Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Marinated & baked chicken, mashed potatoes, broccoli, corn & green beans, red beans and rice, quiche, wine & beer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Teaching English to little kids is hilarious. Here's just one example:

I have a class of 5 kids, all between 6 and 9. 2 boys, 3 girls, and they all have major personalities. One day for our warm-up, I did the usual game of finding things around the room.

"Find 1 dog." Screaming and running until someone spots a dog.

"Find 2 birds." More screaming and running and pointing.

"Find 3 strawberries." This one takes more time, but they get it done (screaming and running of course).

"Find 2 bananas..."

This is where it all fell apart. We have two plastic bananas as part of a fruit basket set, but that's not enough for each kid to hold one. The boys got to the basket first, so the girls figured out another way to participate.

"BANANAS!!!!!" one girl yipped as she held her hands around a long imaginary object in front of her jeans zipper. "BANANAS, BANANAS!!!!!" the other chimed in as they imitated the same hand gesture. Then someone swiped a plastic banana from one of the little boys and used it as her prop.

Exasperated, I tried to steal the plastic bananas away from them, but it was too late, the madness had taken over. Truthfully, I was trying really hard not to fall on the carpet laughing with them.

(A week later at a festival, a Japanese man gave a small, baked sweet potato to one of my friends and then explained with his hands and words what he thought it looked like. We were mortified. He must have met my students.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Japan the beautiful

We've taken some amazing pictures recently, and here they are!

Rainbow in Tokusa, on our way to pick apples

Cosmo flowers on the river side in Yamaguchi

Two little girls playing in rice husks in Tokuji

A serene morning lake view in Shikoku

View from the top of Mt. Ishizuchi, the tallest mountain in Western Japan, complete with a shrine.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saga 30th International Hot Air Balloon Festival (pt. 2)

Picture post!

Last morning's "drop the flag" competition. This is only a fraction of the balloons there.

Solo shot of one of my favorites.

Brian's camera: Nice shot showing a good number of the balloons flying over harvested rice fields.

Us being dorks at the nighttime event.

Shaped balloons! Jerry, a fox, Babybel cheese unwrapping itself and an elephant (there's a panda hiding in the back too)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Photos from Tuesday morning of the 30th annual Saga International Balloon Fiesta!

The balloonists were competing to try to drop a 'marker' into a big target X on the ground. Whoever drops theirs closest to the center wins I suppose...

Last night was too cold and windy for the La Montgolfier Nocturne... we're hoping for more favorable weather for tonight's Nocturne.

Today's Balloon Fantasia, an exhibition of interesting-shaped balloons, didn't have any inflated balloons due to high winds.

[more photos here]

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Some photos from our kids party and parade today:

parade towards the main shopping street

my motley group (the ghost group)... most of the girls chose to be witches

pumpkin cupcakes that we made at cooking class this week

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apple pizza!

We took a short trip to Shimose apple orchard (map: Shimose Ringomura) in nearby Tokusa on Monday (one of our 'weekend' days off). Not only do they have 3 different groves of 3 different varieties of huge, delicious apples... they also have:

A bunch of awesome chickens with attitude (and style, clearly) roaming about

Two very large, very furry, and very friendly pet dogs (the one pictured above liked to be helpful by carrying things in his mouth and punctured my umbrella in a few places with his teeth). The building he's walking out of is their on-site café.

After picking and eating some of each kind of apple and purchasing some to bring home for homemade apple pie, we had a quite tasty lunch of apple-cheese pizza (handmade on-site and cooked in a brick wood-burning oven!)

our pizza in the oven...

our pizza. complete with mini apple and apple syrup.


Friday, October 23, 2009

$6 grapes


this is so sad because they're tasty but too expensive!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Eco-Friendly Japan

Let's face it. I'm a passionate person, and I tend to switch the object of my passion quite frequently. However, the environment has been one constant. Hooray for trees!

Japan is in so many ways a very eco-friendly place. Rice is grown in your own neighborhood, so the carbon footprint is relatively low. Many farmers still even plant by hand! You can wash your hands with the water that flows from the pipes into your toilet when you flush (before it enters the bowl of course). Many people bike to work everyday here. Trash is meticulously separated into burnable, plastic burnable, recyclable plastic bottles, recyclable glass, magazines, newspapers, cardboard, etc.

But the one thing that Japan really could improve on is plastic use. True, most large stores now don't hand out plastic bags for free and encourage the use of your own grocery bag, but convenience stores do. Not only do they give out a plastic bag with everything, but all the food comes in layers and layers of plastic.

I'm not trying to complain about it, but rather present a solution. For all my friends in Japan right now, consider carrying your own chopsticks (hashi) with you to avoid getting both plastic AND wood every time you eat out and think if you really need to take that plastic bag. If you're really into saving the environment and happen to be a big oden fan too, bring your own plastic container to the convini. The girls at my local convini think it's really cute that I bring my own, and I feel good about getting a warm vegetarian meal for only $3.50 with no plastic at all!!

Oden in Fukuoka at a famous night ramen stand by the river accompanied by grilled scallops.
Clockwise from top:
Tofu pouch stuffed with meat (that I gave away), a half-eaten daikon, atsuage tofu, and a heaping of wasabi mustard.
And yes, it's hot enough to make a grown man cry.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Last weekend Mia found the perfect burger joint... too bad its so far away.

I sampled Hakata ramen (above). Hakata and Fukuoka are basically the same place, so either name can refer to the same area. I visited the place pictured above with TK while the girls were shopping in Tenjin (essentially a neighborhood of Fukuoka). We all went to a famous ramen stand along the river in Tenjin and had ramen, oden (boiled veggies and egg), and yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick). Apparently, this place liked to serve theirs with a generous portion of fat still on the meat... and there was a whole boiling pot devoted to nankotsu (gristle/cartilage).... yuk.

I woke up at home with a bad cold... probably from getting an extremely poor night's rest sleeping in an internet cafe, half on a chair, half on a floor mattress. So now, in keeping with Japanese manners, I'm wearing a mask to protect my students and fellow teachers. Not sure how much protection it provides since germs can infect people in all sorts of ways, but wearing a mask is the generally accepted thing to do when you're sick and have to go to work.

Is my English getting worse? I can't tell.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shikoku 5-day whirlwind tour

Phone pictures from our trip to Shikoku:

Climbing the chains at Ishizuchi-san (a rather large, famous mountain)

The view from up high...

Camping in a gravel parking lot near Ishizuchi-san...

good thing we had futon mattresses.

One of two kazura-bashi (vine bridge) at Oku Iya Kazura-bashi...

"Look Ma! No Hands!"

Running on empty on our way back down the mountain...

Sanuki udon at a roadside restaurant in the Iya area

Lunch Viking at Tokyuinn Hotel's Shangri La restaurant
(In Japan, buffet = "viking style")

Naruto whirlpools sign (the actual ones were much smaller when we went).
Apparently, the best time to see the big ones are during the spring tides in March/April.

At Ryozen-ji, Temple #1 of 88 on the Shikoku pilgrimage route

Cotton Field campground... once again pitching our tent on gravel.
Although this campground was right up the street from the wonderful Kamiyama Onsen.

We took the local highways for the entire trip since our car (courtesy of the school) doesn't have an ETC installed (highway electronic toll payment thingy - like Illinois' iPass except more complicated).

The Free (sort of) Route:
From Yamaguchi, we took route 262 to Hofu, then got onto route 2 towards Yanai. The expensive part was the ferry boat from Yanai to Matsuyama (really Mitsuhama port) (the cost depends on the length of your car and number of people - 13,000 to 18,000 Yen - although the return trip only costs 1000 yen ~$10), but we figured it was worth the cost because it saves us time and is much more relaxing and fun. From the port, we headed to the Matsuyama train/bus station to pick up maps and ask questions at the Tourist Information Center (TIC). Over the next few days, we essentially followed route 11, then route 192 east to Tokushima/Naruto, with a few side trips off on narrow, winding mountain-side roads. Then back again, although we found out the hard way that the correct ferry port to get back to Yanai is actually Mitsuhama port, not Matsuyama port.
No Shinkansen, No buses, No trains, No expensive expressways, one somewhat expensive ferry.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Random things...

Some things didn't really fit together in one cohesive post, so this is a catch-all post for all of those things... and I have decided to call it:

Random things I'm enjoying about Japan, Part 1

1. Funny (although helpful) toilet signs.

2. Tasty 100% juice (and 100% juice blends) drinks.

3. Bunches of onions hang-drying.

4. Yummy Tandoori chicken/curry dinners at Shiva Restaurant.

5. Fancy, colorful drinks at fancy, birthday dinner restaurants (La Francesca)

6. Happy, coffee-flavored soy milk in the morning... (LEFT - soy latte anyone?)

7. ...or regular flavor (RIGHT) with fresh fruit and yogurt in the best granola cereal ever.

8. Kids making letters of the alphabet (M!).

9. Playing tennis at Yamaguchi Refresh Park.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Mia planned a secret birthday weekend trip for us...and the surprise destination was Beppu plus a big Taiko festival!

Takegawara Onsen (public bath house) with sand 'bathing'!

how to take a sand bath:

1. remove clothes, put on yukata (robe)

2. lay on sand, let old ladies shovel it over you (except your face)

3. go back to the bath, remove yukata and wash off sand

4. soak in a relaxing hot spring bath

Famous for having the most hot springs, Beppu was true to it's reputation. We experienced sand onsen (public baths), sulfur and mud onsen, hotel rotemburo (open air bath) and a good ol' modern onsen with mixed gender outdoor baths (with swimsuits)! Plus, we visited the 8 hells of Beppu!
More pictures here...

Giant Beppu mascot sculpture

Dessert plate from our hotel dinner

Monday, August 31, 2009


Yesterday, we took a little day trip with our friends Thi and TK. Destination? Iwakuni's famous bridge...

Kintaikyo Bridge

...and the best chicken-on-a-stick I've ever had (teriyaki flavor). Sanzoku restaurant was a giant, sprawling place with several different eating areas, gurgling streams, a little waterfall, and the biggest onigiri I've ever encountered (although it was a bit too salty for my tastes)!

Dinner on tatami, with our legs crossed, at a very low table

The giant Onigiri had 3 different fillings - umeboshi, seaweed and salmon

Giant scarecrow at the entrance