Friday, July 07, 2006


Tonight we visited some family friends of the Kai's. They live about 20 minutes away. The daughter of the family is Erika's friend, Chika, from elementary and junior high school. They go to different high schools now. The house was so nice. It was larger than most houses I have seen in Japan. The only rooms I was able to see were the main foyer where you remove shoes, and the tatami room. Both were beautiful. Very new and traditional at the same time. In the tatami room, we first lit incense by the small shrine, chimed a small gong, and paid respect to the family's deceased. Gifts are also placed on the shrine. The same things happened at the Kai's house 2 weekends ago when their relatives came over. I can't say much more than this because I am really not familiar with Buddhist practices. It is something I am still looking into and learning about. It would be inconsiderate of me to analyze the religion at this time. I am always respectful though, and pray along with my family, just in my own way. The same goes for prayer time at school. The family was very nice. Erika's friend was very funny, and I enjoyed talking to her. We made good use of her electronic dictionary that night, haha. I was amazed at the hospitality we received. First we were served green tea. Later, we were served small cakes. After that, chilled green tea was served. Finally, a tray of wagashi (traditional Japansese tea cakes made of mochi, sweet beans, and jellies). I felt kind of awkward, since I didn't know really what to do, "Do you drink with two hands... the only utensil for the cakes is a thick toothpick... am I supposed to cut up small bites or spear it?", etc. I watched everyone very closely. I was very interested in everything. (To answer the above quesions... yes, you drink the tea with two hands on the cup, and you cut up the cake bite by bite with the thick toothpick wedge.) As for gift giving, (which is a must in Japan), we brought a nice bouquet of flowers for the family. As we left, each of us individually got a box of fancy cookies! It was a very neat experience for me, and I made a new friend in Chika, who was very funny and bubbly. The first pic is the big beautiful tatami room (the shrine is on the left with Yurina at the bottom), and the second is me with Chika and Erika!


Today, I received a message at the beginning of the school day that I was invited to introduce myself to an English class on a different floor of the school. I was excited and thought over a short speech in Japanese to share with the class some information about myself and my country. Later that day, I went to the class to make the speech and met the sensei of the class, who was very nice. I spoke to the class briefly and was ready to go back upstairs. What I came to find out, is that my speech concluded only the formal part of acquainting myself with this class. Until just then, it was unknown to me that it was only the beginning. The students started rearranging their desks and pulling out bags of Japanese snacks! They prepared a party with me being "the guest of honor"! It was so cool. Most of the kids I had met casually, only a few times before (they are a grade level above my class), and they were nice enough to do this for me! I was so thankful and excited. During the hour we shared the snacks (luckily I had brought a big bag of American candy for my class upstairs, which I was able to divide in half, to share with this generous class), took pictures, and shared questions. The reason this class' uniforms are different is because they are "junior high alumni". It is hard to explain, but Ryukoku High School also has a wing devoted to junior high school education. These students have been part of Ryukoku since junior high school. This means that they have been studying English for 5 years. Their English was pretty good, being that they understood most of the simple sentences and questions I asked. Along with their English being a little better than other classes, they seemed to understand the level of Japanese I was able to speak and spoke to me on that level. Other people have forgotten this sometimes and leave me in the dust with their fast speaking. It turned out to be some of the best bilingual conversations I have had here in Japan. I had a great time! I don't know how many times I said domo arigato! (thank you very much)! It meant a lot to me. The pics are of a class group shot, me and the English sensei for that class, and a goofy shot of having fun with all the snacks!


Ryukoku High School has many after school sports clubs, and I have been able to participate with the soccer team. Most of the events take place in the gym or the gland. The gland is a large field for all types of outdoor sporting events outside the school. The unique thing about it is that it is made up of a fine gravel, not grass. This is supposedly standard here in Japan. I'm not sure why it is named the gland. My best guess is a shortened form of gravel-land... well of all things, it sure isn't grassland, haha. On the gland, baseball; rugby (yes, a rugby team); and soccer all practice at the same time. It can get a little tight, but I've noticed that it works out okay. In the gym, basketball; badminton; (once again... yes, a badminton team, for both boys and girls); and volleyball (boys and girls) practice with large nets hanging from the ceiling to divide the gym up. The only problem with the gland is that is doesn't drain too well. Since it rains so much here in Saga, there are many puddles. I learned the hard way that if you want to head the soccer ball, get ready for a face full of wet sand, haha. This week, the baseball teams are preparing for a large tournament being hosted at Ryukoku, so they got half of the gland. Due to limited space, soccer has consisted of small sided games and dribbling/shooting exercises. The only added element to the game here in Japan is dodging the fly balls from the baseball team!

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Jhon is the Kai family's pet dog. He is a black Lab. In Japan (especially the big cities), not many families have pets. Saga, on the other hand, surprised me with many families having pet dogs. Big dogs, too! The most common of what I have seen are the native Japanese Shiba Inu breed. Jhon is trained to sit, stay, jump, beg, and do other obedience tricks, which are commonplace, I know, but I guess I have never taken into consideration speaking to a dog in a language other than English. How naiive of me! It is odd to listen to dog training in Japanese! We play with Jhon by giving him the dog treats I brought as a gift for him from America (haha, when I said gifts for the WHOLE family, I meant it!). We balance the treats on his feet, order him to wait... wait... he is drooling now... wait... HAI! and he happily eats his reward and runs in circles. The other day my host father and I gave Jhon a bath. We didn't stay in our yard though. The river down the street was more spacious! Jhon was a happy camper that day.


In Japanese, mom is Okasan (pronounced Okaa-san). I have yet to really introduce Chizu, my host mother, here in Japan; so this post is about her. My okasan has been an important figure in making my stay in Japan so comfortable. She is very nice, caring, and (aside from language barriers, which are slowly breaking down for the both of us,) very fun to have conversations with. Since I have spent more time with her than any other person I have met in Japan, I give her a lot of credit to much of what I am learning. Okasan has two part time jobs (by part time, only about once a week for each). She is a teaching instructor for cooking at the local Saga Women's Community Center, and also a secretary at the Saga health care center. Other than those jobs, she works at home. Agriculture is also a subject that interests her, and she takes classes for it at the Saga community center. She is an excellent cook, which I am very fortunate for because I get to try many new Japanese foods. I have gotten to eat many delicious meals and obento boxes made by her everyday. One thing that I recently learned about both of my host parents is that they used to be officers in the Tokyo Police Department. That was 15 years ago (Erika was born then in Tokyo). When Otosan's mother passed away, the family moved to Saga to stay with Ojichan. At this time, their daily lives changed since they were in a new city with a new child. Okasan became a housewife (which I have learned is commonplace here in Japan), and Otosan switched to the insurance business. That was just a little history about my host family. My host mother has a sense of humor of her own, not a goofy one like my host father, but a slightly sarcastic one along with very funny animated facial reactions. She still gets a kick out of my constant picture taking of commonplace Japanese items, but the better laugh is when I say in Japanese " It's ok! I'm a gaijin!".

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

More Yoshinogari Park Pics

Here are some movies of the historical park! (Sorry, they are blurry due to YouTube's downloading, but still cool.) Two are views from atop the watchtowers and one is inside a historic Yayoi hut.

The pics are the village viewed from a watchtower, a different watchtower, and another village distantly viewed past the gates. It was awesome!

Yayoi History

After running some errands and going to the somen shop and waterfall, my host mom surprised me by taking me to the Yoshinogari Historical Park. The national park is a museum and restoration zone of ancient Japanese architecture and artifacts from the Yayoi period of Japanese history! It was so cool! The Yayoi period is the time frame of ancient Japan from 3c. BC to 3c AD! That is 600 years of ancient Japanese history! I was fascinated because it tied in with the Japanese history we studied in Mrs. Lowry's Japanese class this past year. It is amazing to me how much more history there still is in this country and the rest of the world. I mean this in the perspective that all historical museums of America cover only a little more than 200 years! The Yayoi era alone is 600! Amazing! The site of the park is where many ancient cities were discovered. The facility is very new with the restorations. So new, as a matter of fact, that I was the first person to use the portable English digital tour guide for the museums and tour! At this museum it wasn't a head set, it was the shape of a phone. The park was very spacious, something I haven't seen too much of here in Japan. The history was awesome. I was able to tie some connections to some Native American history, but otherwise, it was all new to me! I got to view pottery, clothing, tools, armor, and architecture all restored from ancient Japan and Korea! The restored villages were my favorite. You were able to go inside almost every hut and tower, which is decorated with tools and pottery, like it is presumed to have looked thousands of years ago. There were park guides, reenacting the roles of the villagers, that were willing to answer questions while they worked on traditional historic activities. I witnessed a women weaving silk, and a man carving a wooden shovel. The huts were pretty much underground with only the entrance ways and roofs above. I was interested in the study of the progression of the culture during the 600 years. The Yayoi period is marked either by the start of the practice of growing rice in a paddy field or a new Yayoi style earthenware. Historians and archeologists are proposing the probability of increasing wars and battles occuring over this time frame due to the abundance of watchtowers, defense walls, moats, armor, and tools being discovered from the later half of the era. I was so happy I was able to visit this national park. At the Saga Castle ruins I was able to see feudal period Japanese history, and today I was able to see ancient Japanese History! The pics are of me as a Yayoi warrior (It seems that "photo opportunity cutouts" are all over the world!), me inside a restored ancient style hut, and the entrance gates to one of the restored villages.

Somen Shopping

This morning I went out to run a few errands with my host mom. We drove to an older part of Saga with many old, traditional style buildings. The roads were inclined and VERY narrow due to it being somewhat in the mountains. It was very neat. We went this way to go to a somen shop (somen is a style of noodle in Japan) to pick up a few packages of good quality noodles for Okasan's cooking classes. For all of the old buildings, the somen shop was very new and modernized in a traditional Japanese architecture. After we purchased the somen, we went down the street and turned into a parking lot next to a small park. I wasn't quite sure what was going on, but it was a good thing that I brought my camera with me. We only walked for a few seconds into the woods when we came across a small bridge, and then a beautiful waterfall! It was so cool to see the old houses and shops along the rough river with this cool waterfall. I am so glad Okasan took me there! The pictures are of a watermill down this narrow street, the river with the houses and the mountains behind it, and the waterfall!
I also have some movies! (...but they are blurry due to YouTube downloading)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


After dinner, we pulled out the desserts to give to Erika. She really liked the sweet sixteen brownies! Everyone tried them. The first thing my host mom said was, "AMAII!" (Sweet!). She must have still liked them though, since she later grabbed a second ;). I then ran to my room to grab Erika her birthday present and card that I wrapped earlier during the day. I gave Erika some Polish candy (a change of pace, since everything so far has been American) and a personalized sweet 16 frame that I bought from the Things Remembered store back in the states. Her reaction was saying, "SUGOI!" (Amazing!). She really liked it. When she read the birthday card, I explained to them what a sweet 16 is and how it is a big birthday for girls in America. Later, we pulled out the ice cream cake, which was delicious! Chocolate, caramel and nuts! The pictures are of me and my host sisters around the sweet sixteen brownies, and the second is the ice cream cake! It was a very nice evening, and I hope Erika had a great sweet 16!


Dinner was very enjoyable. We all sampled our pizza creations, which were served along with Japanese chicken dumplings, and french fries (probably one of the most American-like meals I have had here in Japan!). Of the pizzas, the shrimp was the best. I liked the flavor of the shrimp with all of the veggies on the pizza. The grilled chicken pizza was good, too. The seaweed and mayonnaise added a unique saltiness and tanginess to the pizza, which was actually good with the marinated chicken and tomato sauce.

PIZZA time!

Later that night, we started making dinner. I helped Okasan, and Yurina joined in later. We were making one of Erika's favorites : pizza. Although it had some similarities to what we know, there were many differences in our creations. Our pizza had no edge crust... sauce all the way around. The dough is very thin, but the pizza is just as thick as a deep dish with all of the toppings added! We made three small pizzas. One with bacon, one with shrimp, and one with grilled chicken. The rest of the ingredients got interesting. They had onions, which is normal, but LOTS of onions, covering all the sauce! There were peppers, some cheese mix ( not quite mozzarella... all the bag said was "Australian Blend"... I have never heard of it before), basil leaves, seaweed strips, shiso ( a Japanese vegetable), and on the grilled chicken pizza... mayonnaise! They were definitely unique Japanese style pizzas! I had a great time! On subject of pizza, Japan is different than the U.S. (and it isn't just toppings I am talking about). In the U.S., pizza serves as a quick, inexpensive dinner for the most part, but in Japan it is almost the opposite. It is a special occasion in itself. Your average medium could cost more than 30 dollars! I was looking at advertisements in the newspaper and seen how expensive it is! And the topings range from eggs, mayonnaise, corn, squid, potatoes, bean sprouts and other unique things!


The first pic is me with Mrs. Yukari, our "ikebana sensei". Our finished products are in front of us, and Erika's is in the bottom right corner of the picture. Their's were both very nice. The second pic is me working on my "jungle", and the third is my finished product!

Flower Arangement

When Erika got home from school, one of the Kai's family friends came over to help us make some flower arrangements for Erika's birthday. Traditional Japanese flower arrangement is called ikebana, but I was told that what we were making wasn't too traditional, since it was in a European style. First we started with these green sponges to stick the flowers in. We cut up the branches and layed them all out. You don't just stick anything wherever you like. You are supposed to have a form of symmetry and color balance in your arrangement. This is where it gets tricky. There is a strong element of things being "visually pleasing and aethstetic" in Japanese culture. Erika and Mrs. Yukari's turned out very nice. Mine was laughable because it looked more like a jungle, haha. I really enjoyed making them. Afterwords we displayed them in the house and had tea. Erika pulled out the Jelly Belly beans and other American candy to share with Mrs. Yukari. So far, all of the guests visiting the Kai's house have loved the Jelly Belly beans. They get a kick out of the popcorn one, and always challenge themselves with the black licorice flavor, which everyone has hated, haha. I also like how everyone who samples the nerds candy eats them piece by piece... and nerds are so tiny! They are amazed that there is a Wonka brand! They always say, "like the movie!". The pictures are of the first steps of our European styled ikebana!

ice cream cake

We went to Baskin Robbins (or "31" as they call it here in Japan) to pick up an ice cream cake, which Erika loves, for her birthday. Like I said before, it is exactly the same as America, except for just a few special flavors ( like matcha {green tea}, azuki {sweet bean}, and musk mellon sorbet {I dont quite know, haha}). It is also very expensive! The scoops are about half the size of America, unless you pay quite a bit extra for the large, which is our familiar size scoop. The first picture shows a variety set of flavors you can purchase. The columns are for 6 scoop or 12 scoop, and the rows are for regular or large. The prices are all almost double compared to what it would be in America! (Yen is rather easy to convert - 1 penny is roughly one yen. 1 dollar is about 110 yen right now.) As for ice cream cakes, we picked out a chocolate ice cream cake with nuts for Erika. The cake in the picture is different than the cake on display. It was very small (probably the size of a coffee dish) and was 26 dollars!!! If you want a cake to feed a small party, like us, prepare for a nice bill of 40-50 dollars! And you aren't getting "American" portion sizes either! Regardless, it is still delicious!


This is the first of a series of posts of Erika's birthday, which is today : The 4th of July! Unfortunately, Erika still had testing, so she had to go to school for the half day to take exams. In the morning she had a special breakfast. It was this special red fish on red rice served on birthdays. I have learned that for birthdays, red is a color of good luck. While Erika was at school, Okasan and I took the chance to bake some brownies for Erika. It was the brownie mix I brought from America. They are not that common in Japan since they are very sweet for the average taste. Erika likes them though. We had a little trouble converting everything on the instructions. Cups, celcius, etc. On top of that, the Kai's don't even have an oven! Their microwave is a conventional oven combo, which works, but it is small. The brownies came out, and I decorated them with frosting, powdered sugar, and candles. I hope Erika likes them!

Monday, July 03, 2006

The SUPER store!

While Yurina was at Juku, Okasan, Erika and I went shopping. Many posts ago I introduced you to the jumbo supermarket/department store. Well, we went there again! This time I was able to get a better understanding of everything inside. The place is huge - 3 levels! The first level is all groceries and foods. There is everything from your basic everyday needs to very fancy booths selling expensive cakes and wagashi. I was amazed that the groceries are displayed so nicely. Common things such as eggs and packaged obento boxes are all neatly organized into pyramids on their own freestanding refrigerator sections. I got to see many neat products from common U.S. brands that are different. For instance, Coke has different flavors like citrus coke, and Lipton tea has a sparkling lemon ice tea beverage! Another thing that was cool was foods such as candy and ice cream sometimes had big advertising TVs and posters right next to the products with their commercials running! I could have spent a whole day on this floor exploring, but we moved on quickly. We were going to a different part of the complex for Erika to pick out her birthday gift (which is tomorrow, the 4th!). The second floor is all clothes and makeup. There is so much stuff! It is interesting that everywhere signs say Bargain! or SALE! yet the prices are still very high! 30 dollar SALE rack tshirts and 50-60 dollar purses and backpacks! The makeup booths seemed never ending. This floor also had a food court and a huge arcade! The arcade had tons of crane-games, other games, and, of course... Purikura! The 3rd floor had more department store products with toys, some electronics and more clothes and makeup! Wow! We moved farther into the store, and this is when I discovered the new section. This super store actually had an attached mall. I call it a mall because it was a large walkway with many small shops on both sides, on all three floors. This attatchment to the Aeon-Jusco store is the Yamato. It wasn't huge like an American size mall, but think of it as part of a mall attatched to this jumbo department store. It had many many stores ranging from clothes, collectibles, girly trinkets, stationary, more clothes, and just a few more clothes shops! On this part of the store there was yet another food court and a McDonalds! Big! I got to see so much stuff. Erika ended up picking out a nice blue and black backpack. After this, we went downstairs to grab some groceries for dinner. We also grabbed some juices for a drink. It was so hard to choose! I ended up picking 100% kiwi juice, which I have never seen in America. It was a good choice! I feel like I left out so much here, even though this post is so long. The bottom line is: If you ever go to Japan, go shopping! (Especially at the super department stores.) This country truly lives up to its name as a shopper's paradise. There is everything, and then some. Super expensive and fancy goods, to everyday products and great deals. The picture doesn't do it justice, but shows the one side of the super department store, and the other is some traditional summer yukata robes displayed amongst the craziness of all of the products available in the store.


Juku is not a very fun word here in Japan. It is cram school. It is extra classes at another building that families send their kids to to get more indepth education on certain subjects. Right now, Yurina is attending a Juku class for English. I got the chance to go with her and see the classroom before the class started. The building was big, and it had many small classrooms. Yurina's class was tiny and had few desks. Students attend Juku more often when they get closer to big entrance exam times. There are entrance exams to get into high schools in Japan! When Erika was preparing for high school, she attended Juku for English, Math, Japanese, Social Studies, and Science! Education is very competitive to get into a good school in Japan, which is why Juku is so popular. Yurina attends English Juku once a week for an extra 2 hour class after school. The pics are of Yurina and her Juku friends, and the teacher helping a student.

More delicious carbohydrates

The first pic is of the cash register where they wear the cute chef hats and individually wrap each pastry. The products are all made at the bakery in the openly viewable kitchen.

Moulin Rouge

After field work, Okasan took Yurina and me to the bakery, Moulin Rouge, to pick up some baked goods and sandwiches for lunch. I think Japan has a fascination with European style restaurants and bakeries. At the airports and here in Saga, I have noticed quite a few small diners and bakeries decorated and built in a very traditional European style. Well, Moulin Rouge was a cute French style bakery connected to Sagra : Italian Kitchen... a prime example. It is really close to our house (like half a mile... or is that a kilometer? The metric stuff is killing me, haha!). The stuff inside looked so good. All of the pastries were almost too perfect looking to eat, much like the desserts I had seen at the airport when I first arrived in Japan. There were breads, muffins, cakes, buns, donuts, sandwiches, and pizza-like flatbreads. You have to realize I was in heaven. We grabbed a tray with a pair of tongs and picked out lunch for the family. One of the unique things that we grabbed was butter mochi, which is a bun cooked in a small pie dish with mochi inside. I really liked it. The outside was swirled with cinnimon. The other was Melon Pan (that is pan as in pOn... tall A... not a frying paaaan. It is a joke in Japanese class, haha. Pan is bread in Japanese.) The melon pan was a big bun slightly sweetend with a glazed top. Mmmm! No melon flavor though. Other things we got were pretty standard, yet delicious: mini sandwich obentos with egg salad, vegetables, and breaded chicken sandwiches. Another unique bun that we got, which happens to be one of Okasan's favorites, is the "Akachan no Oshiri" literally baby's bottom. It was a perfect white, round bun with a crease for the butt, haha. Thats not all! There is a surprise waiting for you... delicious CHOCOLATE cream inside... Literally baby's bottom, haha! We took the pastries home and had a nice lunch with everyone sampling all of the tasty bakery goods just purchased.

R shop.

R shop is Ojichan's small convenience store connected to the front of the house. It is small and sells very basic products such as drinks, candy, some packaged food, batteries, toiletries, and cigarettes. I think it is cool though. I still can't believe I live in a house with a convenience store! Ojichan is doing better. I think he may have been a little tired the first week I was here. The second week he has been more alert and talkative. I am happy about that. Something real interesting that I learned about Ojichan is that he speaks a different dialect of Japanese. He speaks Sagaben, which is a version of Japanese native to this area. Certain areas of Japan have different dialects. I have studied Tokyo Japanese in America. It is the main version of Japanese in Japan. The teenage generation here in Saga only speak and study Tokyo Japanese. Sagaben is disappearing according to my host parents. The good thing for me is that I am able to communicate with everyone because Tokyo Japanese is so widespread. I have two short videos of R shop attached. , The first is the outside of my house, the second is inside the convenience store. The second video is funny because it was a total accident. The Kai's aunt was visiting, and we were taking a few pictures inside R shop with Ojichan. I accidentally left the movie function on, and the rest just shows translation/mechanical difficulties, haha. It was supposed to be a picture of me and Ojichan, but I really like the movie better. It was a mistake that turned into a success. We are right next to the cash register. Unfortunately, Youtube is distorting all of my videos and making them very blurry. If I can find a way to fix it, I will repost the video!
The pictures are of me and Ojichan by the cash register. I really like this pic! The second is the other half of R shop. Uh-oh... Mission Impossible: Tom Cruise is peeping in on the left, haha! Actually, that is the entrance to the house from the store!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Field Work

Sunday morning Okasan, Yurina and I went to do field work at a neighbor's house in Saga. As we were driving down the street filled with many buildings and shops, we turned a corner and everything transformed into small plots of farmland. It is really amazing how fast this happens. There really isn't a division of farmland and city in Saga. No land seems to go unused in Japan. It is all intermixed. We arrived at the person's house where we were going to assist them with their farming chores. Actually, the person we were helping was Okasan's agriculture sensei. I think you could tie this work in with Japan's beliefs in helping your elders and superiors. Okasan studies agriculture at the women's community center in Saga. It is a subject that interests her. It was a nice day, not too hot. The only reason this was an issue was because we wore long pants and shirts to work in. First we were invited inside the family's house. It was very tradtional. Lots of tatami flooring and Japanese caligraphy, pottery, and woodwork. It was really nice. We talked with the teacher's wife and had green tea and mikans, small oranges, similar to clementines. After this, we got to work. We cleaned a little and planted vegetables. We also packed dirt in cups for broccoli. After a few hours we were done. Although it was work, I actually enjoyed myself. I got to experience working in a Japanese garden, and I also had some nice conversations with Okasan. The house was old, but very remarkable. They even had chickens! The pics are of Yurina and me working on the dirt packing, and the other pic is the inside of the traditional house.


Later that night, Otosan wanted to rent a movie. We went to the rental shop which was nearby, called Tsutaya. It was HUGE! 2 floors. The first floor accommodated entertainment merchandise: books, magazines, movies, games, and music. There were advertising posters EVERYWHERE! Even the stairs had advertisements plastered on them! The upstairs housed the rental place. The upstairs was about the size of a regular Blockbuster, but was extra packed with movies. Take a Blockbuster full of American movies, and then a Blockbuster full of Japanese movies, and cram them all into the space of one Blockbuster. That was the upstairs of Tsutaya, so many movies! There was also a section of rental music! I thought this was great. The CDs had labels stating that they didn't work on PCs, so I guess they are pirate-proof. I thought this was a smart idea. The pics are of the outside of Tsutaya, and Erika checking out the music rental section.