Monday, May 15, 2006

grand finale

Well folks, I'm at the end of my internship in Chiba. It's been a really great year and I'm really going to miss the friends I've made and the places I've been. I have one last flurry of photos for all who are interested. They come with their own convenient captions. Again I apologize, many of these were taken with my cell camera, I didn't have my digital with me. If you squint they won't look so bad.

I recently took Channing, our newest team member, on a tour of Tokyo. After visiting the Imperial Palace Gardens we stopped by Tsukiji fish market for lunch. I've been told that every restaurant of note in Tokyo buys its sushi-grade fish at this market. After sushi we stopped by this street vendor selling mussels - grilled in the shell. Yummy. Those are sea urchins at the bottom. The inside has the richness of fois gras but taste of the sea. Great over rice.

My friends Haruna (holding chopsticks) and Sayuri, and Uchi (not pictured) prepared a delicious farewell dinner for me in a friend's apartment. The main course was chirashizushi. Imagine a bed of rice with snow peas, small slices of sashimi, sugar, and egg on top. It doesn't get any better.

This is Kenji, a college outreach staff member, looking his best. His English is very good and he often translates for me if I talk myself into a corner. Kenji and Channing also attended the dinner party. The background is a typical college apartment. What you see in the picture is about 25% of the entire living space, including the kitchen.

Dan and Carol are my host-parents. Dan is the Chiba team leader, English teacher, Bible-study leader, and pastor of Oyumino Church - for starters. Sometimes I think he gets more work done in a day than I will do in my undergraduate career. Carol is a KCS (soon to be CCSI) teacher and mother of nine kids. She also is very involved in the community. Thank you, Dan and Carol, for putting up with me for a year and being so nice about it :-)

It was a typical Sunday morning. I arrived at church a few minutes late for my Bible study at Honda Chapel, set up a few chairs, and tried without much luck to decode the Japanese sermon. (One nice thing is that many of the praise songs are in hiragana, not kanji, so that younger kids and people like me can pronounce them. This way I'm able to sing most of the songs in church, which is nice, even if I'm not certain of their meaning.) During the announcements, Nagata-san told congregation that I would be leaving. "Peetah-kun.... America ni kaerimasu...sui-yobi.... etc." Then before I realized it, he invited everyone to sento that night to see me off!

For the uninitiate, a sento is a traditional Japanese public bath. For details, try wikipedia, or watch Spirited Away. If you think that it's just a glorified hot tub, you need to experience it for yourself. Due to the nature of the sento, I did not take photos inside, but here are Ryosuke and Toshi relaxing and drinking coffee afterward.

That's about it. I may post a few more photos when I get back to the states, but Nashi Fruit is ending. This summer I'm continuing my Japanese studies at Stanford University and will be attending Georgetown University in the Fall. Thanks for watching!


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

ads i've seen on the train

I took these with my cell phone. Sorry for the shakiness.


I recently excurded solo to Tokyo for hanami (flower watching).

Flower watching - usually sakura, or cherry blossoms - is a serious spectator sport in Japan. Families will eat picnic lunches under cherry trees, sometimes lingering long into the evening and talking over beer and cigarettes. Since Japan is a very vertical country, some people even take month-long trips, starting in the south and driving north, to follow the sakura blossoming. Hardcore.

These pictures are from Ueno park. I was really impressed with how the lantern (?)...indwelt.... the tree behind it in this picture. The branches are just where the artist went a little crazy, or where he gave his sculpture an organic halo.

Homeless people inhabit the green and blue shelters in the background. Interestingly, even people at this level of society line their shoes neatly outside their shelters.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

I'm waking up, the house is very still. It's a beautiful, quiet, sunny morning. My window is open and I hear a faint voice getting closer. It's a van with a loudspeaker on top. A voice talks matronly to the silent neighborhood, like the airport lady asking you to keep an eye on your luggage. The voice then chants a few intelligable lines in singsong fashion before it repeats. I don't know Japanese very well, but it sounds like an appeal. The effect is eerie - I feel like I'm in an Orwellian world where people cowering in houses listen fearfully to condescending exhortations from the state.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


My church celebrated Easter Sunday with extra-praiseful music, lunch together, and games and a choir concert afterwards. There were close to 200 people on Sunday - many people brought friends and relatives. I should've taken more pictures, but I never remember. Here is one of my pastor, Dan, talking to students after lunch.

Our church building is beautiful, and spacious by Japanese standards. Pictures possibly forthcoming.

food update

The neighbor lady just brought me over a pot of takeinoko miso, made with wild bamboo shoots. During this time of year Japanese people hunt for takenoko in the woods in Chiba and cook them in soups and rices. No, I didn't save you any.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

kamakura two

The woodwork here is truly amazing. The carvings under the eaves look like a complicated jenga tower to me.

Prayer cards, 700yen.

This prayer card is asking for good fortune in upcoming college test results (Ayumu).

My postcard to you, my readers. A massive 700-year old metal buddha, or daibutsu. He looks a little irritated from this angle. Maybe a 350-year old itch he hasn't been able to scratch?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

kamakura one

Ayumu, a college student from my church, took me on a sightseeing trip to Kamakura, an area famous for its numerous and beautiful shrines (Shinto) and temples (Buddhist). A shogun - whose name escapes me - once made Kamakura his capital, accounting for the concentration cultural buildings in this now relatively quiet prefecture.

I'm always impressed with how well Japanese architecture and aesthetic harmonize with nature. I felt very peaceful walking through the valley.

(spring flags, to hazard a guess - my friends couldn't read the kanji. Kamakura.)

(detail of a wooden gate, approx. 7x10 cm. Kamakura.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006


McSweeny's just gets weirder and weirder. Find out about real geisha here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

tokyo outing

I took a solo walking trip around downtown Tokyo last Monday, on which I walked past interesting stores like this one.

And this one. You always find interesting stores off the main drag. Tintin books, Tintin TV shows, but most awesomely, Tintin and Snowy figurines, two of which I bought.

Also happening in my life: I've suffered from tea poisoning - oolong, more specifically - during the last 72 hours. Thankfully it's clearing up, but yeah, apparently oolong has a nasty tendancy to flush out important oils and whatnot from one's stomach. I'm stickin' with green.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Sorry about the lack of updates recently. I have become very entrenched in my daily routines of teaching, sleeping, eating, grading, etc. Japanese university students have been on vacation for the last month, so all of my college-level classes and activities have temporarily ceased. I have been using my extra time to coach my American students, especially in trig, algebra, and Latin. Tomorrow I'm meeting with Soichiro, a university student, for lunch and possibly a Bible study. More Chiba updates coming.

It's midnight right now. We have been expecting typhoon-level winds, and they just hit by the sound of what they're doing to the house :-) The weather's fierceness makes my workspace all the more cozy. Now just add a dash of indie internet radio...

Monday, February 27, 2006

snow camp

Yokohama and Chiba college outreach teams arose with the sun Wednesday morning. They headed north - by van or by train - to Nagano prefecture for a three day snow camp. I entrusted my life – what choice did I have? - to Nagata's ancient Toyota mini-van for the four hour trip. In my car were Yuko, Hajime, Nagata, and myself. None of them spoke fluent English, so I thrust my beginner Japanese on the lot of them.

Me: Where are we going?

Nagata: We are going to Nagano.

Me: What are we going to do?

Yuko: We are going to ski.

Me: Is that so? How many children do you have? (etc, etc)

The Japanese countryside was very beautiful, even through a dirty van window. It's interesting how a few places in Japan, like Tokyo and Nagoya, can be so crowded, while vast stretches of green in other parts of the country only boast a few houses and farms. Location, location, location.


I get carsick in Japanese vans, I'm not sure why.


Snow Camp was a very memorable experience. I was the only person there who spoke fluent English. This proved initially frustrating, but by the end I felt exhilarated because of all the Japanese I had learned. The ski resort didn't have snowboard boots in my size (they stopped about 7 cm shorter) so I tried skis for the first time. By the end of the day I was poling my way around with relative ease, although I wished I had learned more Japanese curse words when I attempted a mogul run.


Here is a picture of Shinya leading worship in the evening. Next is a snapshot of the group before we went our separate ways. I made a lot of friends that week, had many interesting conversations with people even with my limited vocabulary.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

my morning view

I drink at least one pot of green tea (matcha, Japanese) every day. Two pots if my math students aren't paying attention. I drink at least two pots of green tea every day...


I was able to recover a few photos from the smouldering remains of my CompactFlash card. The first is a shot of my neighborhood's jinja - Shinto shrine - after the 30-year snow. I don't know exactly how it works, but I think that, unlike Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines aren't social places. I've never seen monks live near them. Jinja literally blend into the countryside, growing alongside the grass and bamboo trees. Many of them are very beautiful and reflect the Japanese' skill in working with and complementing natural surroundings in their architecture.

The word "Shinto" is made up of two Japanese kanji. The first one is pronounced "kami," and can mean "sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility." (Wikipedia: "Shinto") However, we Christians use the word "kami" to describe the Christian God. It is obviously very easy to confuse the concept of God the Father with the animistic spirits in the collective consciousness of Japan. I wanted to highlight just one example of the difficulties missionaries face when communicating with a people that has no memory of Christianity.

Tokyo's busiest train station, Shinjuku Eki services approx. 750,000 passengers per day, although Wikipedia ("shinjuku") sets the number at two million. Shinjuku is a business, government, and entertainment hub of Tokyo, especially for the younger generation. Sushi, Karaoke, Gucci, you name it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

-- -- -- --

My teaching life is changing quite a bit this month. I have now taken on two additional English classes on Thursdays. The age groups are 8-10 and 40-50, respectively. Teaching such diverse age groups keeps me on my toes with respect to presentation and technique. I have found that younger children respond far better when I use varying tones of voice, over-emphasizing almost every point I make. Dynamic and visual presentation is essential for teaching Japanese children. In this respect, they don't differ from American children very much.

The 40-50 English class is supposed to finish by 9pm, but if everyone participates heavily it may finish as late as 10. My 40-50 year olds (ha!) speak conversational English, so it is my job to smooth out their grammar, pronunciation, and syntax. Although I loosely follow a textbook, my primary goal is get my students to hold interesting English conversations with each other. We talk about Japan, Japanese food, America, American food... Actually, politics and economics are pet topics as well. I sometimes learn as much about Japanese culture as my students learn English.

I also started a 2 hour/week speech class today for my MK students in the Keiyo Christian school where I teach. Although I will have to be flexible and open minded because I am dealing with students of all ages - between 8 and 16 years of age (!!!) - I hope that it will one day resemble Nate Wilson's rhetoric class which I attended at New Saint Andrews College (Moscow, ID) a few years ago. My goal is 1) to provide a positive opportunity for the younger kids to speak to an audience, and 2) to provide further practice and accountability for my English-speaking high school students in persuasive speaking/writing. The speech class will be fully integrated with the HS students' other studies, providing a place for them to read their essays and research papers from their other classes. I'm really excited about speech class - please pray that it will be a positive experience for all the students.

I'm sorry for the lack of photos recently, but most of my photos got deleted by accident, which is really lame, because my Prefecture had a 30-year-snow recently (like, a foot), and Chiba looked really beautiful covered with snow.

Friday, January 13, 2006

i'm back!

just as you all were beginning to give up hope, lo! at last, a belated update!

Ginza, Tokyo

I've just returned to Chiba after spending the holidays with my family. I am now beginning to teach two new English classes, pictures forthcoming. It's very cold here in January, but it still manages to rain constantly.