Sunday, January 30, 2011

the poetry of Eimei Junior High

Here are some acrostic Valentine poems by some of my third-year students (equivalent to 9th graders in the U.S.).

Believe in your kiss
Because I love you.
You thanks last night.

Atomic Bomb Dome

For you.
Like flowers.
Octopus like branch.
Everyone likes for you.
Rainbow like you.
Super girl is you.

Centigrade of me is
Heat if I see you.
Over there, there is baby oil.
Can you go to love hotel with me?
October 24
Life of us was keeped in the future.
Anything is wa

I didn`t make any of those up.  I will miss this job.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nozawa Onsen

A couple weeks ago, Zack talked me into going to Nozawa Onsen. Nozawa is a ski resort. I still haven't conquered my fear of the tops of mountains and activities that can potentially lead to paralysis, so I was hesitant. Zack promised that he wouldn't snowboard and would instead play in the snow with me.

It was the most snow I've ever seen in my life. We borrowed sleds from the ski resort office and sledded around the village.

Showing off the cool snow pants Zack gave me for Christmas.

This was burned at the Fire Festival later.
We were supposed to stay for the famous Fire Festival, but we (and our ride) were exhausted by night fall.  We took a dip in a free onsen (hot spring), got a bite to eat with friends, and headed home.  It snowed hard on the highway, so it was probably good that we left early.

It was my first time at a ski resort.  It was the first time I've ever sledded.  I felt the way little kids who live up north must feel every winter.  Scared.  Exhilarated.  Like the world was my playground.  

Meanwhile, back in Chino, it only snows enough to make life slightly more annoying.  Ice in my shower.  Frozen olive oil.  Ice in the school swimming pool.  There are patches of ice on the road that refuse to melt and bits of snow that never go away.  It isn't very beautiful.  But that's what places like Nozawa are for.

Monday, January 24, 2011


The hot topic at the morning meetings this week has been インフルエンザ, a.k.a. "infuruenza," a.k.a. the flu.  The school nurse took me aside last week and told me to be careful because one student had the flu.  That number has risen to at least 2 or 3, and everyone is on alert.

Face masks have been popping up across the classrooms like dandelions in a field.  Bottles of ethanol have been placed around the school for people to clean their hands with, American hand-sanitizer style.

The Japanese have been wearing masks long before the swine flu craze of last year.  When you have a cold or allergies or any sickness that might mean coughing and sneezing, it`s common courtesy to wear a face mask in Japan. 

The masks are so ubiquitous that they are also a fashion statement.  This article has great pictures of the many different kinds of face masks that are available in Japan.

I feel a little tickle in my throat today, but I`m hoping to avoid donning a mask as long as possible.  Masks make everything feel like I`m in some doctor`s office or the final scenes of E.T. when the government takes over their house.  Not to mention the fact that it`s hard to breathe with one on, let alone talk clearly.

Last year, entire grades in Zack`s school were shut down because of the flu.  This was even after face masks were made mandatory for everyone, sick or otherwise.  So, do the masks really work at preventing the flu?  It`s up for debate.  Even if they do work, everyone takes them off for lunch, which seems to defeat the purpose.  But, like many things in Japan, it doesn`t matter if it makes total sense. 

The masks are more than just a potential preventer of disease; they are a statement.  They are a sign of politeness, the one thing that Japanese people value more than anything.  They are the least confrontational way of saying "I`m sick."  Like the seemingly useless head scarves we wear for fire drills and cleaning time, they are just part of the culture.  And that isn`t changing any time soon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

power in a time of helplessness

I don`t want to go into my religious views right now (it`s complicated), but I will say that I absolutely believe in the power of prayer.  My prayers are almost always answered, and the few times they aren`t, there is a really good reason.

If you also believe in this power, please pray for my grandma.

My grandma was just diagnosed with breast cancer.  She is a wonderful, sweet woman and a good person. I don`t get to see her very often because she lives in Ohio.  They are doing surgery tomorrow to see how advanced it is.  So please just pray that the surgery goes well and that the prognosis is good.  I`d really appreciate it.  Her name is Alberta.

And if you ever need a prayer sent your way, just let me know.  We can always help each other, even when we feel helpless.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

it begins

I got my scores from the GRE in the mail yesterday.  I had viewed them online, but seeing them on paper made it real.  I have to apply to grad school this year. 

When you take the GRE, they let you pick out 4 schools to send your scores to for free.  I was prepared for most of the test except this part.  I hadn`t thought at all about what schools to apply to.  I was putting that off until after the test.  I also wasn`t prepared to hear that it costs $23 to send a score to a school after the test is over. 

I just picked four schools at random.  Either schools that I heard amazing things about or schools that I knew had good financial aid programs.  One of those schools was the University of Iowa.  I am obsessed with the University of Iowa.  So many writers that I respect have attended the Iowa Writers` Workshop.  It would be the dream of all my dreams to go to school there. 

I finally looked at the website for the Iowa Writers` Workshop today.  And now I am scared.  I literally shook a little as I read the admission requirements and browsed the bios of the faculty.  What the hell chance do I have to get into this program? 

I`m going to try anyways.  The application deadline for Fall 2012 is January 3, 2012. The application fee is only $60, which I`ve come to learn is pretty decent for a graduate school.  I have almost a year to get my writing together. I think I can do it.  Even if I don`t get in, I am determined to show those highly-accomplished professors my best work to date. 

I don`t know if I can handle looking at more admissions pages today.  I am so much more afraid of this than anything else.  Ever.  Except maybe caterpillars and the very tip top of mountains.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Wednesday, January 5, 2011


It`s the time of year when I make a list of goals that I hope to accomplish in the year.  Here is my list for 2010. I`ll cross off the things I actually did.
1. Finish the novel that I started in Nanowrimo
2. Get a full time job in Japan
3. Never drink as much as I did on Halloween.
4. Be a better environmentalist/vegetarian.

5. Get pretty skin.
6. Start figuring out grad school and long term goals.
7. Plan a wedding.

I certainly didn`t accomplish number 1 but I am happy with where I am in terms of writing and planning for the future.  I also didn`t drink as much as I did last Halloween, which is pretty good, but I`m far from conquering my demons with alcohol.

So, here are my goals for 2011:
1. Get into grad school, preferably a fully-funded program.  (Did I mention that I rocked the GRE?  I got my scores online and I am quite happy with how I did on that analytical writing part and the verbal section. Now comes the hard part: creating an amazing writing sample.)
2.  Get at least 10 stories published.  It`s astounding that I actually finished some stories last year--3 total--but I only got one of them published.  I`m waiting to hear back about one of them, and the other was a flash fiction that I now regret submitting because it`s pretty bad.  But I am determined to get the hang of this completing-a-story-and-submitting-it-for-publication thing this year.
3. Figure out what I want out of life.  I have to do some soul searching this year.  I know I can`t possibly figure out every little thing that I want for myself, but I have to figure out a few things. This is the hardest part of being a grownup.
4. Run another half-marathon...or even a full marathon.  I still can`t believe how much I enjoyed running a half-marathon.  I really long for that sense of accomplishment again.  I want to run at least one more race, preferably for charity, this year.
5. Get in shape and get pretty skin.  I`m already working on this one!
6. Give to charity whenever possible. I didn`t donate to charity last year, and it makes me feel like crap.  This year, I plan on helping the world whenever possible.
7. Read.  A lot.  My first mission when I return to the US, after giving a million hugs, will be a trip to the library.  I haven`t been buying books because we`re heading home soon, and I am going crazy. 

I have another goal for myself that I`m keeping a secret for now, but I`ll tell you about it when I`ve accomplished it.  I am really happy about this goal. 

Oh yeah, and we finally reserved some plane tickets.  We will be Atlanta-bound on March 25.  I love Japan, but I cannot wait to be home.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Peace Memorial Park

I've been to a few truly Tragic places in my life.  One of them was the Imperial War Museum in London, where an entire floor is dedicated to the Holocaust.  The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam still haunts me.  I tear up every time I think about the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, where guests can actually look out on the balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.

These places are sad and important.  They show us what can happen when humanity lets  greed and irrational fear take over.  They show us how precious human life is, and how easily it can be taken away.

So on December 28, Zack, Andy, and I took the shinkansen out farther than I've ever traveled in Japan.  We went past Kyoto and Osaka, down to the port city that became a center of military activity in the early 20th century.  A place where 180,000 people died over the course of a week in 1945.

The most famous monument in Hiroshima is the Atomic Bomb Dome.  It looms over the Peace Memorial Park.  The bomb exploded almost exactly above the building, leaving the walls and dome in tact.

This building was originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Hall.  It was left as a reminder  of the terrible power of atomic bombs.
The Peace Park was scattered with monuments to the different groups of people who died as a result of the bombing.  One of the monuments honored the junior high school students who were mobilized during WWII to help ready Japan for potential attacks.  These students worked on building demolition and the creation of firebreaks.
The goddess of peace stands for the students who lost their lives.
One of the saddest stories I heard was that of Sadako, a girl who was only 2 when the bomb was dropped.  She developed leukemia ten years later from radiation exposure.  She made a thousand paper cranes in an attempt to get well.  She didn't get better and died at the age of 12.  Today, people around the world make paper cranes and send them to Hiroshima to show their support of world peace and in memory of all the children who died because of the A-bomb.
A statue of Sadako holding a crane.

Paper cranes from around the world.

My favorite part of the park was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  The museum only cost 50 yen to enter--less than 50 cents--and was full of historical documents, heart-wrenching stories, and a disturbing look into the Nuclear Age.
Wax figures representing what some of the victims looked like.  The heat was so intense that people's skin hung in tatters.

This tricycle belonged to a 3-year-old boy who was burned to death.  His father didn't want him to be buried alone, so he buried the little boy with his tricycle.
A model showing Hiroshima before the bombing.

A model of Hiroshima immediately after the bombing.

I learned a lot about WWII history and Japan's military history in the museum.  The first atomic bomb was dropped mostly as an experiment to test the weapon's effects.  Hiroshima was carefully chosen as the site of the bombing because it didn't have any prisoner-of-war camps and it was just the right size.  The museum did not place all the blame for WWII's destruction on one country, though; all countries were held responsible for their own actions in this terrible war.

The goal of Hiroshima is to eliminate nuclear bombs from the Earth and create world peace.  As long as nuclear bombs and war exist, we are all at risk.

I am so grateful that I got to visit the City of Peace at least once in my life.