Alaska car elementary Saroma

Newsletter Articles

George Carté, head of the Sister City Committee in Palmer and former AET, asked me to write a few short articles on recent events in Saroma for the newsletter that he puts out.  I obliged him, and while I’ve written better, here they are.

Final Classes at Saroma Elementary

In Japan the school year begins in April and ends in March.  Last month the 5th and 6th graders at Saroma Elementary wrapped up the year’s English activities with some fun projects.
The two 5th grade classes spent the last three English classes designing their own countries.


In groups of four, they chose their country name, designed the flag, and thought of the president, currency, economy, geography, food, and laws.  They used English as much as possible.  It was a very open ended activity, so it took some time to get started, but in the end I was very pleased with the range and depth of student creativity.  The imagined countries included Sports Land, Junior Kingdom, and Dog Island (pictured).  I’m looking forward to having these students in 6th grade!
The 6th grade class spent their last two lessons writing and performing English skits.  They used all of the English they’ve learned in elementary school and then some.  The skits were performed in groups of about six students, so each student had only one or two lines, but they spoke with confidence, presenting some very funny material.  Skit situations included a restaurant, convenience store, police station, and mortuary.  Just this week, these students entered Saroma Junior High as 1st graders (7th graders).  I hope I can help continue their enthusiasm for English in the coming school year.


Snowstorm in Saroma

Coming to live in Hokkaido after 20+ years living in Palmer, I did not expect to be surprised by the winters here.  But the weekend of February 21st exceeded my expectations.  I awoke on Saturday morning to three feet of new snow plastered across my front door, and a seven foot high drift wrapping around the back of the house.


My car was similarly covered, although a kind neighbor used his front-end loader to clear me out.  I had planned to drive to Abashiri City that Saturday, but a quick check on the Hokkaido road office website showed a “road closed” X on nearly every major highway in the area.  So I stayed home and shoveled.  In the afternoon, the sun came out.  I braved the remaining wind and piled drifts to take a walk down the river levee toward the butter factory and back through town.  Everyone in town was outside, clearing off cars, driveways and roofs.  Those with snowblowers and loaders were helping out their neighbors, eager to get some use out of their expensive toys.  I’m glad the weather intervened that day.  Walking around Saroma on that sunny, white afternoon I felt the sense of community in this small town.  And I now have nothing to brag about concerning snowy winters.

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

car travel

Numajiri Onsen

After a very early Christmas Party and getting my snow tires changed, I set out from Sanjo on Saturday morning for Fukushima Prefecture. My goal was Numajiri Onsen, a natural hot spring in the mountains. I have been wanting to go ever since I found out about it here. The reason is that unlike most onsen in Japan, you can visit and bathe in the natural, unrefined source of the spring. Usually, when you go to an onsen, you pay an entrance fee into a specific bath that has water piped in from the nearby spring. While this is still a great experience, the source itself is usually inaccessible. So I was pretty jazzed about the chance to visit this place.

I took route 459 from Gosen in Niigata across Honshu to Fukushima, which sits on the eastern half of the island. Rather than spending money on the expressway, I opted for this route which parallels the expressway, but which is craaaaazy narrow and windy. I took me 4 1/2 hours to get from Sanjo in Niigata to Numajiri in Fukushima, arriving at 2 pm where I was to start out for the hike.

Numajiri Ski Area

car JET Murakami travel


Awesome sunset


最近の週末は新潟県チャリティーミュージカルの第二の練習でした。僕は、『不思議な国のアリス』のプレーに参加しています。実はプレーの名前は『Alice in Japan』です。僕は白いラビットに出ています。毎年、新潟県内のALTはミュージカルを発表して、売上金でパプアニューギニアの学校を手伝うようにしています。一月と二月に、9回ぐらい発表して、三月の末に一緒にパプアニューギニアに行って、学校を建てます。

三周前、第一の練習するため、他の村上市に住んでいるALTさんと一緒に上越市へ 運転しみした。私とクリスとリードとカトリーナは僕の車に入って、高速道路でズームしてしまいました。



Robot man



When you meet someone
you never dreamed you’d meet
you’re taken by surprise,
so you haven’t made up
any fantasies
and you’re not let down.




car JET Murakami travel

Sweet times

Awesome sunset

Kind of a meaningless title, but I guess it’s appropriate. I’ve finally kicked the cold I have been struggling with, and today after work I almost felt as if I was now in a recognizable routine. I filled up with gas, and bought fuel oil, and threw away some bottles and cans, and finished some other errands.

Last weekend was the second rehearsal for the Niigata Charity Musical. I am participating in a production of Alice in Wonderland (called Alice in Japan due to copyright issues) with about 25 other ALTs from the prefecture. I am playing the White Rabbit. Each year the ALT’s in the prefecture put on a musical and use the proceeds to help schools in Papua New Guinea. During January and February, we will put on about nine performances, then at the end of March, we will fly to Papua New Guinea for two weeks and help build a school, or something along those lines.

Three weeks ago, we drove down to Joetsu, toward the southern end of the Prefecture for our first rehearsal. Me, Chris, Reed, and Katrina hopped in my car and zoomed on the expressway.

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

car travel




Subaru 2Subaru 4Subaru 3Subaru 1


car travel


Hey, that’s a pun.

So I made my final and ultimate decision on a car. At least until July 31st of next year. It’s a silver 2005 Subaru Legacy 2.0R with 49,000km on it and a black interior.

Subaru 2Subaru 4Subaru 3Subaru 1

I am paying a fairly good chunk of change a month for it, but looking at it one way, only about 13% of my monthly salary. And that monthly payment includes shaken (shah-ken, a sort of car inspection tax), other car taxes, and full insurance that covers another driver in the car with me. I also don’t have any obligation past next July. And, for an extra 250 bucks, I am getting a roof rack with ski holder. Apparently, the car gets about 9 km/l. At 3.785 liters to the gallon, and 1.6 kilometers to the mile, I’ll let you math wizards figure that one out. And at about 144 yen for a liter of gas, at an exchange rate of 115 yen to the dollar, I’ll be spending some money on gas.

I’ll pick the car up on the tenth of next month, as it has to undergo the shaken process and get plates and stuff. I’m glad all that crap is taken care of for me!