Friday, June 30, 2006

Weeds in my Yard

I just thought I would post images of these weeds that are growing in my front yard before I chop them down tomorrow. This morning I was looking at a quiet Friday night but now I am going to play badminton after work and then go out for a small bite to eat; which from there could turn into anything. I will try to avoid that "anything" because I am tired; my students make me tired. I witnessed a blazen example of how creative kids are this morning in my grade three-four English class. We were going over the actions of "Wheels on the Bus" and asking why the people were going "up and down" or saying "shhhh shhhh" or honking their horn. The reasons the students came up with were wide, varied and completely unpredictable. Really off the wall stuff. Adults are so pragmatic; myself included. This was all kind of off topic because the discussion was mostly in Japanese but it was good fun and it pays off in the long run if the students like the class. All the students in that class are very gun-hoe to learn English. And they love to dance. We played the song three times!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Downhill to the weekend.

I had a frightening moment coming of out Urimaku Junior High School and looking west toward what I thought were heavy rain clouds. I woke up and it was so nice and sunny - as sunny as it has been for a month - and I did not want to see dark clouds on the horizon anytime soon. However, it seemed that a dark cloud is all the weather gods could muster for today because it passed - ominously, threateningly, but harmlessly - in about 10 minutes, to reveal sunny skies again.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Japan is one country that has perfected cuteness; here it is both a science and an art. I have always tried to stay immune from such topics; considering it mind-numbing stuff. I have tired to ignore advertisements employing an infinite number of cute mascots. I have tried to avoid cute cell phones, cute paper towels, cute magazines, cute cars, cute shoes, cute canned drinks, etc. Shockingly, yesterday, I found myself staring at a picture of Japanese national TV broadcaster NHK's Domo-kun and felt like I knew him. I was enthralled, thinking, "My, he's a cute little monster. I'd like to meet him." There is some very Radioheadish about his design. And I could only ever love a monster. I especially like the following picture of Domo-kun about to devour a the TV - destroying the very thing that created him. It's either a representation of the best existential question dripping deep artistic irony, or, perhaps I am slowly being worn down, losing my edge, starting to go soft. I would very much like to by a stuffed Domo-kun; not to stick pins and needles into, but to treasure. Domo-kun's catch phrase would even melt the heart of Prime Minster Stephen Harper - someone who shook his kids' hands when dropping them off at school - saying, "doomuu." Some details from his Japanese webpage: He likes spicy BBQ. Lives in a cave, with a webcam of it on his site; very nice touch. His bio also says he actually likes TV; which I am assuming is some kind of mistake.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I did end up playing baseball last night and it was a lot of fun. The whole thing was very surreal because we played in thick fog/light rain. At least that is what I am blaming our loss on. Plus the whole game is heavily influenced by Japanese culture; which also made it surreal to play, but in all the good ways that drew me to Japan in the first place. It's raining - again - and looking at the radar images another huge rain storm is passing over Hokkaido. No sense putting any laundry out because it will take days to dry. I keep telling myself I don't care if it rains. Let the heavens open! As long as it clears up in time for the Stony Plain delegation trip. My Mom's arrival must go smoothly under clear skies!

I was thinking about architectural photography recently and I would like to wax poetic for a moment if I may. (It's my blog - my little piece of cyberspace - so I will commence.) Many people that like architectural photography automatically reach for a wide angle lens. It seems like good logic; one has to capture the whole structure. I have another course in mind which depends on other factors. I can not see myself competing with this reasoning because I don't have the time or the money to complete on this level. For example; I don't have access to large-format cameras to keep all the lines nice and straight. I ran the above image through a couple of my own photoshop inventions and really liked the end result. It's a much better expression of the structure - or what ever post-modern psycho babble is in vogue - than the original (seen below).

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Today was one of the first really hot days this summer. The past month was just horrible; nothing but rain and clouds. Yesterday was nice; today was just hot. I got into my car after class and the steering wheel was seriously scorching hot. I will have to figure something out. And the steering wheel shaft creeked when I turned it; which really can't be a good sign. What really made the afternoon hot was that I stayed and played soccer for about twenty minutes with the grade sixes. I was quickly drenched in sweat and now I feel tired as I nurse a bottle of Team Japan branded water. I play baseball tonight at 8 o'clock and I assume things will be a little bit cooler buy then. It looks like a really great night to be outside. I am not sure how the whole thing is suppose to work because I am rather new to playing baseball in Japan. Should be interesting. On Sunday, I went for a very long run; my longest so far this year. I just felt like I had a lot of energy to burn. Oddly enough, it occured to me later that Sunday was also the day of the Obihiro marthon.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

No Hail, No Lightening

Among other things today, I had to go into Obihiro this afternoon to run some errands. While I was in Obihiro, I got caught in a nasty rainstorm; it was such a surprise because I checked the weather forecast right before I left, and although it was suppose to stay cloudy, no rain was predicted. I got caught in a camera store, getting prints, while the heavens opened. It turned the parking exit I normally use into a deep river thus trapping me for about fifteen minutes until it finally lessened slightly and I made a run for my car. Witnessing the extreme amount of rain that fell, it makes me wonder how it was never predicted; there was no warning. One thing you don't have to worry about with heavy rains in Japan is that normally no hail nor lightening accompany it; so there's slightly less to worry about. Irony of ironies: the main reason I went to Obihiro was to buy an umbrella.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Friday's Package

Image Hosted by

A package I was expecting from Canada finally arrived today. I have been trying to avoid the kitchen every morning this week as my supple of Canadian peanut butter dwindled. We had been bordering on a peanut butter crisis! Happily the package from my Grandma McRoberts with smooth peanut butter - you can never have too much of the stuff around when it's the only thing to eat for breakfast - and various assorted chocolate goodness. What a perfect cap to this week; except for the rain.

Image Hosted by

Wierd Weather Last Night

Image Hosted by

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wednesday Night

Whoa? Where did the day go? Today went by so fast. Four classes: Grades three and up. I can't pick a favorite; all of them went great. You may find some people that disdain students having too much fun; laughing too much; playing to much rock-paper-scissors. But we have so much fun! Because often in a class of thirty-five or forty we will have as many as many as six teachers, we do lots of small group work that just can't be accomplished in other school systems. I think this is where Shikaoi students' accelerated learning begins. Sometimes the groups can be very hard for me to control. The students are bundles of energy and a disconnect can develop in regards to the amount of authority I wield. Not that the students are consciously thinking about undermining me; but it can become a distraction. The disconnect can also be a lack of communication. I have learned some very strong words for "stop" and "listen" recently that students react to straight away, allowing for tighter control of students when I don't have other English teachers to rely upon. My learning process can be so gradual even I don't even notice. Today with six groups of grade fours my group was very focused; all the students huddled around me on the floor and the lesson at hand. But it wasn't because I had my authority to bare upon nor because I knew strong words for "listen". It was because through a slow process trust had been established. I worked hard for it too. The students wanted to impress me and were hanging on my every word because of it; it was very natural. I think we were able to accomplish a lot of English conversation practice in a very short amount of time. But the relationship was only built up upon an amazingly long period of time.

Perhaps readers question why I do not offer more insights into Japanese culture; why do I go on and on about my classes? I admit now I don't always think about my students in reality, I have lots of things to worry about, no teacher would claim otherwise. But I do put a huge amount of my daily energy into my students. This is an important reality and my blog reflects it. Most of my other random thoughts concerning other random things are no doubt boring to anyone but myself.

As if to clarify the fact that I still relate to other subjects, I have recently rediscovered my love of dance music. With the latest iTunes update I have discovered a new radio station option. It's quite possible this could have been a feature overlooked by me in the past. Lately, I have been tuned into all sorts of crazy French electronica stations and been loving it. All sorts of crazy, dirty beats and fuzzy basslines. I have always felt there is something very primal about dance music. Listening to internet radio while stretching before going for a run or out for the night is just perfect. Although oddly I much prefer any sort of spoken-word when actually running. If anyone in France is reading this: I must get there soon! Going to the Louvre all day and the disco all night sounds like a great time. What would Nietzsche of Rousseau say about what our modern culture has become eh?

Oh, and my baseball game with the other teachers at Shikaoi Sho Gakkou was cancelled because it has became all wet and cold again dang it!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Oilers go home without the cup

It is with some sadness I now shift my focus to Japan's World Cup Race. I ran to the computer right after fourth period ended like I was expecting an email from the prettiest girl in school. I rushed checked the Oiler's official website; it came up frustratingly slow on Tsumei Sho's old skool IDSN line. The results became clear soon enough that the Oilers would be returning empty handed. Just like the Calgary Flames last season, I don't hold it against the Oilers. Any series taken to seven represents very hard work and a lot of dedication. It was great while it lasted. Now, it is with some trepidation that we await Japan's game with Brazil on Friday. I plan on cheering very loudly for Japan while they still have a team in the World Cup. Some what underhandedly I am already considering who to cheer for after Japan gets sent home by Brazil. Is this wrong of me?

In regards to technology, the differences between my stay in Koriyama six years ago and my life here now are remarkable. International phone rates have decreased substantially because of competing. I was able to talk to my parents and Grandma M. over the weekend: The calls were unrushed (except for the time change) and the line is normally very clear; like talking to someone across the street. Constant access to wireless internet also makes setting up said phone calls much easier. The photos, the blogs and the live streaming radio feeds increase the feeling of technological connectedness.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

How do you intend to start Monday?

The perfect way to start a Monday is, of course, to wake up only to discover it's still Sunday. Second to this is probably having your first flass my grade twos. I started school Monday morning well rested and well fed; however It was still a shock as thirty-seven grade two's burst through the door. It really is an unholy canophony but a lot of fun.

Something that manges to trigger strong pangs of home is when the school lunch is something I don't like. This happened last Friday when the school lunch included little tiny fish (with eyes) mixed in with the rice and a whole bunch of vegitables I couldn't identify in my soup. It was a struggle to eat. I felt depressed and I longed for a sandwich. Most days the school lunch is much better.

I went for a run on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and as the weather slowly clears today will probably go out tonight after work as well. Also I studied Japanese like mad and will probably continue after I finish updating. I wasn't able to watch the soccer match last night because I went to bed but there probably wouldn't have been much to watch as Japan tied Croatia 0-0. In the next game Japan plays Brazil which could be just painful to watch.

In Hockey: Oilers took game six to tie the series 3-3. I listened to game six live over the internet and it was thrilling to hear the Oilers pummle the 'Canes. Must of been great to see in person... ...Dad. (Happy Father's Day by the way.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Simplicity is often a word used to describe Japan. Art and food, etc., are all simplicity incarnate. But this entry is about a different type of simplicity. I awoke this morning expecting an energetic - though normal - day of classes at Urimaku Elementary School; this often includes a trip to the nearby kindergarten. Looking back, my experiences at the kindergarten were the only thing different about the day. Instead of my normal class with sixteen bundles of joy and energy I had forty; Tsumei and Sasagawa kindergartens joined Urimaku because of a cancelled field trip. There was nothing to do but laugh when told of the changes. I had brought stickers to practice English self-introductions, but only enough for sixteen. Out the window went that lesson plan. But I am slowly and accidentally becoming a "Super Teacher"; with nothing but my bare hands, string, a penny, and my wits, I pulled off a great class. I had previously taught all the students before, but never in one place.

My real discovery with small children is how much depth they find in the simplest of things. A fact I often leverage. I have created a game that captures the essence of this philosophy that no one seems to have thought of before, or dared to think for that matter. For no particular reason except that it needed a name, I call it, "Nigeru Eigo Bango" which simply translates as "Escape/Get away English Numbers." The game itself is even simpler. One just counts and steps forward and then eventually I yell "Nigeru" and all the kids scatter to the previously designated safe-zone. It was an epiphany that I didn't even need to try to catch or tag the kids. They were thrilled to just keep counting and stepping and then running back. Again and again. Nothing could be simpler. Maybe you wondering how on earth that can be considered fun? Yet judging from their reactions it's a success. It is hard to describe the absolute din the kids make when I yell "nigeru." It's a shriek - to be sure - but their faces say joy. The game can be easily scaled for ten or forty because it's so simple.

The teachers were grateful and in awe; in awe, like myself, over how simple the game was and how well it worked, and grateful that I was able to quickly ingrate the three kindergarten. The noise forty kids make is overwhelming, especially considering that at any one time several of the younger children (two year olds) are crying. My departure was more than riotous than ever and the kids looked well on their way to making new friends. It is so rare to get all my students in one place and wanted to get a picture but understandably things were just to chaotic to think about getting out my camera. I was in constant motion high-fiveing, hugging, prying kids off me, picking stragglers up, consoling, trying not to step on.

I am normally very healthy these days because I don't dare face my students when I am less than 100%. That way we can both have fun. Most days after class I am tired but not exhausted. Today I am borderline exhausted. Maybe no run tonight? Bed by nine? I will have to evaluate my situation to see if I even have the strength to make dinner.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Yesterday was one of those days when I was busy all day. As usual, class in the morning, but at 3:30 PM the whole Board of Education, including all schools, the library, kindergarten, etc. participated in a mini-volleyball tournament, or "Mini-Bolley" as it comes out in Japanese. Mini-volleyball in many ways is a game that can only be created from the Japanese mind. Just physical enough to warrant its own line of shoes, clothes, and nets, but easy and random enough to be considered fair for everyone. Teams are four people each. You can't use your feet or head. The net is roughly as high as a badmintion net and the ball is large, soft and slow. Later there was a tournement dinner where the winning team was chosen by Rock, Paper, Scissors. (See picture below.) All in good fun you see. Most of the teachers were in an exceptionally good mood because they got to leave work early. I knew nearly everyone there and was feeling overwhelmed because I wanted to talk to everyone. Kevin and I played on the Board of Education office teams (we had two teams of four). The refs were very strict, which was sometimes frustrating, but overall it was very fun.

Image Hosted by

It is popularly known in the West that work and play are closely linked in Japan. How this is reflected in daily life is interesting: One's social life is considerably influenced by many off-the-clock work commitments. One is forced - so to speak - to spend a lot of time at work and at play with the same people. My theory is that this develops stronger working relationships. Ask a Japanese and they will tell you it's just tradition and comfortably leave it at that. A secondary aim of the mini-volley tournaments is to re-enforce that the healthly active Japanese life-style I have talked about. I like both qualities (described above) of the Japanese workplace. Contrast this to most Western workplaces who will perhaps only have one party a year at Christmas.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Oh sunny Day

The big news today is that finally we saw the sun after what seemed like forever. At the moment it is not particularly sunny, but as days strung into overcast days, any sun is now welcomed. (The only reprieve was the weekend I went to Sapporo.) During the past weeks it has become progressively cooler as a result of the constant rain and clouds, but from today that trend is reversing with a high pressure system. Things are drying out nicely now. I received a startled from one of my grade ones this morning in response to my questions about the weather. "It's partly cloudy," he said. Honestly, where do they pick up such stuff? This was the same student that last week surprised me by declaring, "I like dinosaurs!"

I am taking full advantage of the weather with a long run after work today instead of hurrying to fit one in whenever the rain happens to stop. Lots of physical activities planned this month as well; a trend that I had not forsaw. Tomorrow is a Board of Education mini-volleyball tournament and next Wednesday I am taking part in a friendly softball game with my Shikaoi Sho Gakkou teachers. I made sure to make clear that I have no softball experience and they still wanted me! Baseball is so ingrained here that playing will be a great cultural experience and I am greatly looking forward to it. Ganbarimasu!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Sport Fest Looks on!

From what I hear it looks as though the sports festival is on. It stopped raining about midnight. It had been gradually raining less and less on Saturday as the sky eventually ran out of rain. Weather radar looks good six hours out and the 24-hour predictions look to clear up by six. It won't be the best summer weather ever but it's an improvement. The games being in forty minutes so I best finish getting ready.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Exceptional Friday!

Dang, I had a really good day.

To begin, last night I went to my first O-Tenki Matsuri or "weather festival." It was a symbolic gesture to ward off rain the day of the sports festival. In reality, it is a thinly veiled excuse for Shikaoi elementary teachers to eat yuki niku, visit and drink. But in good form we kept up the veneer throughout the night. It popured - we were actually housed in Kocho sensei's garage (predictability smaller than Canadian garages) - but we didn't care. The heavens can open on us so long as we get good weather on Sunday.

As I have commented elsewhere; the last two weeks have been so screwed up because of the various sports festivals that it felt great having normal classes again at Urimaku Sho. Nothing too grand or different, but I was glad to see the students and gave 150%. All my students were exceptionally happy to see me too and we laughed a lot. During second period, when I didn't have class, I went over to the nearby kindergarten. They were, as per usual, ecstatic to see me. To warm up we always start with "Head and Shoulders." Those kids never get tired of that song and love the actions and I just don't feel I can deprive them of their happiness. The grade five/six class is a bit odd; much quieter than most of my other five/six classes and thus I have to change my demeanor with them. No jumping around, throwing things, no lighting stuff of fire, no animal acts. To my mind, the younger the child the less different there is between individuals. Lunch was with the grade ones. So there I sat talking to six year olds about every topic imaginable (except philosophy, politics, economics, American Idol etc.).

And they make me laugh; am easy heart-warming laugh that I don't remember from university and probably forgot from childhood. A good example comes from today's lunch. In Japan it is customary when talking to put down your chopsticks. One of the students, sitting just left of me, kept knocking his chopsticks on the floor when he got excited. The third time he did it I just had to chuckle to myself; he has just no luck. He didn't care though. He's a happy kid and just bounced up and wash them off.

In the afternoon I had to drop something off at Shikaoi elementary school and was drafted into preparations for the sports festival. I didn't hesitate, though weather conditions were horrendous and the objects heavy. I was not prepared at all, but jumped in, and the teachers and parents present appreciated the help.

I think today was an exceptionally good Friday. I aim to have more Fridays like this where I feel this good at the end of it. If I study Japanese after I post then I can feel good about what I accomplished today. I plan to write tomorrow and then I have the sport festival on Sunday. So posts may be short and to the point.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


This happens to be the slowest week ever. My schedule is strange due to the fact most of my schools are planning, preparing and practicing for their respective sports festivals. I, on the other hand, have been spending lots of time in the office. It has also been overcast for over a week now; with only slight glimpses of the Sun as often as it rains. This trend continues into next week but the threat of rain is low for Sunday when I go to Shikaoi Elementary School’s Undoukai.

The first events of Sunday are individual races. However, the events are not strictly traditional track-and-field events nor, in typical Japanese fashion, focused on individual success. The school is split into two teams; red and white. Various fun, but physical, events are planned. Because the teams are so large, events become large as well; human pyramids, beanbag toss, yosakoi performance, a huge tug-of-war, etc. (You should have seen the rope!) I’m toying with the idea of doing an all picture post for it to make up for the lack of images lately.

Yearly sport festivals are meant to promote healthy, active lifestyles; this is in strong contrast to Canada where rarely would class be cancelled (like English class, for two weeks) in favor of preparation and practice for a sports festival. Lack of focus on sports where all students participate is, of course, linked to the increase in childhood obesity (and related health effects) we are currently witnessing in Canada. In Canada we have romantic feelings about individuality and feel the role of government in teaching children should be limited. Somewhere along the line, Japanese parents became just fine with the large role schools play in raising children. Already the reader will have noticed the question is more complex than I have quickly sketched, but I believe trends we see in Canada can be traced to this topic (but I will spare the reader the details).

Daily on the nightly news there is a barrage of panic over Japan’s changing demographics. Some of it is fascinating: the fastest growing demographic involved in crime is over fifty (not foreigners as some radical elements have liked to portray). Eating habits are also changing quickly, becoming much more North American based; eating more corn-based food, switching fish for other meats, and an increase in fast-food consumption. No where except in modern times with modern science can the change in diet be tracked so minutely (and it’s results). Even with that, my youngest students understand that large portions are unhealthy. I know this is something, that while perhaps enforced at home, is also discussed at school.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Three topics picked at random

For today's update I used a random word generator to brainstorm ideas for my post.

1. Taxi. There are only a handful of taxis in Shikaoi. I have used one once, with friends, on the coldest night of winter last year (-19C) to get across town. I wanted to walk but they would hear none of it. Shikaoi proper is quite compact and thus easily walked or biked across in a matter of minutes. Moving to any large city, like Sapporo, and taxis become much more prevalent, reaching levels not seen in Edmonton or Calgary. The high rate of use in big city is probably due to the sever parking restrictions derived of a lack of parking spaces. Canada is wide thus a substantial part of our landmass can be dedicated to housing cars. This is an untenable position in Japan because it would create a need to live in your car. There is no where to park downtown that isn't expensive, plus it's a headache. (The most I have seen anywhere for parking for an evening is around 5000 Yen, but normally is it is a more reasonable 2000 Yen. Big cities have many of those funky vertical stacking lots.) One can side step this situation by simply getting a taxi, many of which are often sitting around waiting for customers. Contrast this to Calgary where it is almost always necessary to phone ahead for a cab.

2. Divine. Many are familiar with the peaceful coexistence of Buddhism and Shintou-ism in Japan. Of course, here, if one uses the word "Shintou" it will often garner a blank stare. A transformation in meaning, perhaps slight, happened when the word was brought to North America for study. The word one should use to represent what we mean by Shintou is Kami-sama. The word Shintou (神道) itself is quite a beautiful in kanji, but so is Kami-sama (神様). Let me elaborate:

I have to grossly paraphrase the history of Shintou but basically it's a religion that believes that everything is possessed by tiny Gods. Tables, chairs, but especially natural objects. The religion reveres nature. The word "Shintou" roughly means "the way" and has much in common with China's Taoism. Notice the first kanji in both words; kami (神) is the character for God, or, more importantly, Gods. ~Sama works like ~san, but is much more respectful. When someone talks of Kami-sama living in a tree or rock or shrine it is his or her name they are suggesting; "Kami-sama". Shintou is a real Japanese word but I am unfamiliar with its usage. When asked about "Shintou" I get an underwhelming response. If I ask about Kami-sama I can be understood. I am not sure quite what is going on; however it seems appropriate in light of how i spend most of my day.

3. Toaster. This had to be some sort of sign. I have a lot of history with this word. Some of my most successful early writing was about toasters. It was also a word that I seemed to have gone along time without using and had forgotten. I was shocked when I read it. I have a toaster oven at my house that I like using, never being allowed one as a child. At the moment, I don't have my microwave plugged it. And even if I did the only thing I would probably use it for would be defrosting bread, which is a bit more tricky in a toaster oven. I have also been using the small broiler that I have in my stove (and I do mean small). It's more tricky for cooking because it's gas and things can go from good to black very quickly. (As a poor potato discovered last month.)

Where can we end up with this topic? The only thing that becomes a bit of a hassle without a microwave is reheating leftovers. Noodles and spaghetti do fine with a couple of minutes under the broiler. But what about delicate French soups? My only microwave rule when I was living in Calgary was that I never - ever - reheated anything in plastic. I still shutter when asked here at 7-11 if I want something heated in its own packaging. I say no and will take it home and use my toaster oven, making sure to take it out of its packaging. The reason not to re-heat anything in plastic is heating plastic can release dioxins into your food and then you eat it. They are released over time from just about everything, from vinyl siding to computer keyboards. This is easily side stepped using ceramic dishes when reheating. Dioxins are a family of related poisons. Small amounts can build up overtime to dangerous levels in the body. It is one of the hardest chemicals to cleanse the body of because of it's fat-soluble properties. It turns out that while most human ingestion of dioxin is through food; diesel fuel and coal-fired utilities, the new green energy I have heard, contribute to the majority of dioxin in the atmosphere. From here the dioxin works it way up the food chain, which humans sit convienently perched atop. I'm sure someone (e.i. Environment Minister Rona Ambrose) will be able to ignore this fact and sweep it under the carpet once it is explained to us that it will cost jobs and investment opportunity if we were to do anything about it. I know I can sleep better at night knowing that I am assured future enjoyment of my future investments as dioxins slowly acumulate in my body now.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Weekend Update

It's Monday now and there's not much to say; I had a great visit with the Suginome's which included me making my Mom's famous Beef and Corn Casserole and finally meeting Miki's long lost older brother who - it turns out - was only long lost from me. My family has known the Suginome's for many years but I have only just this past weekend met Toshio Suginome (who recently moved back to Sapporo from Tokyo). It was nice to feel like I had known him all along. Sadly, I forgot to take any pictures of dinner because I felt just so at home. It was a great summer weekend to walk around Sapporo; not too hot nor too cold.

On Sunday before my train left, Mrs. Suginome and I had lunch at the nicest little Italian restaurant. The restaurant is tucked snuggly on the side of a hill, away from the road, and over looks downtown Sapporo. Good Italian is hard to find here (what we normally get is Japanese-Italian food which is slightly different if one is expecting Italian food) and altogether I really had my heart set on some kind of stuffed pasta my tomato and mozzarella spaghetti was excellent and authentic! It was a great meal which we ate on the patio outside without wasps or mosquitoes. I paused for a moment while eating; suddenly I was back in Canada remembering meals with my family. People say that memories are often strongly tied to smells, but it was proven to me that tastes are what brings me back; basil, fresh pepper, oregano, roma tomatoes. Mrs. Suginome gave my a thoughtful look when I told her.

Didn't do too much shopping. I did pick up some Japanese study texts; one really great book on Japanese grammar and also a book on Japanese idioms and a romanized Japanese-English dictionary. The latter makes it far quicker to look up new words than using a hiragana dictionary. My goal it to get really good at reading and then learn to write well in Japanese. Some may disdain the use of a romaji dictionary to this end, but I think being quick is more important at this point because you can get far more studying done. Conversational Japanese will always fall in to place - naturally or not. The grammar book I like is called "Making Sense of Japanese: What the textbooks don't tell you" by Jay Rubin. It is not any sort of expose, it is, however, short and humorous; he is a very funny translator/linguist/teacher. It answers many grammar questions in detail that advanced learners may have. In one sense it is kind of depressing because at stresses that all languages are in some sense innate and that certain points will always elude even the most advance Japanese learners. I am over half done the book and I only got in on Saturday. An example is the different between the particles ~wa/~ga. It is very hard to know weather to use ga or wa in a sentence. Often in Japanese one doesn't state the subject of the sentence explicitly, something that we always always do in English or else the sentence doesn't make sense. It takes a lot of brain re-programming. A rough analogy is the~/a~ which even very talented English teachers in Shikaoi have problems with and yet I can barely explain why to use one over the other.

I also picked up a North American-style garlic press from Tukyu Hands that I have been looking for forever.

Sapporo this weekend was a hub of activity as the Yosakoi festival begins today. Yosakoi is most easily explained as a type of Japanese-dance. The festival is massive and I have seen estimates that put it in the same league as the Sapporo Snow festival which, in turn, is bigger than the Calgary Stampede (for some perspective). I'd love to see it but I have another commitment that weekend when the festival is at its height.

Image Hosted by
Image Hosted by

I'm Back

Free Image Hosting at
Post to come.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

One thing I would change about Shikaoi

I had a short conversation with Kevin on our way back from lunch today that kind of relates to my trip to Sapporo this weekend. I was lamenting the fact that Shikaoi didn't have a train station. It use too; a long time ago but maybe 40 years ago it was dismantled. I haven't gotten to the bottom of why exactly it was dismantled but it has added an extra layer of difficulty getting out of Shikaoi. Not that I want to get out of Shikaoi, but sometimes the act of escape itself is rather cathartic. As it stands now, if I want to use the train I have to drive to the next city to the West, Shintoku. The convenience of Shintoku itself would only be eclipsed by the convenience of Shikaoi having its own train station. Shikaoi is separated from Shintoku by a twenty minute drive and one left turn. Parking is free (big plus) and the lot is safe overnight (hey, this is Japan). I try to take the train as much as possible here. It's many times more convenient than planes, in my opinion, because you can show up right before and just hop on. Trains here are plentiful and punctual and all round a great experience. On some of the smaller local lines, English becomes less and less prominent, which can become a problem. If one is an adventurous traveler I don't see it as a problem. Main lines and bullet trains are very modern, and while English can be sketchy at time, it should never be a problem to get where you want to go. I like the ability here to jump on a train in flat, slow, green, Tokachi, and step off a mere two hours later in a metropolis with big lights, tall buildings and lots of taxis. The ability to do this from Edmonton or Calgary is limited; the hoops one has to jump through to get, say, to Vancouver or Montreal for the weekend are many: both large and expensive. Whenever I take the train, I try, if possible, to travel while it's still light out so I can watch the sights wizz by. Something I never seem to get tired of doing. I had meant to make this a humorous post but I guess I used all my material up on my students.

Don't Stand for it

Going over my last post I felt that you - the reader - shouldn't have to stand for such a quick and trite post. I really must focus on other writing tonight but feel compelled to post. No particular topic jumps to mind except what I have in front of me now. Being a bachelor, I have made a bad habit of watching T.V. while I eat dinner. (The fact that I basically live in a house with one room has not helped.) Normally I try to time dinner with the 7:00 o'clock NHK news which is broadcast in Japanese and English across the country. I feel I am in a position where I have to balance my need for constant listening practice with my desire to accurately understand what's going on in the country where I live. I would also like to note that the NHK translation is horrible - sometimes hilariously so. There have been cases where between stories the sound goes dead, then a hurried voice starts in again late with a ruffle of papers. While seating in silence mid-bite my mind ponders over the possibilities: am I witnessing (abet mutedly) a wild animal attack in a studio in Tokyo? In any case, the English news of the Japanese broadcast maybe horrible, but it's what I got. Moving on, today's lead story - the issue at the very top of the national news - was about the beginning of private parking patrols across the country. Stop the press! This was news to me! And the story was covered so thoroughly is was almost farcical. Honestly, it made me stop and appreciate the country where I live now. It filled me with confidence. Just go and peruse Google news Canada, make the comparison yourself. It's filled with stories that makes one want to curl up into the fetal position. Every country has its things that are good and bad; but the most horrible newsworthy things in Japan are issues that I harbour no worries about. What a perfect time to write!