car Japan JET Murakami

Good ups and downs

I have had a cold for more than two weeks now, sort of a nasty thing keeping my immune system’s first line of defense hyperactive. My good friends Chris and Andrew visited over the weekend from Osaka, which was a lot of fun, if tiring.

My car blew a tire driving back from Yamagata Prefecture on Saturday. Sort of my fault for not putting air in it when someone said “Hey, your front right tire looks low,” but also route 290’s fault for suddenly turning into the Alcan without any warning signs. I drove the car down to Sanjo on Sunday to have it repaired, and I received a replacement car, which is a tiny kei-car, basically a tiny, short, lightweight, plasticky, rattly toy of a car.

Chris and Andrew also visited my middle school on Monday, and did a great job of making the classes interesting for the students. Later that day, we pulled a bit of mischief and hopped the fence into this funky little obstacle course up the coast, ziplining and swingfighting and then hightailing it when an old man slowed down and stared at us as he passed.

Today, I overslept for the first time, waking up, to my horror, at 8:20 AM, about when the morning meeting was starting in the teachers’ room and about 25 minutes before my first class. The rest of the day actually proceeded pretty smoothly. No one seemed to make anything of it except the older teacher I sit next to, who offered a helpful explanation that “because it’s so cold, maybe you just didn’t want to get out of your futon.” I swear she talks about nothing but the weather, which I still can barely understand. But all of these things have me feeling rather tired and antsy.

Basically, while I like it here and have settled in quite well, the weeks are beginning to fly by and I, always entertaining notions, have begun to consider them. Anyway, fall time is pretty nice here, even if the weather has recently been very wet. I’ll end the post with a happy photo of the fall colors and ocean from near the top of Gedo Mountain to the north of town, which I took during the very enjoyable and relaxing Monday I had off last week. I’ll post more soon about tetrapods, Andrew and Chris visiting, and other excitement.

Fall colors

JET Murakami

Thundersome Finances

The loudest thunderclap I have ever heard woke me up last night. Around 2 AM, I confusedly hopped out of bed to an enormous, violent explosion. Then, as if I were in a bad movie, it instantly began to rain like crazy. I haven’t experience a good thunderstorm in a few years. Nebraska has always been one of my favorite places because of its fantastic spring weather. Since August, I have come to enjoy Murakami quite a lot. Last night, after a pleasant day of errands, wandering, and a short mountain climb, hearing a violent and unexpected thunderstorm was a pleasant confirmation of my happiness here.

One of my errands on Monday was to send some money home from my most recent paycheck. I signed up with a remittance service with Lloyds TSB in Tokyo that allows you to send money home using the ATM at your local bank. After a rather long process at the post office last month to send money home, I decided this would be a better deal. The price was the same as the post office – 2000 yen, and seemed much more convenient. While the post office charges a flat rate of 2000 yen for any amount, its money orders are mysteriously limited to $700 US. It took me considerable time to write out my mother’s address four times and I figured using the ATM would be easier and just as cheap. Well, that is not so.

The exchange rate on Monday was a pretty good 114.83 yen to the dollar. I sent 100,000 yen home. My bank charged me ¥530 for the furikomi transfer (which was a mind-boggling kanjifest that took me about 10 minutes to finally get right), and then Lloyds, in addition to the flat ¥2000 fee, charged 1% on the ¥100,000, and then Wells Fargo charged me a $10 wire transfer fee to put the money in my account. So it cost me ¥4725 ($40.50) ¥3675 ($32.00) to send home $843 dollars. Last month at the post office, it cost me about ¥2500 ($21.75) to send home $1466 dollars, including the international registered mail for the money orders.

My recommendation to others in this situation is to simply make it to the post office before they shut down their bank section at 4:00 and avoid Lloyds, unless you really like the convenience of the ATM. The postal method is especially recommended if you are sending home large sums, since it is a flat rate. The only advantage to Lloyds’ service is that it takes only one business day, which, now that I think about it, is really convenient.  I submitted the remittance yesterday at noon and the money is in my account now. If you don’t have someone trustworthy in the states to deposit a large amount of money for you, or if you are in a rush, then Lloyds does make sense.

English festivals JET Middle School Murakami


teacher meToday I ended my six-day week with an 80 minute lesson for my middle school’s annual culture festival. Over the past few weeks, I managed to overprepare while still squeezing in a good amount of procrastination. My goal for the lesson was to have students practice natural greetings. “I’m fine thank you” is perfect English, but it’s boring as hell and the students know it by rote, not by creative, situational choice. First, I taught simple greetings, like “yo, hey, howdy, what’s up, whassup, ‘sup, what’s happenin’, how’s it goin’, what’s goin’ on.” I made the students form a circle and pass some balls around to the right, each time saying one of the greetings, which I had magnetized to the board for their reference. Second, I taught answers to “How are you” besides “I’m fine, thank you.” “sleepy, awesome, great, OK, so-so, super, good” all topped the list. I also showed them which words could be intensified by “really.” I then made them toss one ball across the circle from person to person, after which the tosser and tossee would have a little conversation. They weren’t allowed to answer “I’m fine thank you.”

festivals Murakami travel


You never get enough ketchup for your fries here.

I actually just have some catchup to do. Good thing I didn’t spell the post title ‘catsup.’ What a stupid spelling.

Back in August, I went to a festival in Sekikawa (25 minutes to the south by car) called the Taishitamonja Matsuri. The name is a pun – taishita means huge or significant, mon sort of means the thing that is huge or significant, and ja is a slangy negative sentence ending which sort of indicates disbelief. Cleverly, though ja also means snake. So the effective nuanced meaning is something like “The most unbelievably big snake I have ever seen Festival.” It holds the world record for the longest big huge snake that people carry around a town. Yes, people carry around a 300-foot long, 2-ton snake for several kilometers through the town, all the while chanting and drinking beer and trying to make the snake crash into bystanders. I finally put up the pictures from this interesting event.

Check them out: Big Huge Snake

English JET Middle School Murakami


Ahh, this is the life.While in Shibata on Sunday, I found a game of Boggle at the Hobby Off.  I bought it in a hurry, even though it was like 11 bucks and was missing the sand timer. I brought it to the middle school for the three days I was there this week, and used it in my classes. Student response was varied, although overall I was impressed with how well they did. I of course simplified the rules, allowing them to use letters in the 4×4 grid in any combination and any number of times in a word. I also had the students choose what letters to put in the grid, which resulted in 16 of the easiest letters in our 26-letter alphabet being on the board. But, still, they had to assemble words from their own memory, and from the textbooks in front of them, which I think was good recognition practice and got their brains working. One group of girls, who otherwise didn’t have very many words (one group had 26) found “Merry Christmas,” which, as they were sad to learn, is two words.

While the lessons went well, I was more impressed with the interest that other teachers and students showed in the game while I was at my desk, walking in the halls, leaving school. In those occasions, I would try to be a good linguacultural ambassador and show them the game as it is actually played. I would have expected that students would find it too difficult and lose interest, but the opposite was true. Even on a board with three L’s, three I’s, two R’s and a Qu with no other vowels, three second grade girls gave me their undivided attention for 10 solid minutes, and I was the one who had to call it quits. Outside in the parking lot, a group of eight or nine boys stood around me as I shook the letter cubes over and over again. One boy immediately stood out, finding words before I did, including making an entire sentence: “I use rope.” Not bad for a 13-year old non-native speaker of English playing by real Boggle rules. Here’s the game board he was working with. See if you can do any better.