Powered by Blogger

    This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from isaacarnquist. Make your own badge here.

    Pepy Ride


    Ueno Village

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Leaving Home for Home

I am filled with mixed emotions right now. Tomorrow morning I will be leaving a place I call home for another place I call home. Bittersweet. I have lived in Japan for two years now. I have met some of the nicest people on the face of the earth, done some incredible things, been able to travel a smidgen of the globe, and lived in a completely unique (and sometimes bizarre) country.

I taught English to day care students, elementary students, junior high school students, and even a few old, eager elders. I learned the names of every single one of them (something I thought would never happen), what they liked, who their brother/sister was, what subject they excelled in. Not only that, but I feel like I really got to know them. Despite the mother tongue language barrier, it is amazing how much can be expressed with a little patience and a few basic words.

I came to Japan sporting a goatee, being able to speak 3 or 4 words, not knowing how to use chopsticks, weighing 106 kilos, and not knowing anyone in Japan. Now, I am leaving clean-shaven, able to speak 3- or 4-dozen words, a chopstick pro, weighing 92 kilos, and with a friendship with an entire village in the Japanese countryside!

What's next? At the end of August, I'll be moving to circa Austin, TX to attend graduate school in analytical chemistry. It's sad to think of a new beginning when you wouldn't mind not having the last thing end. But yeah, life goes on. I am ready for the next adventure! This blog was pretty much dedicated to my experiences in Japan. I would like to start another blog about happenings in my life, but analytical chemistry (endearingly known as Anal Chem by chem majors) isn't exactly the most exciting thing to read about. We'll see what happens. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog, I know I sure enjoyed writing it!

Sayonara from Japan. I'll see you in America.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Easy Choice, Right?

This is where America and Japan differ--not to mention about a billion other things.

America...bigger is better...more bang for your buck...something for nothing...fat people. I always chuckle as I push the button on the left and think of the poor sucker who can't do simple arithmetic, ratios, and/or see. Poor sap.

Japan...land of the rising sun and a few other things that are so strange and contadicting and peculiar that I may never know. Anyway, they may have it right on this vending machine. The capitalist inside me just puked...but yeah...if you don't want to drink the big one, why get it?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Yari-ga-take: 槍ヶ岳

Yari-ga-take (trans. Spear Peak) is the cantankerous, stubbornly rooted boil of the earth's crust. Protruding and poppable, but not. You think a peak so steep would just fall over. Not the case. The only things falling over are the people trying to climb it. To make things interesting (worse), Enid and I decided to climb it in the middle of a typhoon. Don't worry Mr. Havelaar, I made sure nothing bad happened to your daughter. Thus begins the picture book with witty dialogue.

Here is Enid climbing down the "Ladder to Oblivion" after summiting the peak. The combination of the wind, rain, and altitude almost made this photo impossible. I'm not really down with heights, so I told myself to not peer over the edge...but I had to capture those pearly whites.

Here is the obligatory summit photo with beautiful view backdrop, minus the beautiful view backdrop. At 3180 meters, Yari-ga-take is the fifth highest peak in Japan. On a clear day, you can see scenery most Japanese people only dream about. What I saw? The fog on my lenses and a nameless typhoon (the Japanese people just number them...they don't want to get personal with storms of destruction).

These are the said "Ladders to Oblivion." You would probably never guess it, but the one on the left tried to kill me.
This is "The Funnel." If you happen to fall while crossing these giant snowfields, good luck. You will slide down that mountain valley faster than expectorated mouthwash in a dentist's side sink.

Enid shows us how to navigate "The Funnel." She knows how to stick to the trail like plaque around the gum line.

This is me in a crevasse. I included this picture for 2 reasons: 1) it looks cool, and 2) I have never used the word 'crevasse' in a serious sentence.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cultural Realization #782

Japanese people are great at embellishing things. From ornamenting their entire dashboard with Pooh-san (Winnie the Pooh) and other stuffed animals, to landscaping and irrigating every square centimeter of land, they really know how to make anything look good (or gaudy). Even poop.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

It's Training Cats and Dogs

My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Freese, (what a scary name for a teacher) still affects my life from time to time, even though I am way past long division (I have a calculator), memorizing state capitals, and believing that he was the arch nemesis of Spider-Man. He introduced me to the phrase "Perfect practice makes perfect." Not just practice, but perfect practice. If it is not worth practicing perfectly, then perfection will never be accomplished. There is truth in this...there is also the entire Japanese psyche wrapped up in this phrase, especially if you add the Boy Scouts' motto as a kicker.

During my two years in Japan, I have been trained (in Japanese mind you) on how to give CPR, what to do in case of an earthquake, a fire, a landslide, a tsunami, if a lunatic comes to school wielding a knife, how to administer an automated external defribrillator (for comparison, this happens during 3rd year of medical school in the states), and how to best help a student who has just fainted and/or is hyperventilating. This is hands-on stuff, too.

Turns out, if a psychopath comes to school dressed in the usual psychopath clothes (the first tip-off) which includes wearing sunglasses inside, you should go straight for the best defense against such a foe: the gigantic 2-pronged fork that sits in the corner of all the classrooms. You use the gigantic 2-pronged fork by sliding a tine under each armpit and pinning him up against the wall, much like a slippery noodle on fine china.

They also start them young in Japan. Last Wednesday, we took the pre-schoolers (age 3-5) to the 3-D tsunami and landslide simulator instead of playing musical chairs. That was a bad idea. As soon as everyone had their over-sized 3-D glasses on and the door to the enormous semi-trailer/simulator was closed the havoc began. Let's just say I've never experienced a simulated boulder and a few mechanized chairs cause so many real tears before.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bandai-san: 磐梯山

As my friend Daniel so eloquently put it, "If the earth had breasts, they would be Bandai-san." Bandai-san is a voluptuous volcano in Fukushima Prefecture in northern Japan. Back in the day it erupted, rather, exploded. The northern side of its caldera burst out, like that one time I drank an entire bottle of prune juice even though I was already regular. The debris and liquid hot magma (that is probably my favorite phrase to say...liquid hot magma) clogged the rivers and streams, forming lakes and ponds copiously.

Some of the ponds are tinted cyan, saffron, or brick red from the minerals in the water. The colors were so bright at times that I felt I was walking through different divisions at the Crayola warehouse. In fact, I even pondered if chemicals were being added to heighten the effect. Honestly, you have no idea how much tourist revenue a couple colored ponds brings a community in Japan.

Well, anyway, we continued our hiking pilgrimage by making a weekend of Bandai-san. We camped near a lake along with the mosquito population equivalent of China. Enid played the role of martyr by wearing shorts.

With magnificent views surrounding us, Daniel and I bonded near the summit. You may remember Daniel from such hikes as Asama-yama Part 1, Cloud-grabber Mountain: A Survivor Story, and the lesser known Aka-dake: This Would be Really Gorgeous If There Weren't So Many Clouds. Sadly, Bandai-san was our last hike together. Right after this photo was taken, he fell 300 meters to his death. Well, in actuality, he didn't die. He is staying in Japan and I am leaving. So, save me a hike for when we see each other again Daniel, and some stories.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Greatest Job in the World

They pay me to do this!

Aren't they cute? The first time I did this with them I almost laughed, cried, and crapped my pants at the same time. System overload! I especially like watching the little boy on the left, the girls in the front (one of them never bends over), and the random boys that are too cool to partake but still storm right through the middle every now and then.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Finding Peace on an Active Volcano

There were moments in my life when I thought I was most definitely an extrovert. I would feel so alive and recharged when I was active with others. Then, I slowly but surely realized the importance of alone time. The flip-flopping began. Extroversion inverted to introversion. The prefix jury is still out on what 'version' I am. However, I have my own theory.

I am eco-verted. Nature is my sanctuary. Nothing makes me feel more alive. I don't know what it is. Chemicals are balanced. Perceptions are positive. Deadlines are forgotten. Celebrations are remembered. Whatever it is, it clicks.

Enid, Justin, and I hiked Mount Asama (click here for previous story about this mountain) last weekend. It was the best hike of my life. The rainy season took the weekend off and allowed blue skies the chance to wash blues away. We could see the snow-capped peaks of all the major mountain ranges in Japan, roughly 30,000 rice paddies, and were even able to take some photos without having powerlines in the background.

Life is good when you are on the edge of a volcano, you can see how far you've come, and you're in your environment, even with the occasional hallucinogenic huff and puff of volcanic exhaust.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

America's Pastime...in Japan

Baseball is considered America's game, but per capita, Japan takes the cake in terms of baseball fanatics. A baseball game in Japan has the usual stuff you would see at a game in the states, except here you can also find organized cheering, an unusual seventh inning stretch routine, grown men openly crying over a regular season game, 800-yen beers, cheerleaders circa 1981, the sissiest looking mascots ever, and a lot of quasi-English baseball words: Fighto! Nice Pitchy! Curbu Baru! Ret's Go! Just watch this video illustrating the evolution of the seventh inning stretch routine. There is no "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" sung over on this side of the Pacific.

Monday, June 04, 2007

24 Beers and 1 Trophy

The 25th Annual Ueno Village Volleyball Tournament was held on Sunday. In all the different nooks and crannies of this tiny mountain village, there are about a half dozen neighborhoods filled with volleyball enthusiasts ranging in age from twenty-somethings to sexagenearians. Each neighborhood puts together their best team members to represent them on the court. I live in the neighborhood of Nippa (新羽) which loosely translated means 'new feather' and was a shoe-in for being on the team. Nippa cruised to two easy victories to make it to the champioship game versus the crowd favorite Katsuyama team. The first set went to Nippa quite handedly, then the second to Katsuyama. It all came down to the final set. Try to imagine an environment mixed with moments of deafening silence and then deafening roars. The scoreboard seesawed its way toward match point. Who would get yearlong bragging rights? Who would hoist the Ueno Cup? More importantly, who would be hoisting glasses full of complimentary beer at the champion's party?

The answer: Nippa

Down 19-20, we fended off match point. Then, I served out the match by winning the next three points. We felt like rock stars. The local TV station interviewed me, a humbling experience. I mumbled through my limited Japanese, "Last set...eh...very fun...eh...we worked hard...umm....this game was good. Arigatou."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fishy! Sushi! Touche!

You are a tuna. Swimming in the depths off the coast of Spain or New Zealand, you get caught. You are thrown in the deep freeze colder than the deepest waters you've experienced and hauled to a faraway land. You arrive freshly dead and hard as a hull. An auction takes place, and your worth is equivalent to a small fuel-efficient automobile. You are hauled away once again, this time by the highest bidder. You are sawed up, hacked up, sliced up, and diced up. You go every which direction, still cold and still fresh. Some of you ends up whirling around on conveyor belts being sold for a buck a plate, while others are $10 per piece in a restaurant with a drink menu and a rock garden out front. You are eaten. You are delicious.

From sea chicken to tiger prawns, if it is seafood, it can be found in Tsukiji fish market. Tsukiji is the largest fish market on the planet. There are more than 450 species of fish sold at the market, from the tiniest sardines to enormous swordfish. In order to catch a glimpse of the action, you must arrive shortly after dawn. That's when the latest catch of frozen tunas are slid out into position, much like a submarine during torpedo inventory. The auctioneer rambles, hands fly, money is made.

Soon after the auction, most of the fish will be sliced into rectangular form shown above, ready to be placed on a miniature bed of rice. This is sushi. If the raw seafood is served solo, without rice, it is called sashimi. We hit up a sushi bar for breakfast (nothing like raw fish to get the day started) after visiting the fish market. I paid about ¥1500 ($13) for 4 pieces of sushi--super fatty tuna (otoro), fatty tuna (chutoro), tiger prawn, and sea bream (tai). I must be turning Japanese because it was one of the best breakfasts I've ever had.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Buddha Boogers

My meditation involves picking my nose. Buddha doesn't have that luxury.

Buddha Stole My Girlfriend

If you look closely, Buddha is actually blushing. So much for living a simple, ascetic life Buddha. As Thoreau once said, "Life with a woman is antonymous to an ascetic life." Sure, she likes your easygoingness and your open ears now, but eventually you're going to have to get off your bum and do something with yourself. Status doesn't stand for everything...of all people, you should know that.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Weekend At Home

I love where I live.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Different Country School

Sometimes I feel like I am teaching at a Montessori school in the boondocks of Japan. I am definitely in the backwoods, which is no small feat in Japan. Japan is basically a sprawling messy mass of powerlines, masonry work, and millions of bustling black-haired people. However, Ueno village (the village I live in) is different.

Yesterday, afternoon classes were put on hold so we could all go out and pick garbage up around the river. Last week was even cooler for the wee naturalist inside me. We hiked up the mountain in search of lunch for later that day. Basically, we learned what plants were edible and what were poisonous. We picked the good ones and headed back to the school.

I was part of the rice squad. We made fires by the riverside and boiled rice. I felt like a boy scout with a lighter, minus the sewing. We did one of the most peaceful yet exciting things while the rice boiled; we skipped rocks. It's amazing how trying to find the perfect stone, throwing side-arm, and counting in a different language brings you closer to someone and transcends age and culture.

The tempura squad was battering the wild plants with as much vigor as a pancake chef working in a lumberjack camp with a cathartic reputation. Soon enough the sound of oil splattering stopped and lunch was served. The menu: curry (fireside) rice, wild plant tempura, and edible grass salad.

Next event: the all-school volleyball tournament. You may remember, last year I broke my glasses by blocking a spike with my face.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Quirky Quagmires and Moonsets

Enid and I's hiking adventures continued through the second weekend of Golden Week (4 holidays packed into one week). The weather was just starting to get nice, and it was way to early for us to climb the 3000+ meter Japanese Alps, so we settled for hiking the undisputed most beautiful marshland in all of Japan, Oze, and a peak in tourist-laden Nikko.

Oze is an elevated marshland spanning three prefectures famous for its spring blooms. In particular, in late May and early June the beautiful mizubasho come out in full force. Mizubasho is a beautiful bog plant whose name was lost in translation: skunk cabbage. E and I went early to bypass the heaps of tourists strapped with enormous cameras and tripods. It turns out, though, there were still tons of people there....AND heaps of snow! We tented it, and let's just say, sleeping on the snow is about as relaxing as it sounds.

It seems even the cold weather was on our side though, because we slept so little that we ended up getting up at 4 am. We saw the moon set and the sun rise....something I haven't seen since....ever. We cautiously walked our way across the snow pack, which at any moment would collapse and submerse your foot in a bootfull of water. Next: the nature of Nikko. After running over Enid's boots with my black bomber (don't ask), driving up a one-way mountain pass in the wrong direction (again, don't ask), and waiting in a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere, we hiked up a holy volcano. It was no Mount Ararat, but it did have a heavenly view and hell bubbling below it's dormant crags.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

In the Shadows

Whenever I find myself on a peak in Japan, I usually recite all of the surrounding peaks on the horizon ("There's Asama....there's Myogi....there's the Northern Alps, Central Alps, and Southern Alps!"). As I spin my head round, with jaw muscles relaxed and mouth agape, I secretly wish to finish with "And there's Fuji!". However, despite easily being the tallest mountain in Japan, it is often hidden behind the smog of thousands of Toyotas and a thick cloud-woven halo. It makes it that much more spectacular when you actually do see it.

After hiking and camping in Tokyo (Yes, see above. That is what a campsite in Tokyo looks like), we hopped in my black bomber with snow tires removed, and headed toward the pure white snow of Fuji. The mission: to climb a neighboring mountain of Fuji for a (fingers-crossed) awesome view. Below, is what we saw.