Archive | August, 2012

First time for everything

29 Aug

Today was the first day of junior high school classes! I apologize in advance for the lack of photographs in this entry; understandably, since parental consent is needed in order to post photos of students online, the school generally restricts taking photos of students at all.  But regardless of whether I have photographic proof or not, today I taught four classes!  Or rather, today I introduced myself to four classes, complete with powerpoint presentation on myself and a quiz at the end.  The other ALT at my school, T, and I each had 15-20 minutes to introduce ourselves, and then we gave the kids a quiz as to which ALT liked/knew how to do what things.  I don’t know how much of the lesson the kids grasped– the head English teacher sort of gave some translations and explanations along the way, and most of them did quite well on the quiz portion, so hopefully the presentation wasn’t too hard for them!  They were first years… so I guess that’s a good sign for the second and third years that I’ll be teaching tomorrow and Friday!

There were flubs and mistakes along the way, of course, but I think today went well.  I was asked to perform an impromptu ballet dance, had to shake hands and get about 90 middle schoolers to tell me their names, and was laughed at for liking idol groups, and still, I managed to survive.  Hopefully this is a good sign for the future, when I likely won’t be asked to give random performances or heckle each child individually!  In fact, as far as I know, I’m mostly the assistant at junior high school, and won’t usually be teaching the lessons myself, so if I survived today, hopefully it will be smooth sailing in the future. In the meanwhile… I’m dreading the first day of elementary!


Public service announcement: I’m in love… with food.

28 Aug

ImageSo… I’m sorry that this blog is about food approximately every 4 posts, and not even really Japanese food, but the random food that I make in my apartment.  For anyone who’s never really enjoyed cooking in the past, nor had any reason to cook, you may understand the situation I’m in: I’ve discovered that I can actually make delicious things on my own!  And that’s very exciting for me.

But first!  I cleaned my kitchen.  Because JETs inherit their apartments from their predecessors much of the time, it’s sort of luck of the draw what sort of state your apartment is in when you get it.  Mine happened to be full of a lot of my predecessor’s (or her predecessor’s) stuff, which, in some cases, is a generous term for mess.  The kitchen, for example, had some less fortunate and more moldy areas, but with the help of the wonderful S, we managed to get the place looking clean and tidy, hooray! Now I have a clean and relatively clutter-free space in which to cook.

ImageFirst off, chicken and broccoli alfredo!  I managed to find a base for white sauce at my supermarket, and I’ve been excited to use it since then~ They’re small bricks that, when heated with milk, become white sauce.  Yum! Chicken and broccoli have been two of the really main ingredients that I’ve been cooking with, but luckily, they go really well in white sauce (or… pretty much anything).  Those two and garlic powder are basically the staples of my cooking…

ImageNext, burgers!  I bought ground beef with the intention of making meat sauce, but I didn’t have enough red sauce, so I decided to make hamburgers from it instead!  I’ve never made a hamburger in a fry pan before (in fact, the only way I’ve made hamburgers before is on George Foreman kitchen grill…) so it was an experience, and I ended up covered in flying grease, but the end result was tasty enough! They were a little dry because I was afraid of undercooking them, but since I coated them in pepper and, you guessed it, garlic powder, they at least had a good flavor, I think!

ImageAfter that, I tried another white sauce dish, this time with sausages.  It might seem strange, but these small, hot-dog-esque red sausages are fairly common in Japanese cooking, and so I decided to try them out in my pasta.  Helpfully, the packaging gave me tips on how to cute them into cute shapes like octopi and crabs to put into my cute bento, should I have the desire to make one.  Instead, I added them to pasta with white sauce and broccoli, and while sort of unconventional, I think it came out well!  In the future, I think I might cut the sausages smaller… they were sort of hard to eat the way they were and I think they’d probably blend better if they were cut up into really small bits.  So… I’ll try that!  ImageAlso, I bought corn potage (one of the only canned soups available in Japan, for whatever reason) and I’m thinking of trying to make a sauce out of it with the rest of the sausages… we’ll see how that goes!  I feel like it could actually be surprisingly good, depending on what the condensed soup is like, or it could be really awful, so I hope that whatever it’s like, it’s at least edible… I guess I’ll just have to try it and see!

ImageBesides white sauce, I’ve also tried to make both meat and blush sauce. Both were successes!  Red sauce is quite cheap, so mixing it with white sauce or meat definitely makes the latter items go farther!  I didn’t make the blush sauce with anything besides the white and red sauces because I didn’t have any ingredients in the house… Sad but true.  But it came out really well, so I might look into trying it with maybe onions and bacon or something like that.  Bacon is expensive but delicious, so if I used it sparingly, I think it might be okay!

ImageAs for the meat sauce, I think it turned out well!  I made it with broccoli and ground beef, and while if I had let it simmer for longer, I think it would have melded together better, all in all, it was good!  I’m not sure broccoli was the best choice though… maybe later I can find some squash to put in, or something!

On a closing note, school lunches started today!  It was curry, so it was delicious, but some of the items on the menu looked suspicious or I didn’t know what the item was.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see, and when I have a good idea about what school lunch is usually like, I’ll post about it~

The start of something new

28 Aug

Yesterday was the shigyoshiki at my school, or “start of the new semester ceremony.”  While I have to assume ti varies from school to school, at my school, new teachers and school workers are introduced and asked to give a speech, the principal says a few words, winners of sports competitions are honored, and the school song is sung.  All of these things were all fine and well in my book… except the part where new school employees had to give a speech.  I was less thrilled about that aspect.

Luckily for me, I was asked to give a simple self-introduction, somethings that any new employee in a Japanese workplace will probably have to perfect.  In the elongated shigyoshiki version, I told the students my name, that I was from America, my college major, that I studied abroad in Tokyo for four months, and that I was excited to work at this school this year.  That seemed to go over fairly well, and the other ALT at my school did similarly.  Still, standing up on a stage in front of 300 middle schoolers was a bit terrifying… but also somehow, it was a motivating feeling.  I’m looking forward to getting to teach them all… even if down the line I change my opinion of some of them!

The ceremony is conducted in the gymnasium, which has a stage built in on one end to make a sort of gym-atorium (my elementary school had one of these… pretty classy, let me tell you).  The gym was fairly nice, but it was distinctly not air conditioned, and so while I had worn a full suit to impress the crowd while giving my speech, I began to regret that directly afterwards when I sweated through the rest of the ceremony.

ImageHowever, the very end of the ceremony distinctly made up for all of my sweat and discomfort: after honoring the school teams and athletes who had won at sports competitions over the summer, the principal said he had one more honor to give out… to the girls who were a part of Mixed Juice, the team that won the VS Arashi Rolling Coin Tower competition!  He asked them to say a few words (which caused the girls to erupt into giggle and eventually turn to the crowd and say “Arashi are really really cool!”) before giving them the medals and trophy that they had received on the show.  The audience, for the most part, seemed just as tickled as I was by this, and it was a very amusing wrap-up to what I thought was going to be a fairly boring ceremony!

To Tokyo and Back Again

28 Aug

Last weekend, S and I hit Tokyo again, this time for a whole weekend!  This time, we were going to see a Sexy Zone (in case you missed the last post on this topic, yes, I know it’s an awful name) concert at Tokyo Dome City Hall, and then were meeting up with a friend on Sunday.  We woke up at the crack of dawn and braved the crowded trains full of people all headed towards the biggest city in Japan, and finally, after two hours of travel, we arrived in Ikebukuro, where we quickly stashed our luggage in coin lockers (we wouldn’t be able to check into our hotel until later that day) and hit… the McDonald’s!

ImageI know this sounds incredibly strange, but McDonald’s is completely different in Japan than in America.  For one, the restaurants are, by and large, cleaner and neater, and the portions are more manageable.  But more than that, either the ingredients that are used to make the sandwiches or else the way the sandwiches are made is of much higher quality, and as a result, the food is much more edible– or in fact, as I find it, delicious!  To top it all off, the McDonald’s marketing strategy in Japan is continuous limited time only sandwiches, meaning that there are always new and exciting things to try almost every time one walks into a McDonald’s restaurant.  In fall of 2010, the promotion was chicken sandwiches, with 4 or different sandwiches ranging from cheese fondue chicken to spicy “diablo” sauce chicken to “German sausage” chicken.  Each sandwich lasted for about 2 weeks, but they were so popular that they had a second run at the end of the cycle.  Right now, the theme is “international” sandwiches, and while especially in Japan, that’s basically asking for trouble, the product is often delicious.  Currently, the featured sandwich is the “India” burger, a breaded chicken burger with a spicy sauce, cheese, and lettuce. Yum!

ImageAfter our delicious early lunch, we headed to Tokyo Dome City Hall, a venue nearby Tokyo Dome.  Our seats for this concert were again not seats, but standing, and this time, we were sadly at the very top of the theatre, in the 3rd balcony.  This was unfortunate, but not the end of the world, and so we were excited as we headed to the venue.  Outside, the sidewalk was lined with flags advertising Summary, and, in true Japanese fashion, we took a photo (and we were by no means the only ones!) It was disgustingly hot out, and while we had tried to arrive in time to buy goods before they had to close the lobby to set up to let people in, we failed, and as a result, ended up waiting in the head for a really long time for no reason.  Oh well, you live and learn!
We passed the time by taking derpy Myspace-style self photos of ourselves and mulling around like everyone else, having no idea where the line was going to form or what was going on.  Our experience with concerts in sports arenas has led us to believe that Tokyo Dome City Hall is actually the worst setup for a concert; since it’s a theatre, it’s in a fairly populated area of the city, rather than set apart where there’s a large amount of space, and is therefore surrounded by malls, buildings, and even an amusement park.  There’s not much room to queue in front of the building, and while there are “guides” there to help, most of them talk into megaphones that muffle their voices beyond recognition, especially to a non-native speaker.  We were especially worried this time, since we had standing tickets rather than seats, but somehow, we managed to find the line for standing, and even got into the theatre fairly early! I guess getting there stupidly early did pay off somewhat.

ImageThe show was a lot of fun, and naturally got a variety of catchy bubblegum pop songs stuck in our heads, so there was no choice but to head to karaoke!  Karaoke in Japan is (from what I’ve heard; I’ve only been to Asian-style karaoke in America) very different than karaoke in America, where, I’m told, one sings in a public bar, in front of all the other patrons. In Japan, at a karaoke establishment, one gets one’s own small room with a monitor and karaoke system and picks songs off a small touchscreen remote.  Songs can be searched by code number (this changes depending on the system/karaoke chain, however), name, artist, and other categories.  One can adjust the music volume and the mic volume, pause, skip, or even choose to repeat the same song from the remote.  Additionally, most karaoke places come with one free drink or a drink bar (or rather, the patron pays for a drink as part of the price), and a large menu of foods, ranging from french fries and pizza to curry and Japanese rice balls.  Karaoke is basically a popular pastime for just about everyone, ranging from families singing the wide variety of Disney and kids songs available, to drunk salarymen or tired office ladies blowing off steam after work singing popular J-pop songs, to teenagers who want to sing Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, to more elderly patrons busting out their favourite enka tunes.
Naturally, we went and sang every Sexy Zone song in the system (this sounds more impressive than it actually is; being a relatively recently formed band, Sexy Zone has released exactly 8 songs) as well as other favourites by Arashi, Hey! Say! JUMP, and other Johnny’s bands.  We always seem to perplex the staff by not wanting to sing American songs, but hey, we make up for all the Japanese kids wailing Justin Bieber’s Baby and One Direction’s That’s What Makes You Beautiful, right?

After karaoke, we headed to our favourite curry chain, Coco Ichibanya.  It sounds pretty sad, but in Tokyo, we tend to hit all the chain restaurants we can’t easily get to out in Kiryu.  While it’s a great place to be, with lots of small family owned businesses, sometimes, I just want some gross fast food!  Walking around the area where we were staying, one stop away from Ikebukuro in a district called Otsuka, we noticed that there were lanterns and decorations set up for some sort of matsuri.  They were pretty all lit up in the evening, and I had never experienced a matsuri in Tokyo before, so I was surprised to see them.  We didn’t get to see any sort of matsuri festivities, but the decorations were still pretty to look at!

ImageThe next day, we met up with a friend and did some shopping in Harajuku.  I was reminded of why I hate Harajuku; as Sunday was most Japanese students’ (and teachers’!) last day of summer vacation, Harajuku was packed to the gills with shoppers and tourists.  For those only acquainted with Harajuku through Gwen Stefani’s famous (and, in my opinion, relatively offensive and just plain creepy) obsession with Harajuku, it’s perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be.  True, Harajuku is the home of strange and creative street fashion, but it’s also the home of a lot of con artists and pickpockets.  There are essentially two places that I’ve been in Tokyo where I felt as if the normal sense of Japanese safeness and security wasn’t there, and one of them is Harajuku.  Additionally, the famous Takeshita Street is one of the most dirty and disorganized places I’ve been in Japan.  While Omotesando Street, which curves to run practically parallel to Takeshita, is much cleaner and nicer and is home to many quality stores and boutiques, and while Harajuku is definitely the place to go for many different shopping needs (including Forever 21, American Eagle, and H&M), it’s not my favourite place in the world.  However, it’s also the home of the Johnny’s Shop… but perhaps that’s another story for another post!

After a fun day of shopping, we grabbed some sushi before tiredly catching our train back to Kiryu.  The following day was the first day of school, after all, and we needed to be well rested!

A little variety

27 Aug

ImageIn Japan, a popular type of TV program is the variety show.  I have to disclaim, I’ve never seen a variety show in the US, but I’m fairly certain the Japanese incarnation is fairly different.  “Variety” basically covers everything that isn’t fictional or the news, and sometimes is much more topic and talk based, while other times means a competition or borderline game show.  Many variety shows are somewhere between the two, with talk and game portions, or quiz portions, or… anything, really!

One well known variety program in Japan is “VS Arashi,” a show hosted by the extremely popular boy band (you guessed it, under the Johnny’s and Associates agency).  The show usually features two teams: the Arashi team and a guest team, each doing five different games and earning points.  If the other team wins, one member of Arashi is chosen as the “most dame Arashi” (generally translated to “most faily Arashi” in this context) and is dropped into a pit of foam.  The games are all fairly simple tasks with fun or difficult twists, such as Bound Hockey, a game where each member has a station with a small movable wall on a giant air hockey table and the members have to move the puck from one end to the other and get it into a moving goal at the end of the table.

ImageAnother such game is Rolling Coin Tower.  The game is played with a turntable and “coins” that are essentially small plastic weights.  Each player must stack at least one and not more than three “coins” on top of the growing “tower” and the person whose coin makes the tower fall loses the game for her team.  This game is usually played by Arashi and the opposing team, obviously, but last Thursday, there was a special episode of VS Arashi.  Apparently, staff from the show went around to different regions of Japan, allowing groups of four middle schoolers to compete in Rolling Coin Tower competitions, and then the regional winners competed in quarter and semifinals in the studio on the show.  Last Thursday, this show was broadcast, and I was surprised and delighted to see that the winners from the Kanto Region of Japan were from my city of Kiryu!  Our mascot, “Kinopii,” designed after a specific style of roof that we have in Kiryu (cute, I know) even appeared on the show.

ImageHowever, I was even more surprised to discover that two of the middle schoolers in the team on the show (entitled “Mixed Juice” for reasons that I don’t understand) were from my middle school, Chuo Junior High!  In other words, my students were on VS Arashi.  I was very excited, especially since variety shows are usually reserved for idols, talents, comedians, actors, and other TV personalities and don’t usually have everyday people on them.  But my students had made it onto a variety show, and not just any variety show, but one hosted by a boyband very popular with kids their age.  Even better, they won their quarter-final… and their semi-final… and the whole tournament!  My students became the national Rolling Coin Tower champions on national TV.  It doesn’t get much more exciting that that!

♫ ~one more time, two more times~ ♫

21 Aug

On Sunday, I finally went to my first concert since coming to Japan with JET!  One of my favourite pastimes in Japan is going to theatre shows and concerts, and I was especially excited for this one because it was for one of my favourite bands, Hey! Say! JUMP.  And so, S and I rose bright and early to catch the 7:15 train from Kiryu to Takasaki, where we took the shinkansen or Japanese bullet train to Nagano, where the concert was being held.  The trip was long and we were quite sleepy (I had to wake up around 4:45 to get ready and make it to the train station on time!) but luckily, the excitement for what was to come steeled us for our long journey!  Besides, we looked great in adorable matching outfits (this is normal for Japanese idol group concert-goers; we were definitely not the most matching out of all the girls we saw) featuring member colours (often members of Japanese idol groups have a “member colour” that they often wear in shows or have their names written in on goods; Sarah’s favourite member’s colour is red and mine favourite member’s colour is pink, as you might guess from the photo.)

ImageOn top of how tired we were, it was about a million degrees out, but we survived our trip and managed to meet up with J at the venue!  There, we stood in line for goods (the goods vendor was outside and the line was long, so as a result, we got very hot and sweaty and S got very sunburned) but eventually emerged victorious, having spent our money and collected our spoils.  They were sold out of the t-shirt (how does that even happen at concerts?), so I couldn’t get that, but I think between the tote bag, two photosets of four photos each, a clearfile, and the pen light, I got enough.  To clarify, photosets are common concert or play goods in Japan, usually consisting of two or four photos of a certain member, and clearfiles are common Japanese file folders made of translucent plastic (the Gunma folder I got in Maebashi is also a clearfile).  Pen lights are the Japanese answer to lighters or cell phones in America; they essentially are some sort of cute shape light a night light on top of a rod so that fans can hold them up during the concert and move them in time with the music.  Especially because Japanese fans tend to be more subdued than American fans at concerts in terms of noise level, penlights are a good way to show support for the band.

After that, we had about an hour before the doors to the venue would open. Like basically everyone there, we were hot, thirsty, hungry, and tired of standing around in heels, so we headed to a mall next to the venue and grabbed coffee and food from the Dotour there.  Of course, the place was packed, and we ended up having to sit on the ground and eat, but practically everyone was in the same position as us, so it hardly seemed like a big deal.  While we were sitting, we also looking over our photos and the pamphlet that S got before heading back to the venue, the Big Hat arena from the Nagano Olympics (complete with Olympics themed decorations all over the place.)

Back at the arena, we distributed uchiwa before going our separate ways; J had bought her ticket separately, so she was seated away from us.  In fact, we weren’t seated at all… we had standing spots.  We thought that this was going to be awful, but as it turned out, we were on the first balcony (the next level up from the arena) right next to a part of the catwalk.  We could easily see anyone walking around the catwalk and figured they could see us fairly easily, too.  Highly relieved, we settled into our spot and waited for the show to start.


Once the show did start… it was quite the experience.  Johnny’s and Associates’ talents’ concerts are always high budget and over the top; Johnny’s is known for crazy costumes covered in glitter and feathers, extensive sets complete with neon lights and automated moving elements, and the use of wires and moving stage parts.  The group started the show on platforms held above the stage by wires before they were lowered to the stage, and there was quite a lot of flying throughout the show.  The singing and dancing were all great, and at one point near the end of the show, when the members were walking around the catwalk, I’m fairly certain one of them saw S and I and did a double take because he was so surprised to see foreigners!

By the end of the show, we had managed to get two encores out of them and they were all clearly hoarse, and all in all, it was amazing.  I had a really good time, and despite how tired S and I were by the time we made it back to Kiryu, it was totally worth it!  After such a fun time, I’m definitely looking forward to the next concert I’m going to next weekend!

Just another food post

20 Aug

ImageI know it seems like I’m obsessed with food from this blog, but… well, it is one of the major joys in my life, and I just can’t contain it.  So I’m sorry that this blog is consistently being spammed with food!

First and foremost, I have a confession to make… I’ve sort of become a cooking person.  It’s still not really that cooking is something I super enjoy, but I like being creative with ingredients and I feel like I shouldn’t just eat anything when I can make something that tastes better, especially when I’m cooking for other people.  I’ve been mostly making really simple things that use chicken, onions, broccoli, garlic powder, paremsan, and generic tomato sauce.  Still, the things I make taste pretty good, I think.  I’ve been eating them for dinner Imageand bringing them to school in bento, or Japanese lunch boxes, originally wood and lacquer but now usually plastic.  Pasta in a bento isn’t exactly kosher, but… it’s tasty! Perhaps someday I’ll get better at artful bento
arranging, but for now, I’m glad I’m able to bring something to work to eat, even if it is pasta… Soon, school hot lunch or kyushoku will start (much more edible than American school lunch, I’m told, and eaten by most teachers as well as students) and I won’t be bringing bento to work anymore, anyway, so I guess bento art isn’t a necessary skill in my life.  At any rate, I’m sure there will be another post about food when I get to experience kyushoku for the first time once school starts!

ImageI also found something that had been lacking in my life at my local department/grocery store: Anakena wine!  Though my go-to brand of wine in America is “black box,” which is cheap and delicious box wine (I was a college student, okay) Anakena is something my parents almost always have around, and it tastes like home for me!  So I was really excited to see that the brand was sold in Japan, even if it was pretty expensive.  For whatever reason, I can’t seem to find any pinot grigio wine in Japan, and maybe later I’ll discover another brand that’s less expensive that I like, but for now, I’m pleased!  After all, white wine is one of my biggest pleasures in the world, so I’m glad I won’t have to give it up like the last time I was in Japan (my study abroad program forbade drinking, unfortunately).

ImageAs I mentioned above, I’ve been making pretty easy pasta dishes lately, but the one other thing I’ve mastered is meat and broccoli in generic brown sauce, a la Chinese takeout.  It’s not exactly high art or anything, but it’s actually quite tasty!  Broccoli and onions make a little meat go a long way on top of rice, and since in Gunma, vegetables are really quite cheap (they grow them locally!) it’s a pretty good meal.

ImageAs much as I’ve been cooking and eating in, I’ve been able to eat out some, too!  Last Wednesday, we were taken to Takasaki, the largest city in Gunma, for work related reasons, but we also got to go shopping.  We ate at an Indian restaurant in the mall in Takasaki station, and it was delicious!  I had been craving Indian food since I left America, and I got to have it finally, hurray!