elementary Saroma


Leaving the elementary school today, I talked to two 3rd grade boys who were playing on a snow pile.  I asked them what they were doing, and one boy said “building a snow slide!”  The other boy pointed to his crotch and said “A snow slide for boys!” and gestured to a small horn shaped mound of snow on the side of the hill.  Then the first boy proceeded to slide down the hill, his crotch slamming into the mound, comically grabbing his privates for dramatic effect.  It made me laugh and made me remember what it was like to just be a kid.  I think adults have to lose that.  It’s sad, but really, what kind of society would any culture have if all of the men were to do shit like that all the time?


America elementary English Japan Middle School Saroma

Yes We Can Make It So.

I’ve been putting off writing for a while, not feeling any inspiration, feeling tired, feeling over or underwhelmed with daily life.  I still have to talk about Remington’s visit, my Okinawa trip, my general life here in Saroma.  I’ll get there.

Yesterday at Wakasa Elementary, I taught 3rd and 4th graders how to say “What’s this?”  I brought a box full of random things from my house to show the students, and asked “What’s this?” for each.  I planned to make each object progressively more difficult and weird, so my mystery box contained an old pool ball from 3719 Mason, a stuffed walrus, a sock, a green monkey glove, a Russian militia hat, and my 8-inch tall figurine of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.  When I pulled the Captain out of the box, one of the five students instantly yelled “YES WE CAN!”  Barack Obama is practically a celebrity here, with this phrase being the hayari kotoba or buzzword of the day.  I have students nearly every day saying it at every opportunity.  I even helped two junior high students write a skit in which they meet President Obama.  It goes something like this:

Alaska America car Saroma travel

Natsuko’s Visit

Two weekends ago, I had a nice visit from a good friend.  Well, she wasn’t technically my friend at the time, but I don’t see how she couldn’t have eventually become so.  Natsuko is from Hokkaido, born near Saroma, and grew up near Sapporo.  She went to school in North Dakota with my best friend, and has visited Alaska on her own.  I met her three years ago when I stopped in ND to visit, and she’s been a Facebook friend since.  Facebook is designed to mirror your friends in reality, but we meet so many people once and then never again, that you end up becoming facebook friends, where you can follow along with what that other person is doing but without actually having any contact.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing overall, but in this case it was.  Natsuko was coming back to Japan for a vacation and wanted to see her family up in Hokkaido.  Well, sheesh, I happen to live here in Hokkaido, right where she was going to visit!  We had a great weekend, discovering we had a lot in common.  I grabbed her from Memanbetsu airport and drove back to Saroma via Abashiri and Tokoro, where we stopped to walk on the beach, and found an old man harvesting scallops that had been kicked up onto the beach by the waves.

Tokoro Beach

English Japan Middle School Saroma travel

Life, Snow and Finns

It’s been snowing here as life is taking hold of me once again.  An update is daunting yet necessary if this blog is to continue and I figure it should.  I was talking to John, the ALT in Kamiyubetsu about blogging this week (his blog is linked to at the right in the blogroll) and I was musing that I simply didn’t have any more piercing observations about Japan at this point.  I’ve been here for a year and almost a half and there are still things I love and things I hate, but they’re kind of just part of the days that go by.  I’ve been less than excited to write about the same old things, making observations that I’m not particularly qualified to make.

However, this morning is one of those lit by the extraordinary power of new snow, the kind that breathes fresh energy into old attitudes and makes an ordinary living room seem like home.  I’ve also got a lot to talk about.  Last night Dad asked me what was new in my life, and I had to think for a while before answering:

America English Japanese Middle School Saroma

Early Election Results

Partly to further purpose of cultural education and internationalization, and partly as an outlet for my electoral frustrations, I had the 3rd graders at Saroma Junior High vote for the US President yesterday.  The 14-15 year old rural northern Japan demographic could turn this election.  First, I handed them an information sheet, which introduced the two candidates as well as new words.  Party, Age, Family, Hobbies, Slogan.  I left out policy matters.  Even if the English wasn’t too difficult, I doubted they would much care.  Then they did a fill-in-the-blank paragraph using the new words they had learned.  After, we spent 15 minutes watching some campaign commercials from both sides (stupid ones from both sides too), a few minutes of the third debate, a few minutes of the SNL parody of the third debate, and an “Obama Quest” Daily Show clip.


Then they voted.  Across both third grade classes, Obama won in a landslide: 49 votes to 11 for John McCain.  That’s a 64-point win!  I think we can all feel relieved from this new poll that Obama is in good position for victory.

In addition to their vote, I asked for a short explanation of their decision.  Essentially an exit poll.  McCain wins on experience, and Obama wins on youth and coolness, with McCain’s age a big deciding factor for this demographic.  Here are some of the more interesting ones:

Japan Saroma

This Isn’t Japan

I’ve been to Hokkaido a few times before, but didn’t really appreciate it until this weekend.  Having lived in Honshu for a year, I have developed an image of Japan and the Japanese that I’ve had wiped clean by this place and its geography.  I went east to Nakashibetsu for an ALT party but was astonished by the landscape.


It reminds me so much of so many other places that are nothing like Japan: Alaska, the American Midwest, Australian Pasturelands, the German Countryside.  Cows, Corn, Hay, Potatoes, Onions, Cabbages, Horses, Unused Forest, Wild Animals.  There is room here.  Niigata feels like a closet in comparison.


Really, does that image remind you of Japan?

elementary Japan Middle School Saroma

New Same Job; New Same Life?

I’ve been here in Saroma almost a week now.  I am an Assistant English Teacher for the Saroma Town Board of Education as part of the Sister City relationship with my hometown of Palmer, Alaska.  It’s a pretty sweet deal, and everything is going well enough, but I somehow haven’t found the right adjustment knobs and levers for my brain and emotions, respectively.  The schedule is a lot harder to get used to than I feel it should be.  I have to relearn everything about the house and town.  It’s almost as if I still haven’t allowed myself to mentally reenter this life place.  I really cranked down my Japan thoughts while in America.  Like shut it off.  I think maybe cultural transition is like a coal-fired power plant: it takes a lot of time to start up and is really hard to make similes with.

I have a nice house though.  I’ve been spending a lot of time sleeping in it.