Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Don't touch the monkeys...

When I went to Beppu, everyone said I HAD to go see the monkeys on Takasakiyama (yama = mountain). MONKEYS?! Wild MONKEYS? Of course I went. The sign here killed me. Please do not to feed, touch, make fun of, or stare in to the eyes of "Taka-kun" (the name representing all monkeys on the mountain).

But after having a closer look at the monkeys - the bigger ones, anyway - I was sure to NOT stare at their eyes...they were a little bit scary! The babies were really cute though. Ironically, the Japanese word for cute (kAwaii) sounds very similar to the word for scary ("kOwai"). Can you find the monkeys in the trees there?

NEED MORE MONKEYS??? Click on the link above and it will take you to a slide show of all the photos from my trip. Well, not ALL the photos, I did edit out the ones from the "Museum of the Hidden Treasures" since this is a family show, after all.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ashi-yu (Gesundheit!)

So days here in Japan can be cold and lonely sometimes, but other times they really make me smile. My crazy Isahaya mates probably help, too. Here we are at the "ashi-yu" or as the sign boldly said in English "leg bath". In Japanese, there's no distinction between the leg and foot. Which is maybe why they don't have football here, eh? Never thought of it that way. Anyway. We came upon this after visiting the Umijigoku in Beppu, and had to try it - especially with all those weird grapefruit-looking things floating around.

So the water was steamy, and...what ARE these things, and why are they floating here anyway? We never did get a straight answer, but they seemed to perfume the air nicely.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Just another day in (a) Hell

Ha! I couldn't resist. I went to Beppu with some friends of mine and we went to several of the 地獄 じごく ("jigoku") or "hells" for which the city is famous. Click on the title of this post for a link to a page about the other hells in Beppu.

In this photo Jared and I are at "Chinoike Jigoku" aptly named for its blood-red color. Check back soon to see us buried alive, and you also don't want to miss the MONKEYS...
mata! ;)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Mind your bulky coats, please...?"

It's no secret that I hate smoking. Don't get me wrong - I can appreciate the smoky, inspirational air of a musician or writer at work; aesthetically, it just 'fits'. I just don't want to smell it or inhale that nasty stuff. (Surely doesn't help cigarettes' cause that I'm allergic to them, too.) Apparently there are some creative Japanese that hate the stuff, too. I see cryptic signs like this all over, especially at train stations. I think this one says something like
"With bulky coats and jackets, we tend to bump into each other more often in winter."
I can't read the rest of it, but it looks like the other ones I've seen, with very elaborate diagrams illustrating smokers and the random people, animals and obstacles they meet, or detailed diagrams of how smokers can avoid such meetings.
Classic. I want to make shirts of these. (guess I've got to use something higher res than my keitai, though!)

Friday, January 18, 2008

日没 (にちぼつ)

Here's a nice sunset 日没 ("nichibotsu") for you...actually I think I'm posting it more for me, since our forecast is rain, rain, showers, and more rain this weekend. :( But this day it didn't rain, and I took my bike on the train and ferry over to Ioujima, one of the little islands off of Nagasaki. I was pedaling hard to time it right to see the sunset from the far side of the island.
And some days I just get lucky.

ps - If you can't see the cool Japanese letters, make sure your computer is set to recognize Japanese (I have a Mac, and it was in 'system preferences-international-language' - Hope that helps! The Japanese is more interesting than random numbers and % signs) :)

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Remember how I did the eikaiwa (English conversation) class at the bar? Well, I decided to move the party to my house. Each week we'll make dinner together and have our "English lesson" there.

I call it - "enkaiwa" - "enkai" (eating and drinking party) + "eikaiwa" = "enkaiwa"! That's Tracey-ben ("ben" refers to a dialect: ex: Isahaya ben is spoken in Isahaya).

I'd gotten a ham from Costco for my Christmas party, but didn't get to use it, so, we had a lovely ham dinner with stuffing and salad and apple sauce. I know that sounds kinda normal to you Americans, but I kept hearing "OOooo - sugoi! (amazing!)" I didn't even know how to describe stuffing in Japanese, since there's nothing like it in this country's fare. Get this - I actually only had a 1/4 ham (it was about $50 and all that could fit in my oven!), but my Japanese friends still kept making noise about how HUGE the piece of meat was. You have to understand, I've never even seen a whole chicken or a slab for London broil here - everything is already cut up into tiny pieces (I guess to make it look like you're getting more!).

After dinner we had some treats from a local pastry shop. Ma-chan said that when she was picking out the desserts, she didn't initially pick the strawberry one. Then - "their eyes made a contact" - and she had to get the little smiling strawberry dessert. It's unfortunate that by the time we got to eat him, he'd gotten so tired!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mo' Osho'...

More from Oshougatsu - the Japanese New Year...Here we are on New Year's Day visiting the temple in Sasebo. And yes - that's SNOW on our hair! We haven't seen any here since, but it was exciting while it lasted.

If you look closely, you can see at least 14 ropes hanging down so that people don't have to wait too long to ring the bells when they do their prayer offerings.

On the sidewalk leading up to the temple were many Japanese street vendors selling festival foods and trinkets. Their presence gives the whole "hatsumode" experience a bit of a festive air.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Gomennasi - I brilliantly hid my photo memory card reader from myself for a while, but here are some new pics. On New Year's Eve, the girls took me up to Hirado - about an hour north of Sasebo. Here we are up on a hill overlooking the harbor in town. (gotta love those self portraits done at arm's length, yo) I think I need to work on my 'purikura' faces - Japanese people are capable of hilarious faces, since one of the big pastimes here is doing 'purikura', or their version of photo booths. Ah, well, at least I'm good advertising for my orthodonist :)

"Hatsumode" is the first temple visit of the year, and people use this time to pray for special blessings and favors for the year ahead. Last year I went to a temple in Fukuoka after midnight, and I felt like it was the Japanese version of Times Square. This New Year's Eve, because of the rain and snow, we decided to go during the day. To pay respects to the Gods you:
1 - purify your hands in the stone basin at the entrance
2 - pull the rope to ring the bell - to wake the gods, maybe? (this is what I'm doing here)
3 - make an offering (toss coins into the bin in front of the temple)
4 - bow twice
5 - clap twice
6 - bow once more

...and they told me prayers receive special attention when you act like one of the temple guard lions...

(make sure to click on this pic to enlarge - I think my crazy purikura facial expressions are definitely improving)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

sometimes life just is

a merry-go-round
a blur
the vague shapes and shadows of people going by

and sometimes
it is
a thrilling ride through a fairy tale
that you never want to leave

Friday, January 04, 2008

Party shots

The kids weren't the only ones to enjoy themselves at my Christmas party. Later in the evening some of the girls from my eikaiwa class showed up, and we watched some of "White Christmas."

Since this movie didn't have Japanese subtitles, I explained upcoming bits, we watched scenes, and then discussed them afterwards. It was pretty funny trying to explain the idea of "working an angle," especially when they kept thinking it had something to do with triangles ("try - angle"). Once the guys left, we kinda skipped to the end, sang "White Christmas" together with the grand finale number, and then just talked about how one of the girls こんやくしました - got engaged - yokatta (yea)!

The other girls (this WAS a co-ed party - though it seems that the guys were the ones who took the photos!) came earlier, and appeared to make fast friends with each other.

A Japanese-Dutch Christmas Gospel Style

What? Yes, that's indeed what I had. Or maybe it was a little Christmas Dutch Gospel Japanese-style. Anyway, that is what one gets when one is in Nagasaki for Christmas. Since all my other Christmas-observing mates were away, after school on Christmas I hopped a train up to Huis Ten Bosch, the Dutch village up the shore.
HTB was all decorated nicely, and there were lots of festive activities, but something was still lacking (maybe a date for Tracey??? or was it that it was a DUTCH place that had no Dutch people?). But, speaking of decorating, the blueish tree on the left side of the photo there was made up of white ceramic ornaments that people bought and decorated, and then all were hung and illuminated by black (?) lights.

I made the best of it, though, and thoroughly enjoyed the performance by this gospel group from New York. I even was able to get the people around me singing and clapping hands when they did "O, Happy Day!"

Merry Christmas from the kids

So. While all of you were enjoying your Christmas Eve services and dinners, it was already Christmas Day here in Japan. And where was I? At school, of course! Even though these two weeks are technically "winter vacation", the students and teachers are still in school. (they ALWAYS seem to be in school! "Vacation" seems to have a different meaning in Japanese) Though, this week, I only had to come to school on Friday due to Oshougatsu - somebody must have made a scheduling mistake, yo!

So, since it was a little depressing having to go to school ON CHRISTMAS, I decided to do something Christmas-y and fun with the classes I taught that day. One class traced their hands on green paper and wrote their names and a Christmas wish on them. We put them all together on the "Espace" English board to make the Christmas tree you see in the top photo.

In another class I played the "Right-Left Present" game and "Pass the Parcel." In the first game, I read a story and every time I said "right" or "left" the students had to pass the presents they had in the correct direction. It was pretty funny to watch! In "Pass the Parcel" - a kind of a variation of "hot potato" - students passed a present around, and the student holding the package when the music stopped had to open one layer and do whatever the paper inside instructed. The last student had it easy - all she had to do was wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and she got a hyaku-en shop Christmas CD and chocolate snowman surprise.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Hatsuri and Yumi hara

And all this time here I thought that Japanese people missed out since they don't have a "Black Friday" and after-Thanksgiving sales. Apparently they do - it just happens to fall on January 2. I guess technically it's January 2 - it just starts in some places at 4:30 am! Sasebo - where I was for Oshougatsu this year - is famous for its "hatsuri" - the first sale of the year. Not being much of a shopper myself, I only went along to see what it was all about. I'm not entirely convinced it was worth it for me to get up at 4:45am, but at least Mama-chan got a really good deal on a Yuri-chan's things for "Hina Matsuri" (Doll Festival - you'll read about that in March). Most stores also had "lucky bags" which were full of stuff for a set price. I guess they were good deals, because they went fast! We were home again by 8am, and after taking a nap, I joined the family for lunch and a trip up to the top of Yumihara, where we got a spectacular view of the city and the 99 Islands. Unfortunately the light wasn't cooperating, so the photos of us ended up being more interesting than the scenery.
You can check out Sasebo online at http://www.sasebo99.com/english/99shima/index.html or by clicking on this post's title.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Here we all are at our
New Year's Eve
dinner last night!
I came up to Sasebo to spend Oshougatsu with a really nice family (though Masa-chan, who's looking over my shoulder now, says that I should write a "really crazy family") that adopted me at the Saga Balloon festival. Yoko-san prepared an amazing dinner last night and a wonderful breakfast this morning.

The food that is prepared for the New Year's holiday is called "osechi-ryouri"

On the table here you see several dishes. We started with a soba noodle soup, and then helped ourselves to samples from all the dishes you see there. It's almost like being at a tapas restaurant. Besides the soba, there was also a type of fried chicken in garlic/vinegar/sugar sauce, pickled radishes, cabbage salad with sesame dressing, sashimi (tai, hirasu, & tako - octopus), veggies, and kamaboko (that best translates to fish paste cakes, but they taste much better than they sound)

Here is a closeup of the soba and kamaboko. In the soup there are homemade soba noodles (buckwheat, I think), grilled meat, mushrooms, and pink kamaboko & green scallions for color. The pink and white kamaboko on the plate has a kanji in it that says "kotobuki" which roughly translates to celebration.

Next to the kamaboko you see some lemon (that was for the oysters from the neighbors), and on the other side is the sashimi and daikon. The boiled vegetables on the plate were healthy and edible "good luck charms" of sorts for the new year include carrot, gobo (long veggie for long life), konyaku, renkon (has holes so that you can "see" well), konbu, and mushrooms.