America childhood Japan Sapporo

A Multiple Wammy

Wammy is a Japanese toy recently on the market that consists of pliable pieces of plastic that can be connected to other pieces to make virtually anything.  Without having tried the toy myself, I bought a box of them for my five year old sister Paige, and sent them to her for Christmas.  They were a huge hit.  They were the present she played with on Christmas morning, and made her the envy of all her cousins.


This toy is not yet available in America, and I had thought it was only being sold in Japan, but apparently it has made its debut in the UK.  Follow this link to see a five minute video (almost entirely in Japanese, but you can get the idea) about the toy’s popularity abroad so far.


One strange thing about the toy’s creation is what inspired the idea for the shape of the pieces.  Nejiri konnyaku or “twisted konjac,” a common Japanese food made from an odd gelatinous food made from an odd type of yam.  Here’s a photo:


If anyone is curious what “Wammy” means, well, it’s a Japanese pun of sorts.  Combining the words for loop (wakko) and to braid (amu, or ami in the nominal form), we get wamii, which looks better when spelled Wammy (for decorative English purposes).

Since hearing about how much Paige enjoyed the toy, and watching the previous video, I decided to try some Wammies myself, and bought a small “ocean” themed set for 500 yen the last time I was at Bic Camera in Sapporo.  Along with Yoshie, we couldn’t stop playing with them.  They’re fun, addictive, and as my father said, much much more enjoyable than Legos because they allow one to be much more creative, building and destroying without worrying about how you’re going to take it all apart or where you’re going to put it or what you’re going to do with it when you’re done.  It’s a toy that maximizes exploration, one that’s hard to put down once you’ve started experimenting.

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The Hostel Northampton Project

A college friend of mine, Jeanine Dargis, is starting up a hostel in Northampton, Massachusetts, near my alma mater (sort of) of Hampshire College.  I was actually rather surprised that there wasn’t already a hostel in that town, considering the sort of nice little place that it is.

In order for the project to move forward, they need to raise some money.  $15,000 dollars.  I decided to pitch in a bit, because starting a hostel is something I’ve thought about, and I’d like to see them succeed.  The neat thing about this donation system is that your donation doesn’t actually become a real donation unless they meet their funding goal.  In that sense, it’s a pledge, kind of like the pledges in elementary school for Jump Rope for Heart.  Your uncle’s 1¢ per jump pledge will only becoming a $20 donation if you actually bother to do all 2000 jumps.

So, if you appreciate the uniqueness of hostelling and feel like chipping in, go to the link below and pledge some dollars to help them meet their goal.

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Culture is such a weird thing.  It defines nearly everything we do.  The time we wake up in the morning.  The side of the road we drive on.  The size of cups at McDonalds.  Whether of not we have to capitalize mCdonalds.  The types of cellphones we own.  The size of our car tires.  The width of our roads.  The varieties of beer at the store.  The taxes we pay.  The way we cook meat.  The designs of our kitchens.  The prevalence of dryers.  Where we take our shoes off.  How we bathe.  What we eat with.  Partially, our language.

We all live our lives, yet we never really think about it.

Unless we leave it, and experience another.

What the hell is culture determined by?

Geography (latitude, longitude, continentality, elevation, precipitation, population, population density, access to the outside world, access to resources, electrification, wildlife), media access, art, politics, climate, history, (including dumb, random, sad, stupid, and unfortunate history), and of course (with the extent of which debatable) language.

Yet, culture itself can determine half of those things.  What boggles me about culture is that no one can really define it well.  Karl van Wolferen, in The Enigma of Japanese Power, quotes it as “the totality of man’s products.”

But what is that?  It’s essentially a copout explanation of the confusing crap I’ve already written above.

Your thoughts?

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A Ridiculous Trip

Well, not that ridiculous, but at one point I felt such a feeling.  Here’s not what I did, but how I moved.  You judge.

Friday. Saroma to Mombetsu by car, 1 hour.

Saturday. Mombetsu to Sapporo by car. 5 hours.

Sunday and Monday. Sapporo to Tokyo via Tomakomai and Oarai by ferry and bus. 27 hours.

Tuesday. Tokyo to Minneapolis by 747 in business class. 10 hours.

Friday. Minneapolis to Anchorage via Seattle by 737 in first class. 9 hours.

Thursday. Palmer to Fairbanks by car. 6 hours.

Sunday. Fairbanks to Palmer by car. 7 hours.

Monday. Anchorage to Saroma via Taipei, Tokyo and Memanbetsu by 747 and 737 in coach class.  24 hours.

After all this moving around, I felt a real urge to be stationary for a while.  I always feel that way after a long trip, but this time I felt it more seriously.  I’m going to stick myself in the proverbial mud of Saroma.  Come and visit?

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Papua Japan Alaska

I always try too hard to make clever post titles, so I didn’t bother this time.  I also have an increasing tendency to write very long, deep posts every month or two rather than writing more frequent posts every few days.  It’s frustrating to not write for so long, but it’s also frustrating to write something that seems extraneous or forced.  I wrote two very short articles for the Saroma-Palmer Sister City Newsletter yesterday, very quickly because they were already weeks past the date I had promised them by.  They read like 5th grade book reports.  I’m not ashamed of them, but not as proud of them as I am of the writing on other parts of this blog.  I guess in the end, I mainly write for myself, and if I ever choose to become a writer as a profession, I’ll have to learn how to do it for others.  For example, last years post about my Papua New Guinea experience was written over several days, with a lot of editing and careful thought, but also with a lot of inspiration.  I browsed back to it on my iPhone on the way to Papua New Guinea a few weeks ago and was impressed with what I had written.  It took me back to that first experience and made me newly excited for the next.  Hopefully I can keep doing that.

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Good Stuff

I need to write a lot of things spanning from December through the winter to March.  I’ve worked myself into this idea that I can’t write unless I have an unlimited amount of free time to write into, that somehow I can’t write a blog post over a few one-hour sessions on weeknights.  I treasure that lazy Sunday morning, with a cup of coffee and a donut and NPR.  So, with the intent to write, I thought I’d also do some willing advertising.

Pandora, the fantastic online radio service is disallowed outside of the US.  That sucks, and it’s been a thorn in my side ever since moving here.  But I recently remembered another, older and more traditionally simple internet radio station that somehow is as amazing and listenable as Pandora but without the fancy tech.  Radio Paradise is something that my uncle Andy told me about more than five years ago.  It’s free, it’s high-quality, and it has no commercials.  And it’s good!

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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:

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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

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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:

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