Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Festivals and Beaching

The weekends are for exploring unknown beaches where we meet no one else but the fishermen who walk past our tents at 6am.
Our friend Tomo brought some uni from his snorkeling and chopped them open and we ate them right there. Countless experiences of being subjected to eating strange raw sea life with my dad had prepared me for this moment, and I did him proud.

Justin prepares the barbie skewers.

You know, beach stuff.
Eating the skewers.
The yogurt lady. Every day at lunch a yogurt lady brings a messenger bag full of yogurts to my office and I buy her dairy treats. The yogurt carts park outside office buildings and grocery stores and their existence are a mystery to me in a country that doesn't on a whole eat too much dairy. But I love having yogurt delivered to where I work, so I eat all kinds of strange flavors: aloe, grape, aloe and grape together.
The town where Justin lives had a summer festival where all of us civil servants dressed up in happi and learned a coordinated traditional summer festival dance and danced for hours in the street and drank a push cart full of beer.
All kinds of groups got all themed out and we all did the same dance together. Summer dance, sweaty dance, beer dance.

We were supplied with mini cans of beer because apparently it is easier to hold them while you dance.
Best group outfit.
Our beer cart that followed us everywhere/that I followed everywhere.
Our dancing soundtrack.
Justin and I with Miss Kokubu (Justin's town) and Miss Kirishima (bigger town nearby). What fine ladies.

Summer festivals are basically the best - one of the only times that Japanese people get really wild in public. Oh, but the nights are so hot and so sweaty! You've got to do something like dancing in the streets really drunk with your co-workers and students to take your mind off it.

Oh yeah, and an article about Japanese cell phones. (My phone is in the picture!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Island school, shrines, lambchops, and some good country livin'

At all Japanese elementary schools that I have been to tooth-brushing at lunch time is a big deal. The teachers check the kids mouths to make sure they haven't missed a spot and each kid has their own tooth-brushing kit. With all of this attention on the teeth you might think that Japanese kids have excellent teeth, but its exactly the opposite. I have never seen more people with rotting teeth in their mouth (aside from India) in my life. Japanese dentistry seems to be inefficient and unused, so I had my teeth cleaned in Thailand. Shady? Not at all actually. More on rotting Japanese teeth later.

One of my favorite island kids who is too young to go to the only island school but at every lesson she watches from the window or peeks in the door.Miniature island cars coming to get me from the boat.

Arriving at the island.Akusekijima island with a hat on. On July 22 at around 11am there will be one of the longest total eclipses right over the southern islands of Japan. From Akusekijima the eclipse will last around six minutes! Currently, around 70 people live on the island, but for the eclipse about 400 will storm the island. While I was teaching a French camera crew came to interview the islanders about how they plan to handle the influx of people. Answer: everyone is sleeping in the school field and gym.
The twelve hour boat trips get a little long after the sixth hour. The sea was really rough this trip and I projectile vomitted off the deck of the boat a few times and the wind was so strong that my puke flew straight out in front of me (thank god the wind wasn't going in the other direction).
My first balcony-garden tomatoes! Thanks to Justin's master carpentry skills (building me planter boxes out of bamboo), I have basil, lemon thyme, dill, cilantro, chocolate mint, zinnias, and bell peppers. The balcony is a harsh climate though - super hot and windy so my crop isn't as glorious as I had hoped for.
A recent visit to Kirishima Shrine. This shrine has something to do with marking the spot where the creator goddess gave birth to Japan so the emperor visits every year.
Washing hands and mouth before entering.

Takachiho Farm. We stumbled across this "farm," me in high hopes of a massive petting zoo, to find that it is a place mostly where people eat animal products and laze around in clover fields while Johnny Cash is being piped in on speakers set in trees. Which was also really great. Also kind of surreal, to close my eyes in a field and let Johnny Cash convince me that I am definitely not in Japan anymore. Open them, and ah! Surrounded by Japanese people picnicking and eating in psuedo "Bavarian" eateries!

After hanging out with some lambs I was really pleased to see that we could eat them! Lamb in Kagoshima is hard to come by (everyone I've talked to complains that lamb has too strong a smell), so we feasted.
I love being able to grill meats at my table! So interactive! Fresh!

Feeding farm animals of all kinds. These animal feed vendors could only exist in Japan, or Switzerland maybe.

Countryside house.

Monday, July 6, 2009


June brought...outdoor excursions to rivers running through canyons that looked like China,

hydrangeas in bloom everywhere,

enough rain to grow moss in every crack and crevas,
rice planting season,

and a trip to my Island! These are tera-tera bozu, little ghosties made of cloth and cotton that are hung in the house during rainy season and prayed to to keep the rains at bay.
Visiting Akusekijima is probably the best part about my job. I take an overnight ferry and arrive just in time for mid-morning classes. An idyllic school day ensues: completely enthusiastic students who love English class after class and then after school I get led around the island by a pack of 6-11 year-olds who show me all the new baby cows and goats. Preparing to roller blade the bumpy island roads. Good thing for elbow, knee and wrist pads.
Itsuki petting a new baby cow. Itsuki's mother would only let him walk around with us if he drew sketches of things he saw along the way for his homework. He had this great sketch board around his neck and would stop and concentrate so hard on a tree or a cat in the road.
That's my school off in the hills.
And the market near my house. I am extremely lucky that I live right near a market where I can get the cheapest seasonal produce in town and all the folks know me there as the token foreigner who buys the fishes.
I did not buy these kinago, a special fish of Kagoshima. But they looked really nice and shiny in their box.
The fish lady.
My favorite neighborhood fruit stand.