Monday, March 28, 2005

Hey everyone. I'm having a little fun with pictures. I tried taking some shots the other night. It was a full moon, and here's what I got. This first picture actually didn't turn out really well - I've made some serious adjustments in Photoshop, but it was a great chance to learn what to do, and what not to do when taking pictures at night. By the way, this is our town, Ota. The tall building is the City hall.
This is a tree in a cemetary that I bravely took pictures in Friday night at midnight with a full moon. Kathy thinks I'm crazy. Yup.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


I was at Kevin's place yesterday while Kathy went to Omiya to visit Joanne. The first part of the adventure started around 6:30 when Kevin, Mark and I heard what we thought was a thunderstorm. By 7:00 I had checked outside twice and decided that it was a storm - except that it was a perfectly clear night. At one point I actually felt the wall rattle a little with the noise. It turns out it was a fireworks display. By 7:30 had found out (through various sources) that it was in Ota and (we thought) nearby. So the three of us piled into my little car and drove madly around the city trying to find the show. Heads out the windows, both to see and hear, we followed the light (they say you should always walk towards the light) and finally arrived in a farmer's field for the last 20 minutes worth. They do fireworks right in this country - over 1-1/2 hours and hugely amazing! Certainly no Virgil Stampede.
The second part of the adventure started once I got back to Kevin's. I waited for Kathy to call for a pick up at the train station. At 10:30 Kathy called and I headed out to Kumagaya to pick her up. I arrived at Kumagaya at about 11:20 and called her.

"Bad news", she said, "I took the wrong train and I'm not sure where I am. I'll call you right back". Three minutes went by. The phone rang, "I'm sorry honey, I'm in Oyama and the only trains at this time of night go the wrong way. I can't get home. I can't get to Kumagaya, and I can't even go back from where I came from". A couple of phone calls to the all knowing (but sometimes directionally challenged) Ayako, and I knew where my poor lost wife was.

From Ota, Kumagaya is 45 minutes directly south. Oyama (where Kathy ended up) was an hour drive directly east of Ota. The problem is, being Japan the roads don't go the way you want them to (never a direct path) and there are 10,467 stop lights between you and your destination. I drove back to Ota and then to Oyama and met my poor, lonely, lost, and exhausted wife outside the station at 1:15. We were blessed with mostly green lights on the way back and arrived home at 2:15am. What a nice romantic Sunday drive.

Thursday was graduation day. Graduating from grade six is pretty exciting here. This guy is loads of fun to teach, and he was pretty emotional too. Congratulations to the grads. (By the way, Kathy really didn't like when I covered the eyes of the kids in the last couple pictures so I didn't do it this time. I just feel a little funny putting up pictures of students. Let me know what you think - send a comment!)
Here is one of the two grade six teachers at this school. She wore a beautiful kimono, I couldn't resist the picture.
After the grad ceremony the parents, teachers, and other students made a line outside to cheer on the grads as they leave the school. It was pretty fun. Lots of pictures. These two grade four guys love pictures, all I had to do was pull out the camera...

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

These pictures are actually from last week, but I played the same game today. "Pass the Orange" (for lack of a creative name). These two are in grade one. You should have heard them scream when I told them they had to pass it without using their hands!! (Jeff)
who says you can't have fun in class!!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Kathy and I went for a short hike today. We had a ton of fun walking through fields of plum blossoms. At the top of the field, there were some stairs and a hiking trail that we followed up to the top of this small mountain. Kathy on top of the world!!
In Japan the plum and cherry trees (cherry trees more so) seem to be grown not for their fruit, but for their blossoms. This field of plum tries is in full bloom this weekend.
The stairs leading back down into the plums. It was really wierd - the plum trees looked like they were in black and white, but the rest of the world is coming to life finally. Spring is here!
Before we got to the plums, we stopped at this little hill in our town. At the top there was a temple (of course). I don't know if anyone ever goes there, but this is a picture through a little hole in the doors (which were shut). There seem to be some kind of prayer flags in the back. Pretty neat place.
Between the hill and the plums we also stopped at this cemetery. It was sad and beautiful.
This picture was completely Kathy's idea. We noticed that some of the people at the cemetary were cleaning the stones. She caught her reflection in this one and thought it would be neat to catch it. What do you think?

A Day in Mashiko

So today we went to Mashiko, about a 2 hour drive away. It's a town famous for its pottery. I went there a couple times the last time I lived in Japan. If any of you know my Japanese tea set, that's where I bought it. It was kind of a blah day...overcast...not so good for the landscape pics that Jeff has gotten fond of. But we did get a few interesting ones to share. Dagmar and Dave, we're planning to take you guys here. And we're hoping to be allowed in to take a closer look at the kiln for Dustin's sake... :-)
This is the one set of kilns we got to take a look at. Unfortunately, they were roped off, and no one was around, so we couldn't get any closer.
There is tons of pottery in this town. Here is small sampling...
The creature seems to be a symbol of prosperity in Japan. These things are everywhere. This one is unfortunately oversized, and well, rather excited.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Look at her go! She's teaching kids how to hang laundry properly.
Kathy in action today. Her last day at the elementary school this semester.
Is this not the cutest thing you've seen in a while???? Kathy at her wednesday elementary school.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I like this picture. I know it's not actually that good, but I like the colours. So here it is. And here is an explanation of my day. I had a good day today. After today, it is pretty clear why I enjoy my job more than most ALTs.

First, on my way into school today, I passed a road crew. Their job today was to repaint the lines on the road. Now, back home in Canada, for those who don't remember, when we paint lines on roads, we use a big truck with multiple sprayers. They can probably paint kilometers upon kilometers of road in a day. Well, this road crew had one guy walking ahead to wave the traffic over a bit, there were at least two guys sweeping the old line, there were two guys holding a string (yes I said string) to make sure they had a straight line, and there was one guy pushing this old looking hand cart machine thing that seemed to first heat the pavement, lay the 'paint' and then pour cold water on it to cool it off. It was quite the process. They got done most of the one km of downtown today. It was a joy to watch. Now I know why Japan has such a low unemployment rate!

After that experience, I went to school. I had a great time at school today. The principal invited me to join them for the grade 6 graduation ceremony next week. All of my schools have the ceremony on the same day, but I think I'll head over to this school. The funny thing was, the vice principal spent a considerable amount of time talking with me and (I think) trying to convince (or bribe) me to come to the grad. He showed me how to make a number of different (and very cool) paper airplanes, and a paper pistol (when you snap it quickly through the air it makes a big shot-like noise). Picture this: (as only happens in Jeff's world) at one point the vice principal and I were throwing paper airplanes around the staff room! I like this school - it can be a lot of fun.

To top it off, for English club today we decided to forgo English and play dodgeball outside - Canadian style. That means instead of one ball (that's just too easy) we used 5 balls! What an absolute blast! (and a little dangerous!) Overall, it was a pretty fun day. Oh, and in the midst of all the fun, I was even able to teach the grade 3s how to properly write capital letters and the grade 4s the English words for pencils, pens and various stationary. A day in the life.... cheers! (Jeff)

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Important Announcement!

Jeff wants you all to know that he has updated the photosite, so check it out, onegai shimasu! It's
I know, I know, it's a real drag for those of you without highspeed.

Secondly, yes, Maria, I FINALLY checked out your blog and I was SHOCKED to see myself featured right there on page one. But I like your blog a lot...I think you're revealing a lot more of who you really are. It's great.

So here's some free advertisement for Maria: Check out her blog. It's called

Good night!

Junior High Graduation

My highlight of the past while was definitely Friday's graduation. The san nensei's (3rd graders) graduated from junior high. All the teachers and staff got dressed in their finest formal garb. One san nensei teacher even wore a beautiful kimono. There was a 2-hour ceremony that I actually really enjoyed. I've learned enough Japanese to be able to figure out the gist of what was going on...and to know when to stand up, bow, and sit down... which we did a LOT of. It was an extremely formal ceremony, and I found I've really come to appreciate Japanese formality. The students all had practiced how to walk onto the stage, how and when to bow, how and when to stand up and sit down. It was an amazing show.

...And it was really emotional too. The homeroom teachers read out each of the students' names as they came to receive their diploma. One teacher started to choke up halfway through his list of students. Many students were openly balling, especially when the first and second graders sang for them.

My favorite part of the ceremony was the end. A bunch of us teachers stood by the door giving flowers and saying "omedetou" (congrats) to the students as they left the gym. It was great. Such a range of emotions. Some students were really excited and wanted to give me a high five or shake my hand as they left. Other students were crying so hard they barely noticed us trying to pass them flowers. I'm posting a bunch of pictures for you to check out...before, during, and after the graduation. Enjoy!
This is the day before graduation. We spent many hours tranforming the gym. I'm pictured here with three girls from class 2-3...they wouldn't leave me alone! So much fun!
This is a student accepting his diploma. The homeroom teacher calls the student's name; the student crosses the stage and stands facing the principal. The vice-principal hands the principal the diploma. Then the student steps forward, grabs onto the diploma first with the left hand and then with the right, takes two steps back, and bows to the principal while holding up the diploma. Here, I caught Jun Nakagawa in mid-bow. It was all very impressive.
This is the graduating class singing for everyone during the ceremony.
Class of my favorite classes. I got really close to Mao Tsukamoto, the second girl from the left in the first row.
Boys from 3-2... a loud but really fun class.
Girls from 3-4...great class.
Me with two girls from class 3-4

Sunday, March 06, 2005

A Slow Weekend

Not much happening this weekend. Jeff is finally over his flu. He took a full week off of school. Saturday night we went over to Kevin's again with Mark and Ayako and watched a movie. Today we walked around our city, visiting our local temple and hiking a bit of Kanayama, the mountain behind it. Spring is definitely in the air, although we got some snow on Friday...the most we've seen here. It's pretty much gone now, and the fields are all turning green. And the air has that fresh smell to it. I can't wait for the warm weather to get here, so Jeff doesn't have to wear his toque to bed anymore! Cherry blossom season is almost upon us... apparently it's at its best right about the time that Dagmar and Dave will be arriving to visit us!

Anyhow, since it's been a slower week, I'm posting two older pictures for your enjoyment. After living here 6 months, we almost don't notice the "odd" things that once used to catch our eye. Enjoy!
From this vending machine, you can buy fries, spaghetti, rice balls, fried octopus, and curry bread. All served piping hot. Yes, vending machines in this country are amazing. But we have yet to find any that dispense chips or chocolate!
This is a paper bag that Jeff got his hands on. For more examples of hysterical English (and a great waste of time) go to