says, “四やきとりおねがします。  (yon yakitori onegashimasu-Four yakitori please.)  But no.  What you should say is,  やきとり四本おねがします。” (yakitori yonhon onegashimasu-Four yakitori please.)

Explanation: Because of the shape of yakitori, you have to use the counter for cylindrical objects.  One is “ee pone,”  two “ni hone,”  three “san bone,” four “yon hone,” five “go hone,” six “rope pone,” seven “nana hone.”  Etc. 


There are different counters for flat things, people, small animals, big animals, machines, etc. etc. etc.

The list is endless.

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なかよし (Nakayoshi)

Directly translated, this word means “dear friend” in English.  However, a more accurate translation would be “person of special needs.” 

I was surprised when I saw on my schedule at Obusuma elementary school that I had classes with the nakayoshi students this term.   The other five schools at which I have worked have never scheduled English class for their nakayoshi students.  That usually begins in Junior High, as far as I know.

Special ed classes in Japan are-surprise surprise-completely different from the way the U.S. handles them. 

In Japan, every single special needs student has their own personal teacher who is constantly with them.  Sometimes they are with the rest of their respective grades classmates; sometimes they are in a different room working on other subjects. 

I am really happy that Obusuma scheduled me to have nakayoshi classes.  I really enjoy them.  It is absolutely delightful to see their little faces light up when they learn something new.  They try so hard. 

And we have so much fun!
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Vast Differences

As mentioned before, the differences between school in the United States and those in Japan are vast.  A recent difference I have been noticing is how Japanese education deals with substitute teachers.

They don’t. 

Instead of having a network of people anxiously waiting for a phone call in the morning informing them they can work that day, they have built in substitute teachers.  These teachers do lots of organizing, scheduling and other work for the school.  Substitute teaching is simply something they do should the need arise-which it occasionally does-but not often.

Another major difference is that the teachers all share one gigantic office.  They each have their own desk.  There is always a head row of desks where the principal, vice-principal and other head teachers sit. 

One great thing about this set up is that it makes communication between the teachers very open.  And putting together meetings is a cinch. 

All the important information and scheduling is put up in the teachers room as well.  It is an extremely efficient system.  

Since I was homeschooled K-12, I am interested in comparisons and thoughts from people who fully experienced public school in the U.S. and are now teaching or have taught in Japan. 

What do you think?
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My lifeguard sense came back instantly as I watched the ninety or so first graders splash and flail across the pool.  I was experiencing (yet again) something completely different from my “normal.”

In America, children learn to swim at community pools such as the YMCA.  In Japan, students learn at their elementary schools.  From their homeroom teachers.  Swimming is treated as any other type of P.E. class.

Every spring, the teachers and students drain last year’s water, clean out and refill the pool in preparation for swimming lessons.

During a free period in my schedule, I was invited to watch at the poolside as the first graders had their swimming lessons.  It was very interesting.  A massive group swimming lesson. 

When I was regularly life guarding, swimming lessons was one of the usual pool activities I had to watch over.  The class sizes were typically small so that the teacher could really focus on the students individually.

But swimming lessons are not mandatory in the U.S.  Apparently they are in Japan.   Not only do the Japanese students learn basic survival strokes, they also learn competitive strokes such as the butterfly. 

I find this very interesting. Should something like swimming lessons be mandatory in elementary schools?

Karl had an opportunity to join in with swimming lessons this week. He had a great time.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have sunscreen…and now resembles a lobster. 

Poor guy.
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Just Keep Cool

Dread.  That’s the word.  I am dreading the summer.

You know when it gets so hot and humid that you constantly look as if you just showered…except you didn’t?  I am not sure a more unpleasant sensation exists than a steady stream of sweat dripping down your body.

The best thing to do when dealing with the Japanese summer is simple to accept that you will be soaked through with sweat for approximately three months.  There is virtually no point in bothering with anti-perspirant deodorant.  It’s futile.

There is no escape.  

Since the March 11th earthquake and the resulting chaos, electricity use has been significantly reduced.  The scheduled black outs did not last long at all.  This is because people have been extremely conscience of only using the electricity they need. (Side note: The amount of energy the world would save if everyone only used what they needed would be HUGE.)

So now we come to the problem: air conditioning. 

Air conditioning uses an enormous amount of power.  Should everyone decided to use their AC as usual, there would be a chance of power rationing.  And nobody wants that. 

Fans offer some relief.  Light, loose clothing helps.  Wearing ice packs around your neck is good.

But the single most important thing is this:  drinking water.

So here we are.  Sweltering and sweating through the summer.

Stay hydrated. Go swimming.  Keep cool. 

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Buckets of Rain

Buckets of rain
Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets coming out of my ears
Buckets of moonbeams in my hand
You got all the love honey baby
I can stand.

Bob Dylan

We are in the midst of rainy season here in Japan. I have to say…I was expecting rain everyday. It’s rained maybe once or twice a week for the past month. So, yes. That is more than usual. But I was anticipating lots of rain.

Kocho Sensei (the principal) at Karl’s Junior High in Higashichichibu Mura explained rainy season in this way: The possibility for lots and lots of rain exists during this time. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will rain lots and lots, however.

So it’s like hurricane season. During hurricane season, the weather conditions are such that hurricanes are possible…but there is never a guarantee.

One thing that is guaranteed to happen during rainy season is this: humidity.

The Japanese Summer is descending upon us…
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I like mine wild.

So here we are.  In the land of rice.  But…what can I say?  I prefer mine wild.

Pilaf, casserole, soup…it doesn’t matter to me.  I would eat them anyway.  I would eat them here or there.  I would eat them anywhere!

Ok-Dr. Suess moment has passed.  

As one might imagine, acquiring wild rice in Japan is no easy (or cheap) task.  It is possible though.  Whew!  But instead of spending a fortune on wild rice here, some of our dear friends and family back home in the land of wild rice (Minnesota) have sent us some. 

Bless their hearts!

We use it sparingly.  An occasional treat. 

We recently used some as a pilaf to accompany delicious Dijon marinated pork chops dressed with a delightful shallot sauce.

I simple followed the directions of the back of the bag of rice to make the pilaf.  I adapted the pork chops recipe from here
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Kind of Math

Hooray for new math! New-hoo-hoo math.
It won’t do you any good to review math.
It's so simple, so very simple,
That only a child can do it!

This song is hilarious.  Please do yourself a favor and listen to it.

Math was never really my strong suit.  Both my parents are artists and it is definitely showing as my siblings and I get older. 

It's not that I can’t do math…I understand it just fine.  I just don’t like it.  That is…except when it comes to baking or cooking.  In fact, growing up, my mom would occasionally combine math and home economics in our home school and we would cook and bake for credit.  It was a great way to practice fractions and ratios-especially when halving, doubling or tripling a recipe.

Which was waaaaay more fun than sitting there with a math book solving problem after problem. (Boooring!) 

So now-when it comes to cooking-I am all about fractions and ratios.  And equations such as the following:

Apples + Caramelized pecans + Lettuce + Homemade dressing = Delicious!

 I discovered this delicious recipe from another greatblog.  Check it out.  Although the recipe calls for cabbage and not lettuce, my darling husband came home from the store with lettuce. 

Which turned out wonderfully. 

In fact it was so delicious, I made it again this week...with cabbage.  And it was even better then the first time. YUM!!!
I highly recommend you try solving this problem for yourself-the results are ah-mazing.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

It don’t mean a thing…

The weekend.  I was feeling positively bum-tastic last Saturday.  Being a major crabby-cakes to my poor husband.  I didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere.  I just wanted to sit at home, read and eat chocolate. 

It was that kind of a day.  The kind that only chocolate of lots of painkillers can fix.  Ick.

Unfortunately for my crabby self, we had promised a friend a few weeks ago we would go swing dancing with her that evening.  In Tokyo.

Le sigh.

I had a choice to make: 1) Continue to wallow and drown myself in chocolate.  -OR- 2) Put on my big-girl panties and deal with the situation.

My dear sweet husband had been watching YouTube videos all morning trying to remember and learn how to swing dance.  (How lucky am I!?)  I couldn’t let him down. 

So I took some meds.  Picked out a foxy outfit and got ready to dance. 

By the time we left for Tokyo, I was feeling loads better.  

 We had a great time! Met lots of new people.  Learned new moves.  

 Danced the night away.
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Friday, June 17, 2011

So. Much. Sweet.

There are many wonderful things in the world of food.  One of the best things?  Brunch.

Brunch is the perfect meal. Relaxed atmosphere.  Sleeping in.  Lazy preparation.  Eating way too much.  A perfect weekend activity.

Last weekends Sunday brunch was crème brulee French toast with fresh strawberries, smoothies and bacon.  

The French toast was an adventure.  It was a new recipe from a favorite food blog.  I decided to try it.  Unfortunately, it was a mediocre first attempt (my fault, not the recipes).

Two things:

1)    They were too sweet.
2)    The beautiful, delicious looking caramel topping-the crème brulee part of it-hardened and was impossible to eat.  We ended up peeling it off and tossing it.

Despite these things, they were delicious and I will make them again. 

They look beautiful though, don’t they?!
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Chocolate Cheesecake Swirl Brownie?

 Don’t mind if I do. 

When I saw this super simple recipe on one of my favorite food websites.  There was no question.  I was making them.  ASAP.

Are they as delicious as they look?

 Answer:  Yes.  Oh, yes. 

In fact, they are so delicious I made myself promise to only make them under two or more of the following conditions:

1)    Guests are coming over.
2)    I go running everyday for a month.
3)    I NEED chocolate...if you know what I mean.


Let’s be real, people.  How many women do you know who exercise self-control when it comes to delicious brownies? 

Yeah.  That’s what I thought. 
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Mexican Japan

Oh, Mexico, I never really been so I don't really know.
And oh, Mexico, I guess I'll have to go now.

Sure.  I’d like to go to Mexico at some point, but this post is really about Mexican food.

I love Mexican food.  As a kid, Chichi’s was one of my favorite places to eat.  I mean seriously, can anything beat fried ice cream?  It’s like eating an oxymoron, for crying out loud.


Going out to eat Mexican in Japan is not impossible, but it might as well be.  It’s either over priced, or just not good.  We rarely bother.

Instead, we make burrito salads, inspired by the restaurants Chipotle and Burrito Union.  We do the best we can without staples like fresh cilantro and varieties of peppers. 

But we make do.  The results?



Prepped lettuce
A couple tablespoons olive oil
one sliced onion
one sliced green pepper
one sliced red pepper
one sliced yellow pepper
minced garlic
sliced tomato
sliced avacado
one can of black beans
1-2 cups cooked rice
sliced chicken
juice of 1-2 limes
grated cheese                                               
cumin seed
ground cumin
cilantro (fresh if at all possible)

Heat up olive oil in two pans.  Sautee garlic and cumin seed in both pans over medium heat.  In one pan, sauté onion until beginning to soften.  Add peppers and sauté. 

In other pan put in cooked rice.  Spice desired amount.  Add lime juice and black beans.  Cook over low heat to blend flavors.

Once the veggies are sautéed, remove from pan and set aside.  In same pan, add a bit more oil and heat up.  Put in some minced garlic and sauté.  Add meat of choice and spice as desired.  Fry until just cooked through. 

Assemble salads in a pretty fashion!

Note:  I apologize for the ambiguity of amounts…I tend to not measure ingredients.  Start with a small amount and spice from there, tasting along the way. 

We like drinking either Negra Modelo Mexican beer, piña coladas or margaritas with these salads.  Yum!
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Thoughts for Sanity

Here you are. Hired to teach English in Japan.  Which is most likely your native language.

You arrive in Japan.  Reality begins to set it.  Teaching is merely part of your job.  Learning to work with the Japanese teachers is goal number one.  And every single one of them has different expectations. 

Every.  Single.  One.

Some teachers are completely in control.  Some want balanced team teaching.  Some don’t participate at all.

Although I have only been an ALT for six months, I feel I have already learned the most important aspect of my job:  roll with the punches.  Or go crazy. 

So for sanity’s sake:

  • Talk to teachers before class.  Being on the same page during class is crucial to having a good lesson. 

  • Be proactive.  If you don’t know Japanese, study.  Especially in elementary schools (such as mine) most teachers hardly know any English.

  • Be genki.  People-attitude is important! Even if you make lots of mistakes, smile and try your hardest.  Everyone will love you.

  • Listen, consider then respond.

  • Develop a thick skin.  Sometimes things will happen that could be taken offensively-let them roll off your back.  99% of the time it isn’t you. 

  • “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  Remember you are constantly dealing with a different culture and language.  Be respectful, even if you don’t agree or understand everything.  

One last thing-remember that even though you are teaching, this is also a learning experience for you.  Enjoy it!
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The Land of Cute

Babies. Puppies.  Kitties.  Bunnies.  Duckies.

I feel these are “normal” cute things.

Then there is Japan cute.  Japan has it's own category in cuteness because, well…there is really no other way to say this: It’s weird.

Now.  All the regular cute things are here in droves.  Puppies, kitties, bunnies, etc.  The weirdness starts when you discover things like stickers of glittery, multi-colored piles of poop.

That’s right folks: Poop is cute.  I bet you didn't even know that. I didn't. 

I am really not sure what the cute aspect of poop is.  Perhaps it’s the little faces drawn upon them.  Or their shapes, like little dollops of whipped cream.  Go figure.

Another bazaar cute item in Japan is slime.  My students love drawing pictures of slime with faces.  Again, go figure.

Then there is food.  Cute food is a way of life in Japan.  There are bento lunches, pudding puddings, mameshiba commercials…I could keep going for a long time.  Believe me.

While I appreciate cuteness as much as the next person, I feel a line should be drawn at some point. I really don’t think illustrations of cute poop and slime would fly back home. 

I like to think I keep an open mind.  There is that saying, “Beauty (I’ll substitute cuteness here) lies in the eye of the beholder.” 

I get that.  But poop? 

Call me blind, but I fail to see the cuteness of poop.
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

They Stared At Me

They stared at me, their little eyes wide with amazement, their little jaws dropping to the floor.  Speechlessness is not a regularity when it comes to first graders, however.  Soon they were chatting away, no doubt about what I was doing.

I was eating an apple.  Not a cut up apple, but one right from the core.  This is, apparently, not usual in Japan. 

For some reason unbeknownst to me, school lunch was not provided yesterday.  That means it was bento lunch day. 

School lunches exist because of the Japanese group mentality.  Everyone eats exactly the same thing, from the Principal to the first graders.  School lunches also prevent something that would only happen in Japan: a war of cuteness.  (And by that I mean the students would compare their lunch cuteness.)

If you have ever perused the lunch box or container aisle in a Japanese supermarket, you have no doubt seen the countless little trinkets you can buy to make ridiculously cute bento lunches.  Look at this to see what I mean.

I have a hunch that school lunches are in place for similar reasons as school uniforms.  They provide a sense of equality and no chance to compare.  Of course, it is easy to argue for either side of this issue, but uniforms and school lunches seem to be working out splendidly for Japan.  

But despite the unexciting school lunches and uniforms, there is certainly no lack of cuteness in this country...
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Saturday, June 11, 2011


I was sitting at work trying to create some lesson plans the other day.  There is a chicken coop at the school right outside the teachers' room.  For some reason, one of the roosters was extremely vocal that morning. 

And he was driving me crazy. 

I channeled my annoyance for this obnoxious bird and wrote this poem.  Ahem:

There once was a rooster so loud,
he strutted about haughty and proud.
He preened and he cried
to the hens who just sighed:
It's amazing his antics
are enough to romance us
to dream of becoming his bride.
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New Salad?

Yes, please.

I follow a really fun cooking blog.  Look at it here

So when I decided to make French Onion Soup yesterday, I needed something fresh and light to go with it.  Then I remembered this salad.  I tried it.  And it was amaaazing.

The recipe calls for an egg yolk in the dressing or a substitute of Greek Yogurt...I had to use plain regular yogurt (yay, Japan!) but it worked out fine. 

This salad was very easy and incredibly delicious.  You should go make it. 
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What do you do when...

...someone gives you thirty pounds of onions?

You make French Onion Soup.  That's what you do.

Last week, one of the teachers at Obusuma Elementary school asked me if I like onions.  I said yes.  The next day, he showed up with a h-u-g-e bag of onions from his farm.  For me.

So I made soup...

This was my first attempt at French Onion Soup.  I poked around online looking for recipes and watching videos but ended up making my own version.

French Onion Soup is traditionally served over crusty, delicious French Bread, covered in cheese and then baked till the cheese is roasted. YUM.

Unfortunately, I don't have oven safe bowls.  So we had to do with dipping baguette and sprinkling with freshly grated Parmesan.  It could be worse.

So here is what I did:

7-8 onions (red, white, yellow combination)
2-3 T. olive oil
2-3 T. butter
one bulb of minced (I use a garlic press) garlic

Heat up a pot over medium heat.  Let the oil come up to temp and melt the butter before adding the onions and garlic.  Saute over medium-low heat until the onions caramelize.  This will take about an hour.  Sprinkle on some S and P.  (I used freshly ground.)

1/4-1/2 c. Dry red or white wine
3-4 c. beef stock
3-4 c. chicken stock
1 t. dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Once the onions are beautifully caramelized, stir the wine. Stir in the stock, mustard, salt and pepper.

Simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with parmesan (or another cheese-our cheese choices are limited here.) Eat with a baguette.

So. Yummy. 
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What comes to mind when you think of curry?

I think spicy.  Not necessarily mouth-on-fire spicy, but rather spicy as in lots of flavor. 

In Japan, curry and rice is a standard meal.  I have it at least a couple times a month for school lunch.  It’s fine…definitely the least spicy curry I have ever eaten.  Which is very Japanese.  (According to this cookbook, the Japanese cuisine focuses on bringing out the foods natural flavors as opposed to adding flavors to it.)

Growing up, the curry I was familiar with was a dry Chinese beef and potato curry my parents would frequently make.  It’s delicious.  My child brain thought that is what curry was.  It never occurred to me that would be such a vast variety of curries.

Fortunately, I have since been enlightened.  Indian curries, Thai curries, Indonesian curries…the world is full of amazing and different curries.

So what do you do when you have an incredible Asian cookbook with sections for each country?  You make lots of curry, that’s what you do.

Here is the latest attempt:

Thai green curry chicken.  So spicy.  So good. 

One of the greatest things about making curry is that it is so easy.  And it can be really quick to make.  A winning combination for the fulltime workers who still want to eat healthy and delicious homemade dinners! 

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