Posted by: wesleysensei | June 13, 2011

Pick me! Pick me!

Yesterday was our first official interaction with Peace Boat. As you may have read, Will and I have been working with 2nd Harvest for the week we are in Tokyo. Our departure with Peace Boat is this Friday, the 17th, but yesterday there was a mandatory orientaton/information session. Had this meeting not been mandatory, we probably wouldn’t have flown into Japan until this week. Not complaining though because we have enjoyed 2nd Harvest, and the meeting was very informative.

We arrived to the JICA center outside of Hiro station around 2 pm to attend a presentation by former and current volunteers about their experience. The entire program was in Japanese which would have made following a two hour talk quite the challenge; however, Peace Boat is very aware of non-Japanese volunteers and are accomodating to those lacking language ability. They provided personal one-way radios that broadcasted live translations of the panel’s presentation.

Armed with an English translation in one ear, Japanese in the other, and a few visuals, Will and I were able to get an insiders view on Peace Boat’s current operation in Ishinomaki, Miyagi. Long story short, the panel thought two things: three months after the events, Peace Boat has been able to establish an effective, organized work force; but with temperatures rising and interest waning, volunteer numbers are down. Essentially, Peace Boat struggled to fit in the affected area at first; found the best areas to help and the best method to structure the relief effort; benefited from eager volunteers and peaked at the Golden Week Holidays; but now are seeing a decrease in volunteer numbers.

A funny anecdote from this first meeting is that some famous Japanese musician was on the panel as a former volunteer. I think his name is Sugizo? I haven’t looked him up yet, but after the presentation a lot of girls flocked to him. During the talk, Mr. Famous was wearing big sun glasses–in the dark room–and sporting leather pants and a Bon Jovi haircut. He went on a rant at one point about being famous and how even superior god-like rock stars can be volunteers. I shoudn’t be too mean to him though. He did seem sincere and did volunteer for two weeks in Ishinomaki. Also, he did raise a good point–albeit in a slightly pompous way–that anyone can be a volunteer.

So, the post is titled “Pick me! Pick me!” and you might be wondering why by now. I’ll get to the point now. The second and third meeting of the day were for volunteers and volunteers leaving this Friday, which Will and I will be doing. At the second meeting we learned a lot about what to expect, what to pack, and how to prepare. The third meeting was for international volunteers that were leaving on the 17th. The Peace Boat representative told us that she was going to make the groups. Once we arrive in Ishinomaki, we will work in different groups likely at different locations. At this meeing, those groups were decided.

It might have just been me, but I got pretty tense. We were introduced to the three team leaders for the trip who were then told to stand up and go stand by the wall. Flashbacks of elementary school kickball team selection came rushing though my head. Additionally, I wondered how we were going to be picked as the Peace Boat representative didn’t know anything about us other than basic info (e.g. name, address). I was also thinking about how big of a decision this was. So much rests on what group you’re in ranging from the work you do to the chemistry between members. Peace Boat is big on teamwork and being a collective unit, so I figured the team assignment might be more important.

It wasn’t. The Peace Boat rep even admitted that she was basically going to wing it. When she asked Will and I if we wanted to be together, we said “Whichever.” She said she thought it would be better to join different groups. So we did. Each group ended up having two Japanese speakers (meaning they’re bilingual)and three others.

This Friday when we leave for Ishinomaki, we’ll be in three grous of five and various Peace Boat staff. I’m looking forward to working with the group and having an awesome week helping out in the affected area.

Below are some pictures from the meeting and two forms we had to fill out. The latter will give you an idea of the organization. It’s mostly meant for people looking to work with Peace Boat.





Posted by: wesleysensei | June 11, 2011

Sushi Rolling Experience

After our first volunteer day we headed back to our lovely hostel to take part in a sushi rolling class that we had signed up for the day before. Wesley had made rolls like this before, but after several trips and living in Japan for two years I had never made one for myself! We had three awesome teachers who the hostel invites every few weeks to do this class. It was only 200 yen so we were far below our budget for the day which was great. We had a long chat with our teachers afterward and got to practice our Japanese and even a little geography! The hostel videotaped it and threw it up on their website so we’ll link to that for you all to see. I’m not sure about Wesley, but I’ve been meaning to have a little sushi making party back in Florida and now I’ve got the sushi know-how to lead it.

We “borrowed” a plate of sushi and hid it in our room for an evening snack.








Posted by: wesleysensei | June 9, 2011

Volunteer Surprise: The Fastest Application Process Ever

What a first day! It began by waking up at 5:27….and at the time I couldn’t tell if it was AM or PM. I was worried Will and I had somehow slept all day because of jetlag. Fortunately it was 5:27am so I went back to bed for a few more hours. Eventually, we both got up around 7:30 am and headed downstairs to get breakfast. We are trying to keep this trip as cheap as possible, and we planned to eat breakfast at the hostel. Turns out though the hostel doesn’t provide breakfast just coffee and tea; we had coffee. While sitting in the lounge sipping our instant coffee, Will and I filled out our applications for 2nd Harvest, the volunteer organization we’ll be working with in Tokyo.

The plan was to walk to 2nd Harvest, turn in our application, and then adjust to Japan and shop for supplies we’ll need up north. The lady I had been in contact with told us our work schedule already and today they wouldn’t need us. So, we walked to 2nd Harvest–about a 20 minute walk from our hostel–and met Megumi to turn in our paperwork. After a casual introduction, we handed her our applications, she barely glimpsed at them, and then she looked up and started assigning us work. Fastest. Application Process. Ever. Fine by me though! I was pumped to get started right away and not have to waste a day.

We were taken immediately to a small warehouse where one man was already sorting boxes. The work day began with just the three of us arranging boxes into categories (e.g. Rice, milk, sweets, etc.). The goal was to make 270 boxes, package them, and load them in a truck that would deliver them to Tohoku (northern Japan). The three of us started to work out a system and became more effecient. Thirty minutes had passed when a volunteer group from the Bloomberg company arrived and added ten more workers. We integrated them into the system and made some slight adjustments and before too long we had prepared almost 100 boxes.

Below are a few pictures from the day included one of my breakfast since none was provided at the hostel. Green tea and an onigiri: cheap, delicious, and just enough.





Written about June 8, 2011




Posted by: wesleysensei | June 9, 2011

Flight and Arrival

The journey has begun.

Will Barringer and I have arrived safely in Japan, and are currently in Tokyo, Japan.

I will update this post in the morning. For now, it’s bed time!


Posted by: wesleysensei | May 26, 2011

The Return

I have returned and will be posting once again.

You might ask why since last August I completed my tenure on the JET Program and returned to America. Well, this past spring I returned to Osato JHS to see former students graduate and visit friends and coworkers. Just so happens that graduation was on March 11th, the day of Japan’s worst earthquake in recorded history. The only good news is that the ceremony was before the disaster.

The entire experience is too detailed and meaningful to type up on this mobile device; however, if anyone is interested, I could write a post and add pictures.

In the mean time, please go visit my dear friend’s non-profit site which is raising money for Miyagi Prefecture. This site is here:

Save Miyagi

Also, I was a contributor to the Discovery Channel’s program “MegaQuake: The Hour That Shook Japan”. If you want to hear part of my story and learn more about the disaster, then find the program’s next air date or another means of watching it.

Lastly, I wanted to let you know that I am in the planning process of returning to Miyagi to volunteer and support the relief effort. That is the main reason I am updating the blog; I will chronicle my journey and return to Japan.

Thank you for reading, and keep Japan on your mind.

Posted by: wesleysensei | December 3, 2009

Holidays and Big Tests

Thanksgiving in Japan technically exists. November 23rd is “Labour Thanksgiving Day” (Kinro Kansha no hi) and is an official public holiday. Don’t be fooled. There is no turkey and certainly no stuffing or cranberry sauce. Last year a fellow ALT hosted a pot-luck Thanksgiving party that was fun but not exactly a home-style, traditional Thanksgiving. I wanted something different this year. Basically, I wanted Turkey.

Fortunately, I was told about this amazing website ( that sells a large variety of meats and delivers to Japan. About a week before Labour Thanksgiving Day I ordered a frozen Turkey and had it shipped to my apartment. It came right on time, frozen, and with a stuffing mix and cranberry sauce. Mission Accomplished.

Now came the hard part: cooking the bird. See, here in Japan we don’t have ovens. Some of us lucky ALTs have microwaves that can turn into convection ovens. I don’t want to downplay the effectiveness of a convection oven, because our’s worked perfectly. I would love to add pictures, but the ones I have are bitmap files and WordPress doesn’t like those. Send me a message and I can email you the photos if you’d like.

In other news…

I PASSED the Kanji test! I am now an officially certified Japanese 2nd grader when it comes to Kanji. It’s not quite the JLPT, but I’ll take it. I’m very excited about having passed the test. In June I will take the 3rd grade (or maybe ever 4th grade) test!

I would like to have taken the JLPT, but the LSAT is on the same day and is more important to me than the former.

Lastly, I wanted to show a picture of the Christmas tree I have on my school desk. Thank you to the Utzingers for sending me the tree last year!

Update: I was able to get a Thanksgiving picture!

Posted by: wesleysensei | November 9, 2009

Kanji Kanji Kanji

Just an update: I will be taking the Kanji Kentei level 9 test this Saturday.

Here’s a link so I don’t have to explain what it is:

Basically, I’m going to be taking the same kanji test that a Japanese second grader takes. The test will determine if I am fluent in the 240 kanji second graders are expected to know. The test is entirely in Japanese and I need an 80% to pass. Currently, my practice test scores have been constantly improving; however, my best score is only 70.6%. I have a week left to study, which hopefully is enough time raise my score.

After the kanji test, I will leave for Akita-ken, a prefecture to the north of Miyagi-ken, with Kasukawa Elementary School. You may recall the blog post about nipple baths. Well, Saturday night I will finally experience the bath. A post will surely follow.

Posted by: wesleysensei | October 14, 2009

Grasshoppers and Dinosaurs

I’m pretty sure I’ve already told you how delicious school lunch is here in Osato. Everyone is required to purchase the lunch, and it is therefore tastier than a lunch from a program with no money. I tend to eat–and by tend to eat I mean almost always eat–with the teachers in the staff room because I want access to seconds; the food is that good.

Whenever I go to elementary school, however, I am made to eat with the students. There are two issues with this scenario: I’m not in the teacher’s room where I can get seconds, and the portions are always smaller at elementary school. Don’t get me wrong. I love to eat with the students; eating together is a way to promote internationalization and English education…but I don’t get seconds.

Anyway, last week I was at 粕川小学校 (Kasukawa Shogakko (Elementary)) eating with the second graders. I had a blast talking with the students and forgot about my second grade lunch portion. What I didn’t forget though was what was offered to me as an appetizer:  grasshoppers.

I was surprised enough the be served insects during lunch, but was more surprised that most of the second graders got excited about the treat! The grasshoppers were coated in something sweet like brown sugar, but was distinguishable as a grasshopper. I ate it–as any true ALT would–and took in the experience. After the first few bites, my mouth turned from down to a slight grin. The bug was pretty good and I could hardly feel the crunchy legs and antennas in my mouth.


As for the dino part, I went to visit my friend Rothgeb who is a fellow Hampden-Sydney alumnus and JET who is living in Fukui-ken. This was my first time visiting Fukui because it’s so far away from where I live. It took me over six hours by multiple bullet trains. Upon arriving I knew I made the right choice in coming to visit. I hadn’t seen Rothgeb in far too long and I got to explore a different prefecture. Fukui was beautiful and had a lot to offer. The best, however, was the Dinosaur Museum. That’s right. Fukui has the largest collection of dinosaur fossils in all of Japan. Reason being, Fukui-ken used to be a dino-haven back in the day, or at least a lot of dinosaurs died there.

Here are some pictures from the grasshopper lunch and Fukui:

Posted by: wesleysensei | September 25, 2009

What do you have for breakfast?

Last week, the 1年生 (ichi-nen-sei (1st graders in Japanese, but by American standards 7th graders)) were learning about a conversation focused on the phrase “What do you have for breakfast?”. Here it is straight from the textbook:

Mike: “What do you have for breakfast?”

Judy: “I have cereal. How about you?

Mike: “I have rice and miso soup.”

Judy: “Oh, really?”

Seems interesting enough right? Well I asked my JTE if I could make it more interesting. Being that she is amazing and willing to try new things, she said “Of course!”. The plan was simple: incorporate actual food into the lesson so to introduce the students to American breakfast foods while also practicing and varying the textbook conversation.

I brought in Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Oatmeal, Grits, and fruit. We held class in the school kitchen, which was a nice change of pace for the students and allowed me to prep the food during class. The first class didn’t know we were gonna eat the food because we started out practicing the vocabulary and phrases. Halfway through the lesson, my JTE made a point to say she was hungry and started eating the food! I promptly joined her which made the students eager to join us. We informed the students they could eat too, but only if their respective team could score enough points in a quiz game.

My JTE started asking the questions while I prepared the oatmeal and grits in the microwave. By the time I finished, one of the groups had answered enough questions correctly and could choose two breakfast foods; I served them cereal and oatmeal.

Eventually all the groups earned enough points to eat some food. No one was too eager to choose the grits so I made the lowest two teams only choose one item because the other was gonna be grits!

Here are some pictures from the lesson:

On a sidenote, I would like to complain about katakana words in Japanese. Katakana is part of the Japanese syllabary and is “most often used for transcription of words from foreign languages.” The words usually sound VERY similar to the original word. Take for example “video.” The katakana form is ビデオ which is pronounced “bi (sounds like “be”)-de-o.” “Video” and “bi-de-o” sound pretty close and I feel like a Japanese speaker should understand what I mean if say the former. However, Japanese speakers have a difficult time if you don’t say the word EXACTLY the wron…I mean “right” way; that is, the katakana way. As an English speaker, I can sometimes decipher what a French or Spanish word is because it sounds like an English word. I would expect this concept to transfer to Japanese. If a Japanese person hears an English word that sounds like a katakana transcription of an English word they should be able to get the basic idea, especially with context clues!

My ichi-nen-sei girls, however, stared at me as if I was speaking gibberish when I said the word cinnamon. Here is the context: the girls wouldn’t eat the oatmeal because it looked gross; I said it was delicious and even tried some; I used some Japanese and said it tasted really good and was sweet; then, I said, “it has cinnamon. cinnamon. ciiiinnnnnaaaammooooonn.” This went on for a good 30 seconds, repeating cinnamon a bajillion times. They didn’t understand. I then got out my electronic dictionary (i.e. iPod touch) and looked up cinnamon. Guess what it is in Japanese…..

シナモン shi-na-mo-n

The second I said “shi-na-mo-n” really slowly and broken up the girls said “OOOHH….shi-na-mo-n” 

I proceeded to slap my forehead while the girls started to eat the oatmeal. And guess what: they liked it.

Posted by: wesleysensei | September 15, 2009

Sendai Jazz Festival

resting in the grass

the Sendai Jazz Festival

super mario


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