Final wisdom from Japan

Well, this blog sort of flickered out as I grew accustomed to my life in Japan, and I post today to inform you, dear reader, that I have returned to my homeland after 4 wonderful years in Japan. It is therefore with a heavy heart and bittersweet conviction that I conclude this blog with some final tidbits of wisdom that I've learned in Japan through work, the culture, and my valued friends:
01. Precedent is very important.
02. Put it down in writing to avoid miscommunication.
03. You don't need a tip system to have great service.
04. When public speaking, the goal or thesis is most important; decide this first. The message and the take-away are more important than the details. 
05. Only one exclamation mark should be used in each e-mail.
06. Foreigners in Japan are unicorns: magical and mythical creatures which many Japanese regard with wonderment and curiosity. Things are always awkward, however, when there are multiple unicorns in one room with a group of Japanese. Sometimes they compete to show who is the "most magical."
07. Plain white collared shirts look damn good.
08. Queen bees in a small community don't get along.
09. The Japanese fear caterpillars.
10. Altering a small habit is the best way to affect a huge change in your life.
11. Bad things happen just after the most difficult times. Many problems surface in April/May.
12. Sugar goes well with egg.
13. Leave things better than you find them.
I hope you've found this blog instructive. Send me a message any time with questions or ideas about Japan. Over and out.

How to exist in Seoul

Yesterday: DMZ, Pizza Hut, Participation in a high school class project, Seoul Tour, North Korean beer, 2 consecutive dinners, makkoli.

Today: Making Kimbap with hostel staff, browsing street markets, eating stall food, etc.

New policy

As of next month, for the first time, we can come to work without a necktie. Wooo! The rules are turning upside down! Anarchy!

No seriously though, that will be nice. Also it's been a while. How are you? I have been to Bali, as you know, and I became a certified Advanced Adventurer in scuba diving. Despite my better judgment, I went out for the 5 day advanced course, despite coming down with HORRIBLE BRONCHITIS on the first day and CRIPPLING CONGESTION. I was uncomfortable, but at least my lungs didnt explode and I'm no worse for wear.

I am on the up and up. I am rapidly readapting to single life which, it turns out, isn't that bad. I have been staying very busy on purpose and exercising almost every day for the last month. After all, becoming sexier is the best revenge.

Anyway, here are some pitchers:

Jenn's mom meets us for some authentic charsew in Hong Kong. We wash the utensils in the complimentary tea "just to be sure they're clean."

words cannot describe how good this is.

Welcome to Bali.

Our first dinner? Fresh seafood. We picked our own lobster from this bin.

Grilling our fish.

About half the inhabitants of bali at any one time are obese Australians in Bintang tank tops. This one is eating a chili dog.

Balinese cuisine

A fisherman. Taken from our scuba diving boat

Our hotel had a really big bathtub.

Certified "Advanced Adventurers!" This arm thing was my "trip pose"

Artists at work in Ubud

Musicians accompany a performance depicting the folk history of Bali

Playing in the "Monkey Forest" of Ubud

In addition to the "visa fee" there is also a fee to be paid for LEAVING, which they dont tell you about until you are about to board your flight. And the only ATMs are outside of security. Way to leave a bad taste in our mouths, Bali.

Completely unrelated, but I MADE RICOTTA CHEESE! WOOO! This is so good. You have no idea. Yes, I'm better than you.

I love you, Hong Kong

I am on a much needed vacation after getting dumped last week. More on that later. Right now I am smitten with a new love: on the way to 8 days in Bali, we stopped in Hong Kong overnight.

Hong Kong is AMAZING. Let me rephrase that. Hong Kong is maybe the coolest place I have ever been. Between eating plae after plate of Carsew pork, duck, and fried noodles; mulilevel tech bartering markets that fill whole office-sized buildings; hookah bars; Chickin Tikka kebabs, affordable, decent beer, and impromptu dance performances in the middle of the streets on Wednesday nights, it seems I have falled deeply in love with this city. And we've only just met. Oh dear.

I have to give props to Jenn Chan, who was the best tourguide a boy could ask for during our short romp through HK. She spent 8 years of her life there, and so it is less of a magical exciting affair for her and more of a chance to show some friends her hometown. Our 22 hours there felt more like a week, and now we are settling into our resort in Bali. Much of day 2 has been spent waiting in customs at Despansar airport, which is an unfortunate place with poor organization. and lots of confused people in crowds.

Bali has a high bar to reach, but I have a feeling that it won't disappoint. More later. BYE.

wandering mind

I was in the office retrieving some supplies for the new year and as I closed a sliding door to a drawer, a corner of one folder was sticking out so that the door closed on it.

At that same very moment an office dude let out a pained groan and I had a private little moment of entertainment imagining that the office staff is connected physiologically to the office supplies which they purvey a la Avatar.

Also I think maybe I've been slowly losing my sanity.

Over and out.

Names to remember for when I become an MC or DJ

O.G. san (Ojiisan)
MC Escher
Spatial Ghost

Saturday morning

I have nothing special for you today, besides the fact that I'm eating this divine brunch on a leisurely Saturday afternoon. However, it's been a while since I have had a day like this to write to you, so I thought I'd hit you with some fresh thought-juice.

The third semester at school is rapidly drawing to a close, and I have been working the poor first-years like a slave driver to complete a final project for my class: Show and Tell. Much like American kindergartners, my students will each bring a small object (or picture of a larger object) and describe it to the class in English. It has been a major improvement on last year's final project, wherein the students gave a speech about their "future plans." What I like about Show and Tell is that the topic of discussion is linked directly to a tangible object from the kids' own lives. Needless to say, it has been interesting to see what they bring.

Hands down, the top popular choices have been: cell phone charms, keychains, and mechanical pencils. This represents a good 60% of the speeches because (a) everyone has them and (b) they are often given as gifts or souvenirs. On a linguistic note, these are called keitai charm, key holder, and sharp-pen respectively in Japanese-English.

While there are plenty of such cop-out topics, some of the more interesting choices have been: The autograph of an stunt pilot who subsequently died in a later airshow, a picture of a pet parakeet, a science magazine, A ring from Australia, and so on.

So as you can see, it is just as interesting for me to observe the students, as it is for them. Moreso, actually, by and large. I like watching the decision process and seeing their attempts to describe what is important about these things. The downside is that I have had to hand-check about 300 1-page essays, but as always with that process, I have learned as much about Japanese as they have about English. A lot of the same mistakes seem to come up over and over again, and the more Japanese language I know, the more understandable these errors are. But that's a topic for another post. Another blog entirely in fact.

And on that note, I would like to introduce you to a spin-off blog I have been working on. It's called Student English and it will be devoted entirely to the funny things my kids write, say and occasionally do, with an emphasis on highlighting their written work.

By all means, check it out at your liesure. Names will be blurred to protect the insane.

Also, I have begun a collaborative blog with a few of my friends, dedicated to the things we eat here in Japan. I have been meaning to start a food blog for ages, so this is right up my alley. The last 12 posts are mine, at the moment. Give it a gander.



Last Friday I met up with an old teacher from my school. He had been working here for over 10 years already by the time I rocked up at the school, but he was transferred the following spring for a stint at the bureaucratic "Education Center" for purported self-study and training.

Though he was not an English teacher, he had an interest in international culture and always made an effort to make small talk with me in English. Not the boring thoughtless small talk that people usually make either, such as "So do you like Japanese food?" "Cold today isn't it!," etc.) ...No! he'd ask me interesting questions and treat me like a peer, so we became casual office friends.

Anyway, he still lives in my town, so the other day he took me out for dinner at a great local Yakitori shop and then we hit up a local Snack Bar, where he has been a regular for 16 years. Apparently he has a bit of a crush on the hostess who was young, as was he, when they met in his single days. He would often go there on weeknights, pass out and spend the night, heading to work in the morning. He says that the students used to make fun of him for having whiskey on his breath. But to see the gentleman today you'd never know it.

At any rate, the man whom I happened to pull up a stool next to at the Snack Bar happened to be the father of one of my students. To be specific, he was the dad of the loudest kid in my loudest (40 boys!) class. This guy was good people and we more or less had the following conversation:

"Hey, you know if my kid is being a dumbass in class, feel free to just whack him upside the head"

"Hahaha! Ok got it! But seriously though, no i wouldn't dream of it!"

"No seriously, it's cool!"

"Awright, awright."

{20 or 30 minutes later}

"Hey you know... if my kid is being a dumbass in class, feel free to just WHACK him upside the head."

"Hahaha, okay okay, but i wouldn't dream of it! Really!"

The kid is really clever as hell, just rowdy. In fact he is the pupil mentioned in the PAIZUREE post.

Later he called his kid up on his cellphone and forced him to talk to me. The poor boy seemed kindve confused, and not all too pleased. But a funny night nonetheless.


In Japan, very few things are less desirable than an event occurring without a plan. Even worse is when things do not turn out as planned, or when a person breaks from the plan. Of course the whole social web of etiquette is one big plan to keep everyone happy, or minimally at peace with their misery.

Enter the foreigner, who is not literate in the language of the social landscape. Or, enter the KY Japanese man or woman who may be socially dimwitted, or simply does not give two shits about maintaining the cherished group harmony--and yes these people do exist in droves, even in Japan. All of a sudden our happy bullet-train to social harmony is derailed. The plan is shat upon and expectations are foresaken.

All this came to me while I was thinking over the expression "Bikkuri shita!" (I was surprised!) and how it is used. Obviously it is deployed in shocking situations, like when a baby panda sneezes...

but it it is also applied as a sort of scathing remark dealt to somebody violates the expected protocol (*note that there is nothing more rude than violating the expectations of others). It is not directly confrontational (making it perfect for the Japanese), but it gracefully draws attention to the fact that the speaker has had his expectations violated by the actions of the listener. With the proper intonation, this can be skin-blistering. Observe...

Let's use this to our advantage!


A look at what goes on my pale green lunch tray at school:
We have a cafeteria staffed by six wonderful people who prepare our food every day. They have a dirt-cheap menu with over a dozen delicious items to choose from, including udon, fried rice, curry, katsu and all manner of donburi. But usually i go for the teishoku, a set meal consisting of a main dish (there is always a choice between meat and fish), some healthy vegetable sides, miso soup, and a bowl of rice for 380円. It changes every day and it's almost always delicious. The only downside of the cafeteria is that you come out of there after 30 minutes smelling like fryer grease.

Today's meat teishoku was hirekatsu, which is a phonetic abhorration of "fillet cuts" in English. They are little pork medallions deep fried in panko. smaller and leaner than the average tonkatsu. very tasty. side dishes were a mixture of tuna, mayo and gobo (burdock), and oden: daikon and konyaku boiled in dashi. cabbage salad is served with almost everything, and the rice and miso soup make it a set.

The tea is oolong every day. Hot in the winter, cold in the summer.


The problem with paisley

I was teaching a class last week on the colors and patterns of clothes. We got to the word "paisley," which is pretty tricky to pronounce, so we worked on it together a few times.

One student kept saying it in an exaggerated katakana way and his friends were laughing "PIE-ZUREE?! PIE-ZUREE!?!"

Then I realized that what he was yelling with all his might was not an honest struggle to achieve natural pronunciation, but 「パイズリ」, which is Japanese slang meaning "titty fuck"

I had to lol at this. It was the first time i've totally lost it due to a dirty joke in class. Freakin' hilarious.

Japanese TV: You are my best friend

On this gameshow, contestents were playing 5-team pentagonal dodgeball, with pictures of "obscure" things like the Mexican flag silkscreened onto their uniforms. If a player managed to hit a member of another team, both players were brought to a corner of the stage where the striking player would have a chance to answer a question about the picture. A total of 4 players failed to identify this flag before the announcer gave them a hint by telling them to look closely at cactus in the emblem.

I think I've said it before, but it's worth saying again. I love Japanese TV. A man on a drama I'm watching just decapitated a doll in a wee-little guillotine and then stared at the woman in the room dramatically for like a minute.

Iloveit. Iloveit. Iloveit.

Then the other day I was watching a variety show. The episode was called "lonely christmas" even though it's late January. it was either a rerun or they were just pretending it was christmas. One member of the cast had recently broken up with his girlfriend and apparently he was really upset. To cheer him up, his friends decided to give him a girl for Christmas.

First, because his girlfriend was half-japanese (abbreviated "half"), so they said, they brought him to a terrace filled with 'half women nonchalantly checking emails on their cellphones. They urged him to go ahead and nanpa whomever he fancied. When that yielded no chemistry, they brought out a crowd of "new half" transvestites who ran on-camera and ravaged him in a dog-pile. One of the trannies tripped while running away, and all the variety show members yelled at him/her about it.

Then they brought him to a girls'-night-out style drinking party at a karaoke bar and plopped him in the middle of it. But all the women were overweight, eating fried food, and over-aggressively flirting at him. One of them kept getting up to go out for something, awkwardly having to traverse across everyone to get to the door, but every time she wound up with her ass or cleavage in the dude's face. Then she would promptly realize she forgot something at her seat and go back for it. This repeated itself 3 or 4 times. Finally, our hero ended up getting so fed up that he twisted her arm behind her back and plunged her face into the salad bowl. He held her down in the salad for a good minute or so as if he was trying to drown her in the toasted sesame dressing. Everyone on set had a good laugh.

Finally, because apparently the guy is good at saxophone, they put him on stage with a band at a 1950's Americana style hop. But unfortunately everyone at the hop was already in a couple, so finally one of the female crew members decided to go into the field and turn the tides. She ended up doing a flash-dance inspired routine, which abruptly turned into thriller and they wound up in a graveyard. At the end of the dance routine, they pushed the single guy into a grave filled with mud, and the tombstone read "AWFUL CHRISTMAS" in Japanese.

Hell yes.

weak sauce

Just a word of warning to those who love Italian food:

when you order a pasta in Japan, it will be spaghetti 99% of the time.

If it comes with a tomato-based sauce, the main ingredient is ketchup 99% of the time

Japanese people think this is an acceptable way to make sauce 99% of the time.

But one man has dared to think differently. On a variety program last night, I saw a piece on a very fancy restaurant in Tokyo that serves Western food. The announcers were interviewing the head chef in the kitchen and learning all about how he makes the food so delicious. He was cooking a tomato sauce and had a nice pan of eggplants and green peppers going in olive oil. Then he slyly he produces a small glazed ramekin containing a tablespoon or so of a mysterious dark red substance. He turns to the camera and basically says "Now here is the secret: first I add a bit of tomato paste. THEN the ketchup. Because there is less ketchup in the sauce, it doesn't taste so sweet and vinegary."

Everyone in the studio audience ooo'd and ahh'd at his culinary innovation.

Damn. Damn damn.

And that is the story of why I only eat italian food when I cook it at home.


おはよう and good morning to you all.

On Monday I took my last visit to the soon-to-be-closed-down agricultural school. I have visitted this school every 2-3 months during my time here and seen their English department go from two teachers to just one as the school is slowly phased out.


Some of the images from this year's exciting trip to Niseko, mentioned earlier.

Me and マイボード in FUK, terminal 2 (photocred Ryo).

Line starts here (photocred Ryo)

Coming into Sapporo. "Can you spot the snow?" (comment and photocred Andy)

The bus from Chitose to Niseko.

Finally. we arrive at our frozen paradise. (photocred Andy)

Our home in Niseko.

Morning view from the pension window.

Wake up, Niseko.

Wake up, Mike.

Wake up, Andy.

I'm probably explaining how totally gnarly and/or vertical i got on that last run. (photocred David)

A decrepit snow-anpanman or doraemon.

Bro grabs. (photocred Andy)

Snowboard monster: my newest, Frenchest friend.

A beautiful day on the Annupuri face. (photocred Andy)

Going up? What the lifts looked like on every other day besides the previous picture.

View from the top.

We ride and snap.

Imaginary girlfriend. "Wish you were here, Chiharu!" (comment and photocred Andy)

Cold, cloudy and windy. That's -10 Celsius. (photocred Andy)

Luckily the lifts run 12 hours a day.

Night boardin' till 9. (photocred Andy)

Crabs for th'eatin'

Susukino in Sapporo: "Like Tenjin but cooler."

The crab building.

"えびかに合戦," (SHRIMP CRAB BATTLE) was the name of our restaurant

The nomi/tabehodai FEAST!

tabehodai item 1: king crab AND snow crab legs

tabehodai item 2: crab, shrimp & shrimp tempura nigiri

tabehodai item 3: shrimp tempura

I was tempted to buy this.

Kani 'tache. (photocred Andy)