Thousands of Miles from Home


Tanomura-san and his 10-string Spanish guitar 

Me, completely blown away by this massive beast of a stringed instrument 

Neil, holding what appears to be a wimpy guitar in comparison 

With a Banjo on My Knee

Because my life wasn’t hectic enough, but mainly to get away from some of the hustle and bustle of everyday Japanese life, I’ll be taking a 4 day weekend in Tottori Prefecture for fun in the sun, a visit to a famous onsen, and the world-famous San-In beach party. Always one to please (and save money), I will be arriving in style inside of an 18-wheeler big rig truck driven by a friend of my host mother. This seems like the setting for one hell of a great Japanese adventure, and an excellent way to end my second to last week in Japan.

In other news, the day I arrived in Japan one of the Rotarians who came to greet me at the airport informed me that he played the guitar, and I told him I would love to hear him play. 11 months later, I finally got my chance to hear Tanomura-san play the 10-string Spanish guitar, an instrument he has been studying since Junior High school. I had never seen this type of guitar before, and in fact didn’t even know it even existed. Tanomura-san was amazing, and I captured some videos of his musical performance.

But for now it’s off to the beach with a bottle of sunscreen. Major updates to follow. And balloon animals for the kids.


Looking sharp on my way to the city 

Feeding a bat crewing gum from the tip of a pencil 

Endo, and his new friend, a baby bat 

Yuka and Nanaka Posted by Hello

This guy was a riot! 

Yuka and Neil at the Jamaican restaurant 

Jez. Enough said 

Everyone wears slippers at school, so here is the shoe graveyard 

This is simply baffling (pot brownie?) 

Nakkan and Honda 

The Judo teacher laying down some instruction 

Me, refereeing a Judo match 

Not quite sure what this move is called 

Endo, the special guest referee 

My Final-round match in Judo 

Dogpile in Judo 

This is the "getting my ass thrown to the ground" secret move 

Miyu and Shoko at Jacasse 

Home Economics Day at Tamano High 

The Home Economics teacher with Tamaki 

Chef Ben 

My classmates eating lunch, Endo making a weird face in the corner 

My group's creation 

Aketa-san looking quite thoughtful during my farewell Rotary meeting 

Being recognized at my final Rotary meeting 

Typical Japanese classroom. Taken the day I taught English to the third year students 

The baseball team of Tamano High School owns this sweet bus 

With the owner and his girlfriend at Nalu 

Ikebana class in Mishi 

Junko and I in front of her Ikebana 

An evening game of Mahjong at Nalu 

Found this car in Okayama, bright yellow with a giant Stitch in the passenger's seat 

Keiko, in her new dress, and me trying on some Pirate garb 

A Collection of Thoughts

As I near the end of this exchange, I’m a little frustrated at my lack of time to blog the more mundane, or not instantly gratifying aspects of Japan. The weekends and parties sometime outshine the small things in life, which is in part what makes Japan the place it is for me. In order to combat this situation I find myself jotting down random snippets of text into a notebook, leaving me confused and questioning what was going through my mind when I originally wrote the comments. So let’s take a step back and review the last few weeks in no particular chronological order.

In addition to mentioning this numerous times before, I have now confirmed (with hard evidence) that hairdressers are the coolest category of wage-earning individuals in Japan. Neil, Jez, and I went out with Jez’s hairdresser Monday night in Okayama to a Jamaican restaurant. I believe he promised us “good food and pretty girls,” which is exactly what he delivered. There were about 9 of us at the restaurant, drinking Red Stripe and downing plates of Jerk Chicken (to an ever present Reggae beat in the background).

Speaking of popular Japanese music, The Ventures are huge in Japan. They must tour here almost every year, and my teacher at school even quoted one of their songs (not an actual lyric, but more the sound of the guitar riff) when trying to illustrate the use of sound effects in Japanese. In addition to The Ventures, my Rotary counselor really enjoys Elvis, enough that he can sing most of the lines by heart regardless of his inability to actually speak English. My history teacher at school also blew me away with a crazy rendition of “Clementine” when discussing the 1948 California Gold Rush.

Moving from music to food, the underlying theme of my Japanese exchange has been the preparation, viewing, and eventual consumption of a wide variety of edibles. Every night there are at least three television programs devoted entirely to food on basic cable. Often this manifests itself in the form of a challenge, such as one man who ate nothing but seaweed for a week while being followed around with a video camera. Last week’s contestants (the comedy group Untouchable, whom I randomly met in Tokyo Station) ate 8 days of salmon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Last week my home economics class consisted of the preparation of “the traditional Japanese lunch,” which I found mighty delicious. Jyagaimo (beef and potatoes with noodles), egg-drop soup, and mixed fruit with diakon all made appearances on the menu.

Also in the past few weeks, my addiction for Mahjong has grown to immense proportions. I usually play a few times a week with my host family and Ryosuke from next door (and more recently Neil and Aketa-san). One evening Neil and I played Mahjong with the owners (family friends) of a local café, Nalu, until the wee hours of the morning.

In school my class found a baby bat, and fed it chewing gum from the tip of a mechanical pencil. They weren’t really abusing it, and in fact the bat seemed to enjoy the gum, so I didn’t feel as if I should intervene and plead animal rights.

I taught my final adult English class at Otani-san juku this Sunday (English for adults, not porn stars). My students are great so I always have a fun time teaching, and after the lesson Shoko and her daughter Miyu came with the rest of the class to Jacasse, the Italian restaurant near the station.

Lastly, today was tournament day in Judo class. I didn’t get my ass completely kicked, but I somehow ended up being put into the heaviest weight class which means I was up against kids a lot taller and heavier than I am. In one match I completely ripped my opponents sleeve off his Judo gee which was slightly embarrassing on my part (each match was conducted one at a time, meaning everyone saw me commit the deed). Judo’s fun, but don’t look for me in the Olympics anytime soon.

13 days.


My host sisters in front of my grandfather's shrine 

Putting on my dress Kimono 

Dressing in Kimono at my grandmother's house 

My host sisters Keiko, Yuko, and I 

Neil with my host family 

My host sisters in Kimono with cellphone 

Can't get you out of my head 

Paul's photoshop madness 

Selene and Paul as Kylie Pirates 

Kirk and I looking mighty fearsome 

Kylie Minogue and Captain Redbeard 

The Pirate Brew 

The Pirate crowd 

A gaggle of Kylies 

Sarah looking quite impressed with her choice of sparkler 

Fireworks in the back yard 

Bren and I in Pirate attire Posted by Hello

Ho ho ho, a pirate's life for me 

Paul, Sex in the City and a knife to his throat 

Nothing like a morning fruit salad in Japan 

All you can eat bread extravaganza at Granpa 

Mmm, Angela and Jessica looking delicious 

From Pirates to Rotarians, Kylies to Kimonos: A Rotary Story for the Ages

My third to last weekend in Japan has finally drawn to a close, leaving a trail of destruction and mayhem in its circuitous path. On Friday, I did not attend school and instead gave my final speech to the Tamano Rotary Club in the clubhouse of a golf course on a mountain in Tamano. My previous host parents, as a well as a teacher from my school, made speeches which made me feel more than a little teary-eyed. After the speeches and a good deal of picture taking, my host mother and I drove to the nearby Bizen pottery shop to pick up the vase and cup I had thrown about a month ago. The glaze set perfectly and there were no noticeable cracks, which makes my first attempt at Bizen pottery an apparent success (provided they survive the trip home).

That evening, Neil, Ryosuke, and Aketa-san (my Rotary counselor) came over to the house for an evening of mahjong, to which I am now thoroughly addicted. Much sushi was consumed, and a good time was had by all (my host father joined the mix after we had been playing for a number of hours, and Neil and I finished off the evening with a few rounds of rummy and casino).

Neil ended up spending the night, and a good deal of Saturday morning/afternoon, as my entire family gathered for a professional Kimono photo shoot. A Kimono sensei came over the house early in the morning to dress my host mother, two older sisters, grandmother, and me into a series of amazingly colorful Kimono. My host father (dressed in a suit), Neil (dressed in a flowery shirt), and the rest of the family (clad in Kimono) boarded two cars bound for the professional photographer in the city. We took a series of shots together, which might not be developed until after I leave Japan, but my host family has promised me a copy in the mail.

After the photo shoot we returned to the house for a feast of maki-zushi and cold soba noodles before I packed my Pirate outfit, bid goodbye to Neil and my host family, and embarked on my trip to Iwakuni and Angela’s Kylie Pirate Party.

The concept of the gathering, as envisioned by Jo, was a costume party where you come dressed as either a scurvy-dog Pirate, or any rendition of Kylie Minogue from the past few decades. With Pirate materials packed in a small bag, and carrying a slim plastic katana, I took a bus to Okayama and then the Shinkansen to Iwakuni in a lightning-fast hour and 40 minutes. About halfway into my trip I noticed I was a getting a few more stares than usual for a foreigner in Japan. I then realized I was not only carrying a bright red child’s sword, but also wearing a shirt with the kanji for “samurai” written across the front. I must have looked like the biggest dork this side of the international dateline. Can’t say it wasn’t rather thrilling.

Arriving at Iwakuni station, I met Selene on accident, and we decided to wait together for the bus to Angela’s. About an hour later we were standing at a bus stop next to numerous rice paddies, dressed in complete pirate gear. We crossed a small street, drawing some astonished gazes, and walked up the hill to Angela’s house.

Selene and I were greeted by a slightly intoxicated Paul (minus swan costume), who called to use as we almost took the wrong road to Angela’s house. Also awaiting our arrival were Jo and Jessica, while Angela was “Kylie-ifying” in her room. It was my first time to meet Jessica after reading her blog for a good part of the year and I always get a deep satisfaction from that sort of get-together.

When Angela emerged from her room I was shocked to see her dressed in little more than a tattered bed sheet, straight out of Kylie’s “Can’t Get You out of My Head” video. Paul and Selene put on their Pirate garb, consisting of photoshopped images of Kylie as a Pirate (deftly created by Paul, even with little knowledge of photoshop). Next to arrive at the party were Kat (who I met at The Killers), Kirk (who accidentally called me out of nowhere while I was in Tokyo), and two friends of Kat whose names I can’t recall because that is not my strong point in life (I apologize in advance). Bren, Sarah, and Chris arrived with bottles of wine apiece, and the party was underway.

Over the course of the evening I ended up meeting numerous Yamaguchi bloggers for the first time. Selena, Victoria, another Paul, his wife Elissa, Nate, and Erin arrived, with plenty of people whose names were replaced with crafty Pirate-related monikers. There was much “yo-ho-ho-ing,” “bottle of rum-ing,” and maybe even a game or two of spin the bottle. The food was to die for as Angela pumped out tacos and hummus, with an assist by Kirk in the chips and dip department. Paul provided the liquid refreshment (Angela provided the hurricanes), and overall this party was by far the CRAZIEST and most eclectic (Pirate related) function I have attended in Japan. There were games, music, dancing, fireworks, and all sorts of assorted skullduggery. After disappearing from the party for a while, I was welcomed back as people started to wear down and crash wherever they could find space on the floor.

The following morning, Angela’s house was a graveyard of bodies, discarded pirate clothing, and feminine Kylie attire. Some people left Iwakuni to return to their regularly scheduled lives, while the remaining crew decided to recharge at a local onsen. Thus Angela, Jessica, Paul and his wife Elissa (an amazing couple from New Jersey), Nate and Erin (for some reason I was sure her name was Melissa, probably because reminded me almost exactly of my good friend Melissa from OMC), and I hauled our broken bodies to a local Iwakuni onsen (with an amazing view of the city) for some rest and relaxation. In my time spent mostly naked with Paul and Nate I learned about the wonders of Japanese animation, the mysteries of pottery, and more about being a JET. As the only non-English teacher among the group it was interesting to compare the differences between out time spent in Japan as a student or a teacher (which are numerous).

Exiting the onsen, and feeling like 100,000,000 yen, the seven of us split up to reconvene at Granpa, my favorite restaurant within a 100Km radius around Iwakuni. We chatted, reminisced, laughed, discovered the definition of little-used words, and enjoyed our Ja-pan before we finally finished our meals, exited to the street, and were immediately presented with balloon animals. Before we said our goodbyes, Jessica gave me a drawing she had done from a photo on my website, which was thoroughly mind-blowing. I feel sad that I may never get the chance to meet these friends I have made in Japan again, but I am a better person for the time I was able to spend with them.

Boarding the train back to Okayama, I had an interesting talk with a group of old women about Ballroom dancing, and realized that everyday in Japan is one crazy adventure. Two more weeks left, I’ll be sure to make them count, Mateys.

MVQ (Most Valuable Quote) Nate the Anime Pirate: “...and this is my Bootleg”


Steps leading to Daishouji near my old house in Tama 

Ornate furnishings on the inside of Daishouji Posted by Hello

This Shrine is on top of a small mountain, overlooking the Mitsui shipyard. My host mother tells me monkeys used to live on the mountain when she was a child 

Inside the Tama shrine 

The roof of a building dedicated to the construction of the Seto-Ohashi bridge in Kojima 

I really enjoyed this shirt (BLACK TRAFFIC) "The Way of Gang" 

Rows of Buddahs (The Buddah) at the Shrine in Tama 

Playing Mahjong with Takuto and Tatsuki 

Shoko, cutting the carrot cake made by Neil 

Neil and Miwako 

Jez, giving you the J 

When Miyu, Shoko's daughter, went to America on exchange last month, she met Cuba Gooding Jr. at a shopping mall, who in my opinion is the COOLEST person you could ever meet on any exchange 

My host mother at the steps of the temple in Hachihama 

View of the Hachihama temple 

A small pond in the middle of tatami rooms 

View from the Hachihama temple 

The head of the temple plays various instruments, like this Koto 

Trying my hand at the Koto 

These two women came to the temple to practice Goeika, which is a type of chanting involving a small gong and a bell used on various occasions 

A Little Late

About two weeks ago, Micah’s cousin Miria came to Okayama and subsequently stayed in Tamano for a few nights. She spent the first day viewing Okayama, and then the night in Hachihama. The following day my host mom and a friend took her to Kurashiki for sightseeing, and then she came to a party (after a little trouble with the train) at Shoko’s house. Somehow Miria managed to avoid my camera, so I’ll use this opportunity as an excuse for a general picture update.


The castle at Kochi 

The forest surrounding Kochi castle 

Outside of someone's house in Kochi was this waterwheel, which didn't seem to be powering anything but was quite interesting 

A small shrine in the distance at Katsurahama 

You can see that the beach was covered in tiny rocks 

Ahh, the Pacific 

A shrine overlooking the beach 

There was actually a dog fighting center at Katsurahama 

I was sick of those wimpy ice cream shots, so here's a real hardcore soft-cream photo 

A very friendly man at the sushi restaurant 

This shirt, in a LEGO store, makes absolutely no sense at all 

James, in the Nepal shop run by Shintaro 

Micah and the Mbira sensei, who has travelled to Zimbabwe on numerous occasions over the past 20 or 30 years 

View from the mountain in Imabari 

A good look at the Mbira 

Some nice relaxing mbira-ing 

Journey to Shikoku

The time has arrived when I can count my remaining days using only my fingers, toes, and a friend’s finger or two. I should, by all means, begin to wrap up this year, prepare to leave, and say my goodbyes. Instead, the experiences seem to be coming even faster, so I apologize for latent blog updates and revelations. This weekend I took my final trip to the island of Shikoku. After an evening with Neil and Jez in the wonderful city of Takamatsu (2 Pac is not dead, hide and seek on the ferry), I literally cut Shikoku in half by train and made my way to Kochi City at a supremely discounted price thanks to a faulty barrier, meeting Micah along the way. We came to Kochi with little knowledge of the city (and almost no plans in mind), but in true form wandered the city on foot in search of “the real treasures of Japan.”

Our first stop was Kochi castle, nestled within the heart of the city. Kochi, as a prefecture, is one of the most beautiful parts of Japan (or so I had been told), so a trip to anywhere in the region on a relatively sunny day will certainly lighten your spirits. From the train, Micah and I spotted whitewater rafters and kayakers along the numerous streams and rivers traversing the landscape. At Kochi castle, we walked among ancient trees and stone walls as we made our way toward the outer limits of the city.

From the castle, and after visiting the Kochi Anime and Anpanman Museum, which was also playing host to a handicapped convention, Micah and I took a bus (12Km seemed a bit too far to walk) to Katsurahama beach, where you can dip you feat in the Pacific Ocean. This was my first experience with the Pacific in Japan, as Tamano is situated on the Inland Sea which I don’t believe qualifies as an Ocean. Another interesting fact about Katsurahama involves the sand, or rather the lack of it. The entire beach is ridden with colorful tiny pebbles (and almost no seashells), which makes for a unique barefoot experience. Micah and I took a nap on the beach, hobo style, before exploring the region around the seashore.

If you ever make the voyage to Kochi Prefecture, you will undoubtedly run across pictures, statues, and gift cookie sets inspired by Kochi’s most famous native and hero of the Meiji Restoration, Samurai Sakamoto Ryoma. Famous for a variety of reasons, Sakamoto was a key player in the creation of a Japanese Navy and envisioned a Japan without feudal ties to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Sakamoto is said to have been assassinated at a young age by the Shinsengumi, a special police group of the era (who you may remember from my picture with one at the Movie Village). Just to prove that everything in Japan links up one way or another, you might also be familiar with the Shinsengumi through Saito Hajime, who is a famous character and member of the Shinsengumi from the popular anime Rurouni Kenshin.

After exploring the area around the beach, Micah and I realized we had missed the last “special express” bus back to the Kochi city center, and instead walked up a remote mountain in hopes of finding a separate bus stop. We eventually came across a small bus stop next to clearing in the forest, and waited for the next bus to arrive. Micah then witnessed the CRAZIEST coincidence I could have ever imagined. From our bus stop on top of a mountain in Katsurahama, Micah spotted Tim, the English teacher from his town (which I might remind you is the smallest town in the smallest prefecture of Japan), who drove by in a small red car, flashing him the rock symbol. Micah couldn’t believe it was him, and we actually argued for a good 20 minutes about whether we could have possibly met Tim AGAIN while on a trip together (the first time occurred at a club in Osaka, when Micah spotted Tim from across the room). Tim never stopped, or even turned the car around to wave hello. It is as if the phantom of Tim follows us wherever we go, cheering us on with a friendly rock symbol.

Thoroughly stunned, but agreeing to pretend the random spotting of one man in a country of almost 130 million never happened, we returned to the city by bus where we called Urte (the exchange student living in Kochi) who was having her farewell party that day. She said we’d meet after dinner, so Micah and I embarked on our next adventure, the consumption of raw fish. Micah’s host mother had given him $100 and insisted that we spend it at a famous sushi restaurant that she often frequented, so although that seemed a bit decadent I had no objections.

Finding the location of the restaurant was easier than expected, and after a small wait we were seated at a long sushi bar. I really enjoy my sushi, and have sampled quite a few dishes from around Japan, but this restaurant is Kochi served the most delicious sushi I have ever tasted. An explosion of flavor in my mouth. Angels were singing. Add to that the fact that we were being bought drinks from two separate families in the restaurant, and I call that a damn fine meal.

After thoroughly stuffing ourselves we met Urte, who was dressed up for her farewell party, and said some quick goodbyes. With anyone else it would have been awkward, but even though I might never see Urte again a quick goodbye seemed oddly fitting.

The following morning Micah and I traveled to Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture. We met James, the exchange student in Imabari, and were driven to the top of a mountain by a man who taught us the Mbira, a traditional instrument from Zimbabwe that you play with your thumbs. The Mbira sounds much like a wind chime, but I was able to memorize a short song (James and Micah had played the instrument before, and easily bested me). I didn’t spend much time in the city, but playing an instrument from Zimbabwe on top of a relatively deserted mountain in Japan is very cool.

There was plenty of other excitement, but I can smell something delicious wafting from the kitchen. Expect a large VIDEO update very soon.


The Pagoda of Toji Temple  

My host sister, tying her fortune to the temple for good luck Posted by Hello

My host mother, selling basketry at the Movie Village 

Serving some tea in an old-timey Japanese room 

Yuko and I on a Chin-Chin Densha, or "trolly" 

Displaying our best "ninja sneak" skills 

Ryo (with blinding shoes) and I, with an actor from the famous "Shinsengumi" Posted by Hello

My host mother, feeding a small pony 

A famous character is Kabuki and Noh plays, Saito Musashibo Benkei and Yoshitsune 

This was amazing! Out of nowhere this huge monster head appeared from behind a mountain 

The first Torii gate of the 1000 at Fushimi Inari 

Me, in front of many Torii gates 

My host sister, Yuko, and her boyfriend 

Another large Torii gate 

Entrance to Fushimi Temple 

Large shopping street in Kyoto 

Me, as Astroboy! 

And Junko, as Big Boy 


Kyoto Tower 

One section of Kyoto Station 

It's hard to capture the magnitude of this building, but perhaps from the top of the 11th flight of stairs you can get a good view 

Me, sort of dazed and confused at the sheer size of this building 

Kyo To

Into the old city of Kyoto! With my companions, host father, mother, sister, and boyfriend (not mine). Upon our trusty steed, a Chrysler Trailblazer (otherwise known as “the largest car I have seen in the past few months”), owned by my host sister’s boyfriend. Our first stop was Toji, modeled after Imperial Chinese architecture, sporting the tallest pagoda in all of Japan. The temple was founded by, you guessed it, Kobo Daishi (Kukai), and featured numerous wooden and gold carvings by the priest himself (I could not capture pictures of these treasures because the mere exposure of flash might cause the bone-dry figures to burst into flame).

Our next stop was “Movie Village,” where many old Samurai Dramas have been filmed over the years, including the wildly famous “Shinsengumi,” which is actually a remake of an older version of the program. Inside the village was the scariest, most over the top haunted house I have ever seen in Japan, perhaps rivaling higher-end Halloween Haunted Houses in America. There were more blood covered kimono-clad mannequins than you could shake a severed arm at. Throw in a few live actors to pop out from around corners with razor sharp kitanas you you’ve got yourself a recipe for peeing your pants in fear.

After some bowls of ramen at the Movie Village, and a live-action play featuring Benkei (my namesake), we blazed a trail (pause for laughter) to Fushimi Inari, famous for its 1000 Vermillion Torii. Vermillion, also referred to as “the red dye that reminds you of Japan,” is one of the oldest pigments to be used by man. The water at Inari is also known for its “soft characteristics,” which is why various famous kinds of sake are brewed in the area.

Fast forward through some shopping and dinner at a delectable restaurant, for what I am ashamed to say was my favorite part of Kyoto (which was the capital of Japan for over 1000 years); Kyoto Station (built a mere 8 years ago). I have traveled to many a train station, including Okayama, Osaka, Kobe, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, and Nagoya (which happens to be the largest train station in Japan, and previously my favorite), but Kyoto station was literally mind-blowing. There aren’t enough descriptive adjectives to do it justice.

It’s hard to tour any Japanese city properly in only one day, but I think I did an OK job for the time allotment. So here’s to Kyoto, and while we’re on the subject, the Kyoto Protocol! Huzzah!


Dr. K and the Lippold family at a restaurant in Okayama 

Cherry Elizabeth Aiko and I. She said I look like Einstein's bastard child in this photo, but I'll let the viewers at home decide Posted by Hello

Dr. K, Mrs. Lippold, Cherry, Me, Kimura-sensei, Yuka, and Shizuka 

Takuto, Shota, and I. These guys came over completely unannounced, I had never met them before, but since then we often "chill" 

Getting ready for the annual Volleyball Tournament 

Battle at the net 

A textbook "bump" 

This is by far the strangest Popeye-esque face I have ever made in my life 

Well if it isn't Tomaki and Tatsuki 

Taiji, Endo, and Nakkan showing off their manly 6-packs 

It is sort of hard to discern, but this is how people in Japan count by 5's (as apposed to 4 straight lines and 1 at a diagonal). It forms the kanji for the word "correct" Posted by Hello

Mina and Nao-chan, members of the "Hip Hop Dance Club" 

Rapid Volley

As a quick supplement to the last post, Kimura-san, my Japanese school teacher, told me that when she was a child (in addition to The Ramen and Bread Men) The Tofu, Goldfish, and Nikuman (steamed meat roll) Men used to frequent her neighborhood, often on bicycle. Ah, those were the days.

Last weekend, Japanese friends of Kimura-sensei from America came to visit her in Okayama, so I was invited along for the fun. And so it was that I met Cherry-Elizabeth Aiko Lippold, along with her mother, on a Sunday evening at Okayama Station. Kimura-sensei and her husband, Dr. K, treated us to a delicious meal at a fancy Okayama restaurant, where I also got the chance to meet two of Kimura-san’s children, Yuka and Shizuka, for the first time.

Cherry’s life story is exciting, long, and not easily remembered, but I can tell you that she lived in Iwakuni and Okinawa for many years before moving to the US and eventually attending Kansas University as a Languages Major. We talked most of the evening about how it felt to be back in Japan (it has been a few years since she has been in the country, and had already spent time in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Iwakuni for a few weeks). She also gave me a little info about current events in the US, which made me feel more than slightly out of the loop (when did Dave Chappelle move to Africa?)

Back at Kimura-sensei’s house, old photo albums were taken off the shelves to display pictures of Cherry in Japan and the Kimura family’s trip to the US in the late 80s. I spoke more with the rest of the Kimura family, Cherry, and her mother before sleeping the night in a REAL BED, my first non-hotel non-futon bed since coming to Japan. I thought I was going to fall off and kill myself.

The next day we did a little shopping in Okayama, ate lunch, and toured the area before I bid goodbye to the crew and made my way back to Tamano.

On Tuesday was the great “Tamano High School Volleyball Tournament,” which gave me a slightly burned face and an elevated sense of self esteem. My team, which was pre-selected some weeks before, made it to the final round before losing to some third years due to general team apathy (in truth, three players on my team were in the volleyball club and didn’t want to “flaunt their skillz” to a boastful extent). In other news, I have acquired a wicked volleyball serve, but can’t “bump” or “set” for the life of me. However, in Japan I am sort of tall in relation to the other students, so spiking the ball makes me look like a white Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

And the crowd goes wild...


Where's Waldo? 

Students asking me pressing world questions such as, "do you have playgrounds in America?" 

Song time with Ben Sensei 

This was the fun part 

Listening intently? Falling asleep? 

These kids took their games seriously 

My host mother distributing foam swords 

Neil, my host father, and Ryosuke pondering meats at the BBQ 

Everyone's favorite summertime sight, "The Ramen Man" 

Teaching for Dummies

This week I was asked to be the “special guest” teacher for Hachihama Elementary School’s “Meet A Foreigner” Day, where I would get 2 hours of time to twist and distort children’s minds in any way I please. Granted they get some English out of it. It was specifically requested I sing songs with the students, so I brought the guitar along for some “old timey” fun and games. We danced, I played some music off the new Decemberists album (surprisingly well received), and then some teachers pulled out foam sticks so all the children could run around beating each other and me over the head. Good times all around.

After the “lesson,” I had a BBQ at my house which Neil attended after his big birthday party in the city. It was at the aforementioned BBQ that I was formally introduced to “The Ramen Man.” Most of you are probably familiar with “The Ice Cream Man,” revered by children and even adults worldwide. In Japan, especially in my slightly “middle of nowhere” location, “The Ramen Man,” “The Bread Man,” and “The General Foodstuffs Man” make frequent appearances. Each has a slightly different method of travel (truck, minibus, van, etc), as well as an annoying sound bite to let you know The Ramen Man is in the neighborhood.

Having actually purchased goods from both the Bread and Ramen Man, I can impart first-hand knowledge that food eaten out of the back of a truck not only tastes better but feels more authentic, for what it’s worth. Sure, anyone can make ramen in their homes, but how often do you get the chance to eat delicious noodles out of the back of a pickup?

Today at school was “The Volleyball Tournament,” planned for weeks and held under the powerful noonday sun. If nothing else has been gained in Japan, I can now deliver I mean running-start overhand serve to make the kiddies flee for cover. More pictures to come after I apply generous amount of aloe to my battle scars.


Fog on the mountains of Hachihama, literally in my backyard 

A view of the rice fields surrounding my house 

Shoko, with cute 6 month old Ren-kun 

At school I was baffled by the fact that no clock was located in my classroom. I took matters into my own hands by purchasing the most outrageous clock I could find, a diamond encrusted pink beauty 

Game night at Neil's house. Traditional Japanese Shogi (a variant of chess, perhaps vice versa), and the not-so-traditional Othello 

Hachihama is known for its variety of colorful shrines that scatter the area. This one is dedicated to the God of men, and is located a mere 5 minutes from my doorstep 

Yep, that's right. Looks like someone left an offering of Ramen noodles Posted by Hello

A Little Recap

With all this traveling that has occurred lately, you might get the impression that I’ve stopped my “cultural” experiences in Japan. Or that I no longer attend school. While both of those nasty misconceptions are based slightly in truth, here are some pictures that have slipped through the cracks of time within the past month.