Some New Stuff

A sampling platter of some recent happenings and thoughts:

Bowling observations: Considering how technical Japanese culture tends to be in terms of refining skills and crafts, bowling seems to be an anomaly here. It’s the most chaotic, instinct-based activity I’ve seen in Japan. My score was notably affected by the distractions in the lanes on both sides of me last Friday. I counted, in those two lanes, five times that the bowlers went airborne/slipped and landed on their backs in the lanes and gutters. Lane violations don’t seem to have any meaning in social Japanese bowling, and finger-holes are Continue reading “Some New Stuff”

Video Exchange #1 (CCHS to Nanae)

A project we are working on right now between the CCHS Sci-Fi Club and the Nanae High School English Club is creating an ongoing video exchange. Ideally, this will be a way for the club members to become familiar with each other and interact. Below is the Sci-Fi Club’s first video, which David Nurenberg created with the members. For the second round of videos, each club will likely discuss questions that the other club asks. This is the first step in trying to use the videos to create dialogue between the members.

The Mochi Guide

Last month, I attended two mochi-making events at nursery schools. Mochi is rice-paste made from pounding sticky rice with a wooden sledgehammer (kine). The rice is hammered in something that looks like a partially hollowed tree trunk (usu). Usually, several people take turns hammering with a continuous rhythm, while one person quickly readjusts the paste-ball between each drop of the hammer. Once the rice is all homogenized into one uniform ball, it’s divided into bite-sized mochi-balls. Via chopsticks, they are dunked into Continue reading “The Mochi Guide”

License to Terrify

One of the nursery schools invited me to participate in a special event last week called Setsubun. It’s a cultural event celebrated all over Japan. To celebrate, some people dress up as demons, and others throw beans at the demons. The point of throwing the beans at the demons is to make them run away so they can’t scare people – the whole event symbolizes warding away evil each year. I participated in the demon class. This class has the oldest kids in the school. We spent a week making paper-mache masks. I was meticulous with mine. The morning of the event, one of the teachers told me if the younger kids were crying, I did my job right. I was supposed to actually terrify them. The purpose of the event is to teach the kids to confront real fear and overcome it over the course of several years’ events. I liked the idea – teaching kids to deal with powerful emotions like that through actual experience seemed like a valuable lesson to me. All of the kids were showered in candy to reward them for their bravery at the end of the event. We (the demons) were given tinfoil machetes to top it all off – I thought it was a nice touch. Some kids responded better than others (see Emi’s nephew in the blue coat).




















































































Shaving, Snowboarding, and a Dog

Today was the first time I shaved in three weeks. In those three weeks, I visited my family in Concord, spent a lot of time on airplanes, and did some traveling in Japan. I didn’t shave in that time because my plan was to come back to Nanae and make an event out of going to a new barbershop for a straight-edge shave. Last night it occurred to me I had to go to work today. That gave me 12 hours to find a late-night barbershop. I didn’t look. This morning was a really disappointing time in my life.

I spent three days at Niseko last week. It’s a big ski mountain a few hours by train from Nanae. Half the people there were Australian – some of the bartenders didn’t speak any Japanese. They said they rarely need it with all the Australians, so they never learned. The second day I spent at Niseko was the best day of snowboarding I have ever had. It snowed heavily for several days before I arrived, and it didn’t stop while I was there. The guy who picked me up from the train station told me he had only seen this much snow at Niseko a couple times in his life. The snowbanks on the road were 9 or 10 feet high at times. It felt like driving through tunnels carved into the snow. Outside my hotel window, the snowbank was closer to 15 feet. The first night I was there, I explored the mountain a bit and wasn’t very impressed. The second day, I got off the chairlift and wandered around – I saw another lift that wasn’t operating the night before. I got on to see where it went. It went really far in a new direction. I got off and saw another lift, so I got on that one too. Eventually, after a couple more chairlifts, I got to the summit and realized the first night I had only snowboarded the bottom 20% of the mountain. The top 80% was much more impressive. I could have looked at a trail map, but I liked the idea of exploring blindly. The drop from the summit was very steep and somewhat intimidating. When I dropped in over the edge and started carving across the mountain, I immediately lost control and somersaulted a bit down the slope. It didn’t hurt at all because there were about 18 inches of powder beneath me. It took a while to dig myself out, but I was excited about discovering the powder because I now had free range to go wild with very little risk of real injury. The rest of the day was incredible. The style of snowboarding required here was new to me. There was enough powder that if I kept my weight evenly distributed or leaning forwards, like I usually do, the front of my board would sink and get stuck (more somersaults). I changed my technique and kept almost all my weight on my back leg to get the nose of my board above the powder. I used my back leg to direct the back of the board like a rudder. Turning this way is less precise, but it works in powder. It felt like surfing. I was in white-out blizzard conditions – this in addition to the powder gave me the feeling I was surfing through the clouds. It was very cool. The rest of the mountain had other terrains I liked a lot – forest areas, shrubbery areas, wide-open bowls, etc. Parts felt like being in a big snowy desert. There was enough powder that I could explore almost anywhere without much risk of hitting rocks or breaking bones from dropping over small rock-faces. I did a lot of things I might not normally do. The chairlift rides were surreal. The blizzard allowed for maybe 60 yards of visibility – the chairs in front of me ascended into whiteness and disappeared into the sky.

The bed and breakfast I stayed at by the ski-mountain had a dog. I was curious if Japanese dogs are the same as American dogs, so I took him for a walk. When we got outside, I waited for him to start walking. He turned to look at me and waited for me to start walking. He looked really confused. Finally he started moving, but he looked like he felt guilty about it the whole time. Japan has a very strong sense of hierarchy among social roles – this left me wondering if maybe Japanese dogs learn that too, and he was waiting for me to choose our path. When we got back to the bed and breakfast he went straight to the couch and curled up in a ball. I think he needed some time to reflect and regain his sense of identity because of our walk.

















Back to Nanae

I got back to Nanae two nights ago – I spent 10 days with my family in Concord, one night at a hotel in Hakodate (city next to Nanae), and 3 days at Niseko (big ski-mountain in Hokkaido). I’ve made two large cultural transitions now: one when I arrived in Japan and one visiting Concord. Both times, I didn’t deal with the change very well. The mindsets in each culture are entirely opposite for me, and shifting between them has been difficult. In Concord/Boston, historically I’ve found personal peace through being efficient and staying a step ahead of whatever I see happening around me, and in Japan I’ve found it by letting things unfold in their own time and way. I haven’t really bridged the two ways of life at all. I don’t know yet if they can be. I have formed a new type of relationship with the world around me in a very short time in Japan. It’s something I could not have imagined before experiencing it, and it has come hand in hand with an immense feeling of potential. The only thing that makes sense to me unconditionally is to continue to let it develop and be at its whim – doing so thus far has yielded life-changing results. I don’t know how much of this way of life is a product of Japanese culture, how much is from my specific environment/situation here, and how much of it is due to my personality. I do know that this is the only place I have felt it though, and after a very stressful few days of travel on airplanes and trains between America and Niseko, the mindset reemerged on its own within the first day of being back in Nanae. The last few months have been an amazing experience for me mentally and emotionally, and it has opened up parts of me that I didn’t know could be built on or developed. I believe this is a pivotal moment in my life that can’t be turned back.


Squid Eyeballs

These are squid eyeballs – they don’t taste like much. When you bite them they explode kind of like fried-eggs.


Month #2

I am now almost two months into my time in Nanae. I have had a lot of ups and downs, plus a little time in between. My ups have been much richer than usual. Some of the connections I’ve experienced here (with people, culture, and myself) have felt very lucid to me – exhilaratingly real at times. They have also felt very normal, which is refreshing – generally, I find normalcy to be frustratingly elusive. My downs have been amplified a bit too – the support structures I am used to (family, long-time friends, and an adjustable environment) are non-existent here. That leaves me as the only one to catch myself if I become unbalanced.

Something that has caught me totally off-guard is how genuinely nice people my age are here. They are unguarded, open, and pro-actively friendly. I am not used to it at all, and don’t know how to react sometimes. I like it though.

Here is a short “Best of Japan” list I’ve started:


“Kurenai no Buta” (directed by Hayao Miyazaki): I have a zero-tolerance policy for giving anything away about good movies, so I’m not going to comment much on this, but it’s a Japanese anime movie I watched last weekend and loved. My only commentary is that I highly recommend it, and I suggest watching it in Japanese with English subtitles. I watched the first 5 minutes in both English and Japanese, and they were noticeably different.


Odango: These are small, sticky spheres of compressed rice – they come on little trays with maybe 12 balls. Different sauces are put onto them (soy, sesame, and pressed red beans), and you eat them by spearing the balls with toothpicks. I consider it to be a very domestic form of hunting. I imagine a lot of cool things could be done with this concept – the balls are like a benign template for tasting the flavors of different sauces, so they could be used to make tasting samples of a really wide variety of sauces or toppings. I think they could be popular as an appetizer in the US if used in a creative way. The toothpick part is also fairly entertaining for at least the first five balls of each tray.


Capsule: Capsule is awesome. It’s a Japanese electronic artist I’ve been listening to a lot. I am pretty sure it is one man (producer, music-writer) and one woman (singer), and it’s one of my new favorites. Some good songs to preview on iTunes: Jumper, E.D.I.T., and Flash Back. These three are among many others.

Miscellaneous things without an obvious category title:

Haircuts: The haircuts in Japan should be used as a model for the rest of the world. I have been to a barber once here. My hair was cut well, but that’s not what is important – it came with an hour’s worth of extra add-ons that I didn’t know I