Monday, December 10, 2012


And to think that sometimes I wonder why my kids tell me that certain common mistakes are actually "proper English..."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The wind beats heavily against the loose windows at Green House A, and the cold spots on the floor can be felt through thick socks, but the snow hasn't stuck yet (1),  my car (2) is riding high on her winter tires, and I have plenty of draft tape, blankets, and tea.

The prospect of heading out in the weather gets steadily less and less pleasant as the season wears on, but there's interest to be had here and there, as when, on a lazy afternoon a few days ago, I popped my head out my front door to find a scruffy foursome of neighborhood 5th graders playing kickball in the parking lot.

 <Oh, hey, it's you, from school!> <Kenny, right?>

--<Well, no, the other guy....>

 <Oh, yeah, Sutefu... Stephanie!>

--<Good guess-- she was the girl...>

<HEY, roll the ball for us!>

--<Is it really OK to be playing here? What happens if you hit a window?>

<Oh, Yuta didn't put any air in the ball so it won't go anywhere. Roll it real hard, OK? We're winning 8-2. >

<-- 6-2!> 

< OK...>

And so I ended up playing pitcher three innings in a row, doing my best to even up the score. It felt nice to get to do something social straight on without the usual round of Japanese introductions. Of course, there was a downside...


-- <What? I have a name, you know...>

<You're the kicker now!>

<OK, I have a name...>

<The yard behind the house over there is a home run, so hit it hard, OK?>

<It's David...>



<OH YEAH! David! YEAH! OK, hit it hard! >

And so on for the afternoon, and into the evening, when darkness fell, the boys' parents arrived to collect their (very very late) offspring, and I got introduced to my neighbors by their 8-year old sons...

(1) This waits until Saturday when the weather ministry calls for 20cm of accumulation, plus another 6 on Sunday, plus...

(2) Update: I settled on 雪子/Yukiko ('Snow-child'). It just seems like good voodoo. 

Monday, November 26, 2012


...officially here, I think we can fairly say. You don't wake up with a bit of frost here in Akita, you go to bed with a routine squall warning and wake up to find the rain has gone chunky-fiesta style and your friends are bragging about the first winter snowballs on Facebook. Here's the first dusting of snow that stuck in the courtyard at Higashi. An early preview of coming attractions? I hear the Weather Ministry has reversed its earlier, optimistic almanac, and is warning us all to bundle up...



When the plan was pitched to me in outline in a busy 2nd - 3rd period break weeks ago at Higashi Middle, it sounded like a slow-paced, relaxing weekend: a Saturday morning bus ride to a resort town in Yamagata Prefecture, an evening soak or two, and a return next morning. How could I pass up a chance to get to know teachers at Higashi better, soak in yet more of Japan's finest geothermal bathtubs, and do it all with the added relaxation of not having to do all of the trip planning--
 --although, come to think of it, I thought as I pulled into the teachers' lot at Higashi early on Saturday morning, I never really did get a chance to see the weekend's schedule in full detail...

I arrived just in time to help the aged groundskeeper with the last of the packing for the group: lifting an icechest of impressive dimensions onto the bus. Funny how moments that seem like groan-inducingly obvious foreshadowing when you recount them later never do seem to attract your notice when you might have stood to benefit from them. 

 <Good thing you decided to join us! We usually have more come along, but this year it's only 12 with you, Stephanie-sensei, and the Principal and Vice-Principal!> With numbers so significantly off their peak, it didn't take long for everyone to find their seats-- Stephanie and me in the back of the bus with the VP(1), Ms. Takahashi, one of Higashi's JTEs, and a few others, most of the rest of the crew forward with the Principal at the front of the bus. 

We were just on the southbound toll road at 8:30 when the Principal stood, thanked us all for coming, and proposed an official trip-opening toast. The VP opened the ice chest and...

revealed it to be entirely filled with beer and chūhai. No middle school teacher's outing would be complete without drinking before 9, it seemed. I'd expected an enkai, just not for it to start so early! Vast quantities of snacks-- cookies, dried squid, cheese sticks, Pocky, spiced peanuts-- appeared from somewhere, and before I knew it, the party was underway, as everyone around me began eating and drinking with an almost alarming sense of purpose.

I was wishing I'd brought some non-beer liquids to drink, and already feeling like I'd spoiled my dinner by the time we crossed the border into Yamagata and pulled up to what but an immense, and very busy seafood market/restaurant. Lunch? At 11:30?

There was a 45-minute wait for non-reserved seats, according to the overhead PA announcements. Why so popular? Apparently the specialty of the house was fish fresh from the fishing grounds off Tobishima, only a few kilometers away.

Our table, reserved under the name "Namahage Friends Association"(2) was already set for us with the group set menu, kaisen-don: a huge bowl of warm vinegared rice...

It may surprise some to learn that the dandelion (which is plastic) is the only thing in that bowl that is inedible. 

mixed liberally with a half-dozen types of sashimi and, almost as an afterthought, three large raw shrimp, each gravid with heavy masses of steel-blue eggs. It all tasted just as fresh as billed to my inexperienced palate, though working out how to get the shrimp out of their shells and into my mouth was an interesting challenge. (3) 

Full to bursting, we waddled back to the bus, where to my astonishment, my seatmates continued tying it on as we rolled south on the coast road. 

Even with the two rest stops that all that beer generated, we were still making good time. It seemed like I'd barely gotten settled when, to my surprise, the bus stopped, and we were herded, some a bit less steadily than others, toward the center of a city park... somewhere? Trying not to get left out of the  conversation inside the bus, which grew more and more thick with Akita-ben as the alcohol flowed had left me with no time to read signs since we'd crossed into Yamagata. "Where are we going?" asked Stephanie, looking a bit discombobulated. I had to admit I wasn't entirely sure. 

As I was piecing our location (Sakata, Yamagata) together from the guidance signs we passed on the way, the VP called a halt in front of an austere, attractive building in International Modern style. A plaque by the entrance read <KEN DOMON MEMORIAL HALL> and in beneath, in English, "Museum of Photography". It wasn't a name that rang a bell.
Our group seemed more interested in the ducks and koi in the river than the building or, as I discovered once we got inside, its collection. 

Not quite knowing what to expect from Mr. Domon's work, I followed the group inside.  "OK, we'll meet back at the entrance in half an hour", announced the VP as we passed the ticket gate. Ouch, that wasn't going to leave me much time. 

While working not to get separated from the group, which forged ahead at a beery approximation of fast march, I divided my time between trying to enjoy the sample of Domon's oeuvre on temporary display and casting about on Google for context. On display in this, the tourism off-season, were some of what must have been the guy's most high-concept stuff-- painstakingly composed and technically impeccable portraits, in large-format Kodachrome, of elaborate ikebana arrangements, shown in context with Buddhist images before which they had been apparently been placed as offerings.(4) Weirdly, for images as obviously the product of compulsive artifice as these (one explanatory display showed an austere basket of Japanese maple being borne down upon by a comically technical array of soft-boxes, reflectors, and floods), the finished images did such a good job of appearing to merely 'depict' their subjects rather than flaunting their technical chops that the effect was in some ways, more 'realistic'-looking than the flowers and statues themselves would have been. It was also, unfortunately, the kind of subtle, high-art vibe that was easily spoiled by being frogmarched by each photo in turn-- ironically it wasn't until our pace slowed fractionally in the museum's gift shop that I was able to take a look at the postcard stand and get a chance to see some of the more immediate work that had won Domon attention in the first place.

And so it was the rest of the day. We rushed back to the bus, rushed across the river (I had just enough time to see signs telling me it was the famed Mogami as they vanished in the distance)(5), and hurled on immediately to yet another attraction which turned out to be...

Above: Highly unexpected, and marred only slightly by the full length collapse (only seconds after this shot was taken) of one of the very, very drunk members of another tour group, wearing cheerleader pom-poms in his hair as a lurid mop top wig.

a refurbed geisha house and gallery with a brief afternoon ko-uta performance and photo op?!

True to form, we blew by a large collection of ink-painting and Taisho-era Deco bijin-ga in order to forge on to the aquarium at Kamo, where, along with 'the world's largest collection of jellyfish' we spun past a retro collection of local staple fish and octopi, and an old-school trained-seal show-- all in under an hour! (6)

If this looks like they've done it a few times to you you're not the only one.

A nominal fee let you pet the eared seals in the adjacent enclosure.

I may have been the only individual not to pass this tank and exclaim "They look tasty!"

An unidentified third party helpfully explains which of these flounder and sole is likely the most delicious.
Somewhere along the line, as I was following the group back out to the bus after a criminally short time in yet another of the afternoon's destinations, and a criminally long one in the souvenir store adjacent, it struck me that, really for the first time in Akita, I wasn't a foreigner.  As one more member of 'The Namahage Friends', I'd been reborn for a day as the ur-Japanese Tourist of the stereotypes, talking to no one outside my group as I was filed past attractions at optimum 'been there, done that' speed, on my way to the next gift shop with barely enough air space to mug for photos between. The cultural vertigo didn't help with the lingering stomach grumbles from lunch. 

My camera battery-- not to mention my battery--was nearly flat by the time we made it (at last!) to Bankokuya, the promised hot spring day's end stay.

But before the blessed hot water, dinner: the most elaborate kaiseki multicourse meal I'd yet encountered (beer, sake, and wine (7) to drink), and, right at the moment when I'd really started to feel my taste for adventurous food experiences slacking...

Hi there!

 And then, as if I was starving for stimulation, the after dinner rakugo

Guy actually told the "'Doctor, everything hurts' --'Your finger is broken'" joke. Good thing the audience had all had plenty of liquid dinner. 

amateur-hour chanbara

Have at you, rogue of a receptionist!
    and a children's puppet theater performance, in which, the actual children being too shy, I was picked for the audience participation bits and got to pretend to fish for magnetic bream, and break a fake sake cask full of sweets in return for a cream flavored candy, a picture pamphlet,  and a good-luck 5 yen coin.(8) 

And, as they say, was only the beginning. Before I slept again in my own bed on Sunday night, there was an enkai, a visit to the mountain backlot where NHK (not to mention Takashi Miike) shoots its samurai dramas,

It was... a pretty windy morning.

and, just as we got back on the long road home, the year's first flakes of slush. (9) That's what I call a weekend well spent!

(1) Amateur-hour anthropology: the Japanese workplace tends to encourage referring to one's superiors and less-familiar coworkers by their job titles, even in the comparatively relaxed context of a bus vacation. "To speak a name is to assert familiarity, even power, over the one so named", the armchair Orientalist might airily propound, "and in a hierarchical society such as that of the Japanese, the personal name fades, therefore, in importance before titles." Rubbish, but there is a grain of truth in it-- certainly I'm well into the habit by now, and have accordingly long since forgotten the given names of all of the  Principals (校長先生, kōchō-sensei), and Vice Principals (教頭先生、kyōtō-sensei) I work with at my schools, and most of the staff I don't actually have classes with-- a problem I would guess is not unique to me, given the number of times I've seen Japanese teachers address each other as 'sensei' without attaching a name. It is even possible that, since they're of a generation whose gender roles were even more strict than those that prevail nowadays, even the Principal and Vice Principals' wives use their husbands' names only rarely, and mostly refer to them as「あなた」, anata, (informal you) or related, stuffy forms.     

(2) ナマハゲ友人の会、namahage yūjin-no-kai, and yes, really.

(3) The consensus method is to grasp the shrimp hard where the abdomen and thorax meet with your chopsticks and pull the shrimp's head off with your free hand (the empty plate on which you measured soy sauce to pour over the bowl is an excellent place to put the 'spare parts'), repeat the process for the tail, and gently coax off the swimmerets and the remaining bits of chitin on the abdomen using hands and chopsticks. This is easier said than done, especially when it comes to not spilling the eggs. For once the compliments on my chopstick skills were genuinely earned!

(4) Ikebana flows directly from the practice of offering flowers to images of Buddhas, though the forms in these portraits, I was able to smugly note, were mainly of the more modern chabana, moribana, and free styles. Who knew that that kado class would actually come in handy?

(5) Long a famed scenic spot for its picturesque rapids. The fact that it has a haiku-conducive five-syllable name (最上川, Mogamigawa) seals the deal. Famed haiku poet Matsuo Bashō's lyric 

 samidare o 
atsumete hayashi 
(Gathering May rain 
and growing more rapid--
Mogami River)

is a piece of high-school literature class fodder of the kind so well known that silly takeoffs are inevitable...

(6) None of this modern, wishy-washy "we're just doing this to demonstrate their fascinating evolutionary specialization and highlight awareness of biodiversity"  nonsense, oh no. These were California sealions living in tiny barred cages and trained to wave to the audience, catch rings on their necks, and bash out 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' with their muzzles on a toy piano. The retro enthusiasm for Man's Mastery Over Nature on display was alarmingly infectious. 

(7) 16th century daimyo Oda Nobunaga entertained his samurai guests with the exotic taste of Dutch ship's-ballast plonk. Not much has changed between then and now-- grape wine in Japan is, at least as far as my shopping and drinking experience goes so far, an expensive import good consumed mostly as a novelty, without a great deal of regard for its objective quality. The stuff we toasted the weekend with at Bankokuya came in 'white' and 'red' varieties (screwcap, natch) and was, without a doubt, the most vile brew I've ever drunk without a rice-paper appetizer and a sign-of-the-cross. On the plus side, even though it had an insufferably clever name, (くどき上手、Kudokijōzu, 'Persuasive/Seductive'), the nihonshu of the night was very fine indeed. Good thing that, as his ritual role as host, the Principal was buying the $50' bottles! 

(8) [As one might address a very clever dog]: <Young fellow, CAN YOU UNDERSTAND OUR WORDS?> <Well, yes, I--> [reverting to fake Edo-period puppet voices] <Good! Here, takest thee this fishing pole!>

(9) When I got back my neighbor was just putting the fourth snow tire on his car in the bleak 5 PM darkness.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The chill is in the air for sure here at Green House A-- here's a quick video, on a chilly night, about how I've been keeping warm.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Lazy Saturday

It hasn't been an awesome week, all told. It's been a tough week of classes, the weather has been rain for days, and when the winds of winter blew a redoubtable NHK fee collector to my not-currently-paid-up door, only several tens of thousands of yen to be paid in large lump installments could induce her to take her leave.(1) My laptop's keyboard has given up the ghost after years of faithful service, forcing me to use a Japanese model whose layout is just different enough from the Western standard to be a serious pain in the butt. And to top it off, since Friday, I've had some kind of monstrous cold that honestly feels more like the kind of dread plague that used to suppress the premodern population.(2)

Which is the long way around to saying that really the only thing bloggable that's happened since my last update is that I made an unusually large grocery shopping trip. Which, since at least some of you might possibly want to know what I've been feeding myself with(3), forthwith I shall blog.

Artfully arranged.

This is an unusually large haul for a guy who's effectively living out of a beer fridge and cooking for one to boot, but the new crop of rice is in, and as I've just run out(4) this week, I figured now was a good time to stock up for winter.

Anyway, how could I resist, considering the packaging on this stuff? (courtesy of the local Ōdate Farmer's Co-op)

Uguu~. To fill out the Akita Stereotypes quota note that Hachikō, famously born in Ōdate, also makes an appearance in the top left. I suspect that the label "SOURCED DIRECTLY FROM AN IDEAL SAFE FOOD LOCATION" down the right side is a less than subtle reference to both the Fukushima incident and the recent revelation that American rice contains elevated levels of arsenic, which was big news over here. Since no one quite believes that you'd want to eat brown rice (I get treated as some kind of vaguely freaky gourmet for even keeping the stuff around) it comes only in smaller, more boring packaging.

On the vegetable end of things, there's a few things worthy of note:

Fair warning is hereby given to the susceptible portion of the population subject to flashbacks just from looking at this image.

Neither leeks or scallions per se, these are negi, ("onions", the ones we call "onions" being called tamanegi, "ball onions".), one of those ingredients that tastes just different enough from the substitutes you can get in America to be irritating.(5) Delicous wherever scallions with more flavor would suit, or grilled in sweet miso sauce. If only I didn't have to cut them in half to fit them in my fridge.

I've been steadily working my way through the wide variety of fresh cooking greens that are available up here-- there's way more than spinach, beet, and collard in the grocery stores, most of which I don't know what to do with with any degree of exactitude. These are peppery wasabi greens, which, based on an online recipe I translated, I have since cooked with mushrooms in a quick eggy cream sauce made of 1T mayonnaise, 1T broth, a splash of soy sauce, and a teaspoon of sesame paste (nerigoma, which I take to be the same as US tahini).

Nagaimo, a member of the wide class of unrelated Asian root vegetables that my dictionary translates unhelpfully as 'yams'. The grated starch, tororo, which has a color and texture to fling the inner 6th grader into a full-on giggle-fit, is dribbled on the top of a variety of cold noodle dishes and thickens authentic okonomiyaki recipes, which is how I intend to use it.

Hopefully there's nothing wrong with eating too many mushrooms, because I've gone a bit nuts lately and started eating a truckload of all the grocery store varieties you don't get a lot Stateside.  These are buna-shimeji, the mushrooms I paired the wasabi greens with. It turned out to be a winning combination, as cooked, they have a very pleasant, mild and meaty flavor that goes great with the spicy greens. These come in convenient individual pucks, still with a smidge of brown rice flour growth substrate clinging to the ends of their mycelia.

  As winter comes on, and fresh fruit and veg gets more expensive, my self-imposed initiative to explore unknown corners of the grocery store has taken within its ambit the large number of pre-made Japanese pickles available for purchase.  One of the corners of the "traditional Japanese meal" anthropologists like to go on about, heavy consumption of pickles (these are hot salt-pickled cucumber and nameko, respectively) is rumored, along with Akita's high alcoholism rates, to contribute to an unusually high rate of stomach cancer around these parts. I guess I'll do my best to go easy on them.


 A relative newcomer to the Japanese pickle scene, but believe me when I say that there are more than enough varieties of kimchi (at least 20 brands) at any of the groceries you care to visit. The presence of Korean drama idols' tucked and Photoshopped faces on several brands suggest a possible reason for its popularity.  Of course, since most of the stuff is domestically produced in Japan, some modifications have been made for local taste: this stuff barely qualifies as peppery sauerkraut, despite the huge character (on right) reading <HOT!>

 Last in the "vegetables not to be found in the US" category is this nice big package of gobō, or burdock root. A member of that exclusive class of vegetables whose appearance makes you scratch your head as to why or how anyone would ever give it a try(7), gobō is in fact, extremely delicious-- it has a delicious deep brown earthy kind of flavor that goes ludicrously well in stews and stir-fries-- the most famous being kinpira-gobō, which is what I made as soon as I got this stuff home.  For those of you who can actually find this stuff (try a Korean grocery and look for the stuff sold as "u-eong"?) an informal recipe and steps follow. 

Two nice big taproots ready for scrubbing.
Opinions vary on whether or not it's necessary, exactly, to peel gobō prior to slicing-- since I don't have a garbage disposal, I'm more than happy to go after it with the scrubby side of a sponge to remove lingering dirt and the outermost layers of the bark. Since they're too long for my fridge, I figured I might as well do both of the roots at once.

Both to keep the stuff from oxidizing (enzymes in the flesh will turn the whole works black on exposure to air) and to draw out bitterness(8), I chopped the roots up a bit and got them in a bowl of water.

... then deeply scored each segment several times lengthwise...

 ... and sasagaki shred-cut the stuff.(9)

After likewise reducing a single large carrot to slivers...

I chopped up one of the non-descript hot peppers I bought at the Gojōme market,

... and mixed up a batch of stir-fry sauce. The archetypal recipe calls for about 3T of soy sauce, 1T of sugar, and 1T of mirin for these quantities: this time, going for a richer flavor, I used 1T of maple syrup instead of the sugar. I'd say I like my approach (Japanese-Canadian fusion?) even better than the original.

 Using plenty of sesame oil for flavor, I set the gobō to stirfry for a minute at high heat...

 then stirred in the carrot. A minute longer to get the carrot softening...

and I added the sauce, tossed the mix to combine, and boiled the lot down until the liquid was evaporated. A dash of sesame seeds for visual interest, and dinner sides and bento filler for the next few days were ready to roll. Sweet, salty, a little bit spicy, and 100% delicious. More later.

(1) I'm too honest, not to say slow on the uptake, to pull the stunt Kenny did by pretending not to understand a word she said and roughly showing her out while babbling English-sounding gibberish. The look of recognition and disappointment on my face when I opened the door and she told me she was from NHK must have been enough to bust me.

(2) Doesn't help that all the decongestants that have more than a placebo effect are treated as illegal methamphetamine precursors here. So tea and bedrest it is.

(3) Certainly not a few of my coworkers seem to be unusually interested in my diet, if in a sort of vaguely naive way (<Can you eat soup?>). 

(4) Kind of a big deal, since my back-of-the envelope math suggests that rice is presently the largest single contributor of calories to my diet. I've never exactly thought of myself as having a diet centered on a single staple crop, but considering that I've just finished burning through 9kg of rice in 3 months, I suppose the armchair foodways specialist in me will have to revise that conclusion. 

(5) There's no good substitute either for nira, "garlic chives", which I don't see a lot at home. It's a  shame, too, because they are delicious. Hey, foodies, stop blubbering on Tumblr about killing your pet chickens for "sustainable local meat" and get on this! 

(7) Uncooked, the stuff smells a bit dubious, and the above ground portion is a redoubtable burr plant that served as the inspiration for Velcro, and, to my highly untrained eye, looks like the kind of weed that might kill your dog or make you take your clothes off and turn into a twitchy, crystalline spirit jaguar.

(8) The soaking water always turns a really alarming shade of yellow, another reason I wonder that anyone was ever brave enough to eat this stuff. For home players: make sure to change the water a few times as you process the roots and keep both unshredded and shredded roots underwater as much as you can.

(9) Shave the scored root as if sharpening a pencil to nubs. A more skilled chef than me would make longer, thinner segments. A smarter home cook would just julienne the whole works very thinly.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


I came back home from a tiring day at North Middle (the one which is only accessible via a 45 minute drive on a road that would make a legendary bike race mountain stage) to find catastrophe waiting for me at home-- in my laptop's sleep, after 5 faithful years of service, the P and 0 keys on my keyboard have joined the choir invisible. So it's back to cell phone thumb blogging, dear friends, while I order the requisite replacement parts and try my luck with the finger-snapping agony that is the Japanese keyboard layout.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mission Control. Yes, I made the bed after taking the picture.

As the leaves turn, the mornings become chillier, and the air masses over the Japan Sea announce the change of seasons with never-ending bands of chilly, soaking squalls from seaward (1), I've finally begun to find things close to routine in the classroom. I'm feeling more assured, and, as my Japanese colleagues become more used to me, more confidently relied upon, before the blackboard and in the staffroom. (2) With a routine now solidly in the making, opportunities to break free of the day-to-day are becoming steadily all the more precious-- whether it's to lead a group of AIU students (3) round the local elementaries(4), there to be mass-hugged, sung songs, and asked endearingly left-field questions (WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SALAD DRESSING(5)?), or to hop into my car and drive off in search of adventure somewhere in the hills and hollers.

But not without a spot of planning first, thanks to the power of Minimal Literacy!

A lucky find in one of the numerous travel brochures I've been collecting to this end led me to the Old Ikeda Garden in Daisen, the remains of an old Meiji-era landlord family's estate. As the fall colors came in, special Sunday tours were on offer, so I decided to make the drive.

The handsome main gate to the compound. Queueing for the tour, I was accosted unexpectedly by a professor from the AIU Japanese Department! I'd had no classes with her, but we looked strangely familiar to each other, it seems. So far she's the first civilian I've met in Japan not to immediately compliment me on my Japanese...
Our guide, a pleasant retired volunteer equipped with a Ikeda Garden happi and a chest-mounted megaphone, explains the intricate system of wooden (!) pipes laid down in the 1920s to provide clear water for the decorative pond.  Multiple kilometers of water lines have been replaced already as part of the restoration work.

The garden's most impressive view. The pond (muddy-- did they mess up the pipes?) is larger than it appears...
...because the old-money Ikedas centered their garden around a flourish that almost seems tacky in the context of Japanese landscape architecture-- the largest stone lantern of any extant Japanese garden, if I heard right. It hardly looks it in photos, but the thing is 4-some meters tall.  The Western-style house is another uncharacteristic flourish, about which I should really have been paying more attention. Just like it looks, it's made of reinforced concrete, was built in the 20s, (early enough to make it the first such building in the prefecture), and features...
... a pretty nice interior, under reconstruction, and fantastic gold-leaf/leather wallpaper. (Kinkarakawa, 金唐皮, a word that my dictionary coughs up a lung trying to find, and which got blank stares from the entire group.) Our guide was keen to tell us that the preserved/heavily restored wallpaper was the key on which the grant for the building's refurbishment hinged. "The grant people from the Ministry of Culture said 'Well, there are tons of Taisho-era houses... but how many can say they have such fantastic wallpaper?'"

When I'm not on the move, the sphere of expat society has been coughing up some interest from time to time-- this past weekend marked the Akita ALT Halloween Party, a multi-national hub of a club night, at which I, dressed in the samue, towel-hat and apron of a sushi chef (6), attracted much amusement from the Japanese guests with my attempts at an accompanying vinegary accent, politely but firmly attempted to ward off a beery Portuguese transplant intent on giving me unsolicited advice, in a bibulous trilingual pidgin, on how to "score" with locals, and put my EMT training to good use helping move an immense and very unconscious fellow into the recovery position, before, of course, having an awkward go at some dancing...(7)

 So life rolls on as the fall rolls in. More when I get a few more minutes to spare!

(1) Looks like it's the time of year again when Akita reminds you it's at the same latitude as the wet part of Oregon, though it seems a bit churlish to be whining about this sort of thing as the latest contender for Storm Of The Century cuts a swath through the Eastern Seaboard. I'm watching New York flood on NHK as we speak.

 (2) Openly expressed assessment of my performance, however, will have to wait until all of us are somewhere around switching from beer to sake mid-way through the end-of-Christmas Break enkai.  Kenny revealed to me that after what seemed like perfectly smooth sailing last year, once several of his favorite JTEs were deep in their cups, they horrified him by unleashing a torrent of point-by-point criticism of his performance-- all of which would have been most usefully delivered months earlier.

(3) Visiting, of course, on the same program that let me visit Noishi and several other Oga area schools only a year ago. Funny to have the ALT's view this time around... are college students usually so downright dorky with a roomful of 8-year olds?

(4) I have taken and been given pictures of some of these goings-on, but as the BoE is in the midst of an Internet-age crackdown on personal information leaks, I've decided to make them "limited release". I assure you, they are very cute.

(5)Ao-jiso, bless your heart..

(6) While we're talking sushi, here's some bonus viewing, tongue very firmly in cheek: . Call it my apology for the fact that, unfortunately, none of the pictures of me in costume seem to have come out.

(7) Rumor has it he was a player for the Akita "Happinets" basketball team. He got home fine, in any case.