Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas in Japan

Alas, it's been a long time since my last post, for which I do apologize. There's been a bit of stuff going on in my personal life, and a few health problems, but now, things are looking a bit better. I'm not sure, however, how much longer this blog will be relevant, as I might be returning to the USA at the end of March, 2013. It's a long explanation that might require a separate blog entry, but for today--

Christmas in Japan!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Five Mountain Odyssey: Part 2

After Kumotori, I took the train to Nagano.

The biggest thing I remember about Nagano is how much my legs hurt and how incredibly hungry I was. The morning after I got there, I went and bought breakfast. I was ravenous and in all likelihood gorged myself far too quickly, which would explain the stomach cramping and overall body shock that resulted, leaving me to find a spot to sit in the shade until the discomfort passed. For a little while, though, I was worried I needed to find a doctor. Luckily, things got better.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Summer in Japan

It's summertime!

I love the summer, because it's not cold, and there's no snow, but summer in Japan comes with a few challenges.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Likes and Dislikes: Bread in Japan

Hi there.

So, I want to talk about bread in Japan.

First, maybe I should mention my experience with bread in the US.

You can get white bread, wheat bread, sourdough bread and various other sorts of non-sweet loaves of bread in great assortment. There's the pure white stuff that has had most of its nutritional value beaten from it with a stick (this stuff also comes in hot dog and hamburger bun styles). On the other end of the spectrum is the bread that has so many whole grains, nuts, and seeds in it that it's almost turned into a granola bar. All these various sorts of bread come in good-sized loaves, usually pre-sliced, and you get anywhere from, oh, a dozen to a couple dozen slices per loaf. This is the kind of bread you use to make sandwiches or toast, for the most part.

Besides this standard loaf-style bread of dozens and dozens of varieties, there's

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Running Late

I had something sort of happen to me a couple days ago, and it made me think.

I was running late. I had missed my train by about five seconds, but thought I could catch up at my transfer station anyway. However, when I hopped off and tried to make the run to the other platform to catch the train waiting there, the crowds of people prevented me from breaking into the sprint required, and I missed that train by about five seconds, too.

So I had to wait for the next train, again. I started to worry if I'd make it to work on time. To complicate matters, I'd rushed out of the house that morning and forgotten my cell phone. Plus, I'd forgotten my schedule for the day and my list of phone numbers for the new branch of my company that I'm working for. If I'm ever running late, I have to phone in. I was running late, but didn't have the phone number and didn't have my cell, so even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't phone.

Luckily, however, by the time I reached my arrival station and hopped onto the bus for stage four of the five stage journey I make to and from work...

(That journey being: 1. walk from home to station, 2. catch first train, 3. transfer to second train, 4. transfer to bus, 5. walk from bus stop to my school.)

...I thought maybe I would be able to squeak in by 8:10, which was when I was supposed to be to school by. Still, I was upset I'd forgotten my phone and schedule, and that people had been in my way, making me late--but of course it was all my own fault for not getting out of the house on time in the first place.

The bus arrived and I hopped off, walking briskly to the school along the sidewalk that borders both my junior high where I teach now and an elementary school, still a little annoyed, but grateful that I was going to make it. Then, something happened.

Ahead of me on the sidewalk, in fact, all around me, were both elementary and junior high students. Two elementary boys were walking along towards me, when one of them tripped as his foot slipped off the curb. He landed pretty hard, hitting his face against the pavement.

I immediately went to him, asking him if he was all right. He pushed himself up a bit, put his hand to his face, and it came away with blood on it. He wasn't crying. He just seemed sort of shocked and lied there on the sidewalk. The other kids around him had stopped walking, but none of them seemed to know what to do or say.

I asked again if he was ok, but he didn't reply. I looked around for other adults, but couldn't see any. My school was only a few dozen yards ahead, so I ordered the boy to wait there, and finally got my sprint. I rushed into the staff room, and the principal, vice-principal, and other teachers could tell right away that something was wrong.

It took a couple seconds to get my Japanese to work to tell them that a kid fell and is bleeding, but then--wow, want to know how to clear a staff room of teachers? Tell them a kid is hurt. A half dozen teachers, plus the principal and vice-principal went swarming out of the room, out the gate, and ran for the little cluster of kids around the hurt boy.

I followed, and saw them giving the boy some tissue--he'd bloodied his nose--and preparing to escort him to the elementary school. He wasn't hurt too badly, and it all turned out ok.

As for me? I forgot my annoyance at being late and leaving my stuff at home.

It made me think. If I hadn't been late, would there have been an adult on that sidewalk when the boy fell? Would he have had to pick himself up and walk himself to his school with his nose all bloody?

Things like running late or forgetting something important can cause problems for me. Sometimes they can even ruin my day. This time, however, my being late meant I was there when someone needed help. It didn't stop the boy from falling and getting hurt, but it meant someone was there to give him help.

The next day, walking along the sidewalk, I saw the boy with his friend again. He smiled at me.

Just because something inconvenient or problematic happens to me, and even though it might have negative consequences, it might also have positive consequences--maybe not for me, maybe for someone else, or maybe for both me and someone else. Regardless, maybe I needed to be late that day. Maybe there was a reason.

Maybe sometimes, the things we think of as "bad" have a little more to them. Maybe there's a reason. Maybe we need to stop thinking of them as such bad things. Maybe we just need to shrug and say, ok, well, this thing happened. Can't change it. Gotta live with it. And maybe there's a reason for it. Maybe sometimes we'll never even know the reason, but just in case, I want to think a bit broader, and maybe it will be good for my stress level, too.

Friday, March 30, 2012

First post-move post: reflection

Hello all,

I've been away from writing on here for a while. I was sick with a cold that put me out for two weeks, followed by a sinus infection that put me out for another, and then I had to get ready to move across country, and then move across country, and now I'm finally semi-settled in my new home. I'm still in Japan, but am now a good bit further south, not all that far from Tokyo. It's a nice spot, I think. There are a few bigger cities, including Tokyo, nearby, but my apartment is a nice foresty spot. There are osprey nesting across the street from my apartment. How much cooler does it get?

I'm not really sure what I want to write about, so this will be a "sit down and let it flow" entry. A lot has happened in the past month and I've had a paradigm shift or two in how I view the world, my life, that sort of thing.

For one thing, leaving behind my students and my schools was quite difficult. I knew it would be hard, but I made the choice to leave anyway. The kids never asked me why, though a few of them told me they wished I could stay. What was harder was the other teachers asking me why, and if I had requested to transfer. The truth is that I did, but not because of anything anyone at the schools did. My living situation and my work-life balance, was simply not one that could be sustained by me.

No matter what other people thought they were deciding for me, I had never intended that my appointment in north-eastern Japan would be permanent, and I don't think I had ever said that it would be. I'm not completely sure why I move around so much. Since high school graduation, this has been my thirteenth move. One of my best friends tells me I have a Romany soul. I don't know if that's true or not. Another friend told me, to be happy, to have what I'm searching for, I have to stop searching. That sounds a lot like "settling" to me, but on the other hand, I think there is something to be said in finding happiness in the journey, in wherever you are, rather than thinking that happiness can only come at the final destination. Another best friend has been trying to tell me that for a while.

Another friend I met up with while I was home over winter break (in the US) told me to stop assigning "good" and "bad" to things and events, and view them instead as whether they cause pain, blood, physical harm, and sort them based on that criteria into positive and negative. I have for a while been trying to apply the logic "did anyone die? No? Then nothing all that bad has happened." But as my friend reminded me, thinking of a cool philosophical phrase and actually enabling it in your psyche are two different things.

Sometimes you need to hear something, or learn something, and sometimes someone comes along at just the right moment to tell you it. Or sometimes someone tells you it, but it bounces off--it wasn't the right time. Maybe later, someone else will tell it to you in a different way, and it will finally sink in. The site has to be exposed for the enzyme to bind, right? That sort of thing.

I confess to being a person that attempts to self-improve. I try to make myself a better person. I try to be aware of stupid stuff I do, and fix it. But sometimes I can't see the stupid stuff I do. Other times, something that worked five years ago for where I was in my life, doesn't work anymore, and requires renovation.

Living in Japan has caused a lot of stress. It's not Japan's fault, exactly. It's a combination of where I am in my life, what I came here to do, obligations I have, family situation, being distant from my support circle, health changes, work, culture shock, and the challenges that come from trying to achieve my goals.

My goals have changed a lot lately. I still have to pay down my student loans (ugh). I still want to carve out a career I enjoy that challenges me and gives me a feeling of satisfaction. I still want to write books and make art. But I have new goals, too. Unfortunately, they are hard to articulate, and they are all quite personal. It's difficult to have a goal when you aren't sure what the goal is. Maybe it's like bobbing for apples blindfolded. You know there's something in the tub of water that you want, and sometimes you can feel it, but is it an apple, a pear, a peach, a rubber ball?

As this is a public blog that anyone can read, I don't want to "kiss and tell" so I'll keep it vague, but about five years ago, when I was around 27 or 28, I made the decision that I had achieved enough personal development (I mean mentally and emotionally) to consider pursuing male companionship. It was shortly after that, that a guy played a major role in my decision to come to Japan, I was taken advantage of by one or two others (partly my fault for being inexperienced and naive), I tried some dating, got friendzoned a time or two, rejected more, and by the time 2012 rolled around I was feeling pretty fed up and tarnished by the whole "male companionship" thing.

But then I got lucky, and paradigm shift occurred. Just when I was thinking "forget this, guys aren't worth it" one came along who proved that actually, there are guys who are worth it, and I'm worth it, too.

Sometimes the right person just comes into your life at the right moment. I don't know why. I don't know if I've been someone's "right person" either, but I know there have been several times--maybe many times--when the right person has shown up at the right time, with the right words or actions, that helped me transition in my life to a new stage. I don't think, in this game called life, that you can level up by yourself.

That's my other paradigm shift for early 2012. I was looking at the game the wrong way. While I was thinking that everyone I encountered was my objective, in fact, these people have been helpers. They've taught me something, made me stronger, made me more confident, made me smarter, given me experience--even when it was a horrible experience. I've walked away from these encounters of the last couple years knowing more than when I walked into them.

"Thank you for your help, but your prince is in another castle. Here's an item to help you on your journey."

The point being that none of this has been failure. Failure is not falling down. Failure is staying down. Since I'm still walking on, I never failed; I learned. I made it through. I haven't given up.

So that's how 2012 has started out. I think this year is going to be "wow," just "wow." I don't know what's coming, but it's already started off with me shedding a thick, gross, old layer of ignorance, fear, and inaccurate self-perception. That doesn't mean I don't have any more progress left to do. I've still got plenty of ways I can make myself more awesome, at my own pace. It just means I left more than snow, a poor work-life balance, and an unsustainable living arrangement up in north-eastern Japan. I left a huge load of cruddy self-destructive thinking there, too--and I torched it. 'Cause who needs that cr@p? Not me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Common Cold -- in the US and Japan

Hello all,

I haven't posted for a while because I've been whacked with a rather persistent cold bug. Usually for me, I get a cold, stay home a day or two, do good home care like orange juice, hot tea, salt water gargling, nasal irrigation, and my body gets the bug on the run and I can go back to my life while my defenses mop up the enemy.

That wasn't how it happened this time. I ended up enduring a five or six day battle before my body got the invasion under control and turned the tide. Now, I'm getting over it, and down to the clean up stage, when I go through a box of tissues in one day, but it's clear I'm just disposing of all the casualties at this point.

This got me to thinking about how the US and Japan view the common cold--in my experience--and I thought I might write a bit about it. I'll start with some of the older, leftover superstitions about the cold (which I have heard of--there could be more) that a lot of people seem to hold onto, even though science says they're wrong.

What 'causes' a cold -- in the US:

  • getting your feet wet
  • staying out in the cold too long
  • getting your head wet (or in general getting any part of your body wet, especially outdoors)
  • not bundling up warmly enough

What 'causes' a cold -- in Japan:

  • letting your belly get cold
  • sleeping with your belly exposed
  • sleeping somewhere other than your bed (like, falling asleep in a chair or on the floor)
  • being cold and/or not bundling up warmly enough

What actually causes a cold:

  • a cold virus

I had a high school teacher who once insisted "it's not cold air; it's bad air" that causes a cold--and he was, of course, correct. Although environmental stressors, like getting too cold, may cause your immune system to be a bit wonky, you won't get a cold unless a cold virus finds its way to your soft, pink, vulnerable mucosa. That's why we're supposed to wash our hands and not stick our fingers in our eyes, nose, and mouth. Most people know that now, but it's amazing how superstitions persist.

For example, in the summer, it's so hot and humid here that I sleep in almost nothing, with no bed covers, on the floor in front of my wide open windows, with wet towels on me. When I told a Japanese acquaintance of this habit, she was certain I would get a cold from it, especially if I put a wet towel across my belly. In the US, I know an older lady who insists that sneezing must come with a cold. Thus, if you sneeze, you're getting a cold. If you're not sneezing, you must not have a cold--despite if you feel unwell.

My impressions of how the cold is treated in the two countries are also different. I don't know how Japan before western medicine treated colds, so I can't make an informed comment on that. In the US, chicken soup, garlic, and other herbs and oils and solutions are among of a number of debatable home remedies. Then, antibiotics came along and for a while doctors handed out antibiotics like candy. However, since antibiotics do not help in the fight against viruses, and the more antibiotics that are used, the faster bacteria evolves to be resistant to them, doctors have since had to pull back and try convincing people of the truth--that antibiotics will not shorten your cold.

So, how does the US and Japan treat colds these days? Here are what I have experienced.

Treating a cold in the US:

  • bed rest (spending a day or more home from work or school, as needed)
  • orange and other fruit juices, water, hot tea, and broth (possibly including chicken soup)
  • a humidifier, sometimes, to help keep nasal, throat, and lung passages moist
  • salt water gargling (especially for sore throats, some people irrigate their nose, too)
  • pain killers if the throat or lungs are sore and painful
  • sore throat drops, or cough drops to suck on
  • over the counter medicines to treat the symptoms, but which do not actually kill the virus
  • stubborn people might still manage to wrestle useless antibiotics away from doctors
  • some people have other natural, home remedies they are convinced work (such as zinc tablets, extra vitamin C, echinacea, ginseng, and other herbs or vitamins) at the time of writing, science is generally without a consensus as to whether any of these really work. They might, and certainly some home remedies and treatments can help with the symptoms and make a cold sufferer more comfortable.

Treating a cold in Japan:

  • don't surrender! (most people I know do not take time off for colds)
  • wear a mask (which might help prevent the spread, except that you begin being contagious three days before symptoms have begun, so you don't yet know you're sick, and so won't have any impetus to wear a mask until symptoms begin--and of course, the mask will not help your cold get better)
  • go to the doctor and get lots of medicine (the doctor here always gives me antibiotics and two or three other medicines when I have a cold--I never take any of them)
  • rest (which I don't see people doing)
  • stay warm
  • there may be others I'm not aware of

If there are other ways of treating a cold in Japan, I haven't heard of them. Whenever anything physical goes wrong with me, the response always seems to be "go to the hospital!" When I first heard that, I thought "wow, this person really thinks I'm sick--on the edge of Death's door even." However, when the Japanese say "hospital" in English, they usually just mean the doctor's office. Another question I get when I have a cold is "are you taking any medicine?"

It can get tiring. My patience for the Japanese pushing of hospitals and medicines is surely as tried as their patience when I tell them no, that I am treating the cold with other methods. I try not to growl and throw my hands in the air in exasperation, and I can see them resisting wringing their hands and shaking their heads with their knowledge of the certainty of my demise.

The problem with a lot of beliefs about the cold--in both Japan and the US--is that medicine will help you get better faster. It won't. Aside from taking an anti-viral medicine, which would be way overkill, there is no medicine that will cure the common cold. Antibiotics certainly won't: they work on a bacterial invasion. A virus is not a bacterium. It cannot be fought the same way.

The human body has no recourse but to firebomb the affected area of the body and clean out the wreckage until the virus has been expelled. That's why a cold is so painful and produces so much mucous. The symptoms are actually produced by the body's defense--not the virus' activities. Trying to get rid of the symptoms is interfering with your own body's efforts to win the war. On top of that, giving your body antibiotics when it's a viral infection is like giving your body a submarine when it's an aerial attack: useless.

Despite knowing this, in the deepest, darkest days of my cold, I was tempted to take the antibiotics the doctor here had given me--even though he'd only given me three day's worth, which would probably have been totally ineffective even if I had been enduring a bacterial infection. I got only a few days worth because he feared the side effects, when, if it had been meant to cure me, I would have needed a couple weeks of them, to be sure all the bacteria were dead and thus prevent breeding antibiotic-resistant super bugs and a more serious relapse.

I do wonder if Japan knows about the super bugs and that antibiotics don't work on viral infections. They seem to embrace western medicine, though with their own curious twists on it--like taking medicine for everything, and thinking that everything causes a fever. That's the second question, after the medicine one "do you have a fever?" I have to keep explaining that I usually don't run fevers. In fact, my body temperature is about a degree and a half lower than normal (in Fahrenheit) so a reading of normal for me, is a fever, but getting up to what is considered a real fever almost never happens, unless I'm really, really sick.

At any rate, getting medical care and experiencing the Japanese societal approaches to a cold bug are an adventure beyond the language barrier. US people and Japanese people both have quirks when it comes to that, which can give me pause. Being here in Japan to experience a new set of quirks is sometimes frustrating, sometimes amusing, and best viewed remembering that Japan is a whole new world.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Climbing Iwate-san

This is something I wrote out several months ago, but thought it might be a good addition to this blog, since it's about Japan. This entry recounts my climbing of Mount Iwate. It's rather long.

On July 6th, I climbed Iwate-san with the first year students at my high school. It was fantastic. Here is my recounting of the experience.

I versus E and the concept of "fun"


I've decided to write about a pet peeve, but I'll try not to turn it into a rant. Please feel free to comment if in fact I'm ranting without realizing. It's been known to happen.

This pet peeve is something I've dealt with my whole life, and have felt bad about my whole life: introverts versus extroverts and the concept of fun. I don't even like writing that "versus" bit. Why should we all be polarized to each other? Why can't the introverts say "hey those guys like to party--cool" and the extroverts say "hey those guys like to talk about the latest sci-fi TV show--cool"? Between partying and discussing sci-fi shows you really can't say that one has more value than the other. Neither one is world-shaking: merely a way to kick back, distract yourself from the daily grind, and hang with your friends, right? Okay, maybe if you're an introvert that would be *friend* singular.

I'm an introvert.

Some people *coughextrovertscough* don't think introverts exist. Rather, I have heard it claimed on many an internet forum or discussion group that so-called introverts are merely ugly people with no self-confidence or friends, but that if they just kicked themselves in the hindquarters, waved a magic wand to produce self-confidence, learned to apply make-up, styled their hair, and bought trendy clothes they would immediately have hordes of friends and be deliriously happy. (Okay, I changed the wording a little.)

I've read somewhere or other that extroverts may in fact live longer or show overall higher signs of happiness with their life than introverts. One personality test I took even made out my introversion to resemble a kiss of death when it came to having a "good" personality. "You're an introvert? Well forget having satisfaction with your life, friends, happiness, joy, a sunny future--heck, you might as well just give up and crawl back under your rock that apparently you emerged from for a few brief seconds to take this test with the hope of some good news only to find out after all that you really do belong under that rock."

Studies, however, suggests that introverts do indeed exist. Here's one. We're not an anomaly, and there may actually be physiological reasons for the two types of people--intros and extros. If you're interested in all the detailed science, by all means, look it up. I can summarize a bit though. Intros and extros use different parts of brain more often (intros use the front, and extros use the back--to generalize very broadly), and like to get a natural high off of different neurotransmitters (those are the chemicals that make things happen, thoughts grow, nerve cells connect, and all that in the brain).  The big one is dopamine.

Extroverts love dopamine. The dopamine they get from interacting with people and jumping off bridges totally gets their juices flowing in all the right ways. They love it so much, and need it so much in order to function happily, that they seek it relentlessly. Extroverts invented afterparties and extreme sports. Solitary confinement is indeed a punishment for an extrovert.

When you were a kid, and your parents sent you to your room for being bad, were you most dismayed at that, or did you just shrug like "whatever, I spend most of my time in there anyway"? For extroverts, who always want to be out and about, this would indeed have been a punishment. Introverts figured "well, all my toys are there, and my books, and my games, and my drawing supplies, and, and, and." To punish an introvert, send him or her to a loud party. Really. I know you extroverts don't believe me, but really. As an introvert, trust me on this one.

Introverts are highly sensitive to dopamine. A little goes a loooong way. Too much, and we start the "I have a headache, I have to go" excuses. Parties charge up extroverts, and exhaust introverts. I call it dopamine burn. That's sort of how it feels: like someone has been sandpapering my head, and if another person comes over to me to chat about something inane I'm going to shoot lasers out of my eyes. Plus, we intros like acetylcholine, I hear. Acetylcholine makes us feel good, promotes rest and relaxation, and encourages thinking.

Intros are big on thinking. That's why we're scientists and authors and poets and designers and old hermits that sit on mountaintops. If we go a little nuts, that's when we start planning to eliminate all humankind with our Raygun 4000 and help our friends the flying squirrels to take over the world--because flying squirrels don't judge us.

Do we network? No so much, unless we *have* to, but do we have friends--yes! Despite being introverts, most of us have friends (I don't mean the flying squirrels...I probably shouldn't have told you about them. Curses!). The thing is, introverts usually have one friend, some have two, a few may have three. Everyone else is an "acquaintance" or perhaps a "research associate." The title of friend is bestowed with much time and experience, and our friends are generally other introverts and highly treasured.

What do we do for fun with our friends? We talk about creative, conceptual, mystical, scientific, psychological, technical, or get-the-job-done stuff. Clothes (unless we're designing and making some), cars (unless we're repairing one), make-up (unless we're analyzing the ingredients), and that sort of thing, not so much. Celebrity breakups? I'd venture to say, never. We play card or board games, or possibly online games (but I'm really talking about in-person friends here). We travel together to historical or beautiful places. We play a sport or take a class together. We gripe about extroverts. We do things that let us think, that get that good-feeling-acetylcholine flowing.

This is the dynamic that makes extros and intros different. It's what makes the couple playing chess look over at the group of twenty having the wet T-shirt contest, and the group of twenty look back, and all simultaneously think "why would anyone do that? What losers."

Here comes my pet peeve. It seems that introverts usually keep this opinion to themselves. After all, extroverts (and pretend extroverts=introverts who follow the crowd to fit in) are far more numerous and majority preference rules, right? However, so many times in my life I've been looked at askance, mistrusted, disregarded, and questioned because I don't like to do what extroverts like to do. I don't go around asking the extroverts why they go clubbing or enjoy bungee-jumping, or accuse them of being a total bore because they don't read books or haven't seen the latest episode of that new sci-fi drama, do I? Nope. Maybe I think it, but I don't say it.

Some extroverts, however, seem to have no such compunctions. I don't party? I must not like people--specifically: them. (Actually, I do like people, just only certain people, in small doses. Whether I like them or not is usually irrelevant). I don't want to go to the football game? I must not have any loyalty to my home team. (Actually, I might or might not be interested in sports, but being crammed into a stadium full of screaming people--um, no. I'll skip that, thanks.)

The flak I've gotten for not going to parties, or leaving after a half an hour, not going to busy events, not being willing to be shoved into a room with a bunch of people for some non-mentally-stimulating purpose (which is a waste of my time, while I could be designing those rocket launchers or finishing writing my book), or not wanting to plunge at high speed across some sort of hard surface, be it rock, water, or snow--appears to be without end.

I make an effort. I go to parties from time to time. I've tried some high speed sports. But since I'm not taking every opportunity to do so, I am apparently making an attack on the extrovert's lifestyle--at least, I am, judging by the reactions. Extroverts, it's not a judgment call on you. It's simply that if I run too much dopamine through my system, my head will explode. Do you really want to pick up all the mushy bits of flesh from that? I didn't think so.

So please, let us introverts go on writing bestsellers and creating inventions. It's okay. If we wanted to, we would be out there doing the stuff you're doing. It's not that we lack self-confidence. We're incredibly confident in the things we do. Heck, we made the hadron collider. You've gotta be confident to create a machine that some people say could destroy the Earth. But you notice it hasn't yet. That's right, we got it under control.

Our choice of fun activity is no more an attack on extroverts than their choice is an attack on introverts--unless we choose to make it so with hurtful words and actions. We have different "feel good" chemicals that are triggered by different things, and thanks to the two types, our species has a much wider range of qualities and capabilities than if we only had one type. This is a good thing! Plus, everyone is a little different on the I-E spectrum. Some people are really extreme at one end or the other, but there are some people that are in the middle, that can enjoy both feel-good chemicals. This is even better! It's okay that we all enjoy different things.

So, if we can, let's try to quit some of the scorn and scoffing and name calling and snubbing. After all, as long as they aren't hurting you, how much does what someone else does matter? I think, not much at all.

There, end of my rant.

Mata, ne.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A bit of self-promotion...

Anyone looking for some new fantasy-fiction reading material?

My first book is available on Amazon Kindle for FREE for three days this month, starting today, January 27th, through the 29th.

Here's the link.

It's a fantasy-adventure with a bit of romance thrown in (but no explicit love scenes or anything like that--it's not erotica). It has a strong female lead, but the men are not to be discounted in the story either. There's a quest, some battles, a civil war, some magic, transformation, bravery, sacrifice, a few corrupt leaders, a young lady who knows when it's time to run from a battle rather than stay and die "nobly", a displaced young man with a remarkable knack for knowing just what you don't want him to know, a spunky retired lady mercenary, a priest who's too pretty to be true but probably hiding more than he says, five brothers of various qualities and flaws, and the question in the end: does love really conquer all? Oh yeah, and there's some dragons, too.

I would really appreciate honest but kind reviews--and it's FREE!

(If you missed this time, it will be free again at another time. I just haven't scheduled when yet. I only get a certain number of free days every 90 days.)

Thank you all. Mata, ne.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Me and Marriage

I stumbled across some videos of brides trying on wedding dresses on a reality show, and it has prompted me to write something of a more personal blog.

I am 31 years old, never had a boyfriend, been on a total of about four things that could be called dates--in my life. I don't even have my first kiss yet. I've spent a lot of time wondering why, exactly, and as I get older, some kind of biological compulsion is kicking in making me more disposed towards considering the possibility of a mate.

As for the marriage thing, well, even when I was a child I said I'd never get married. The adults I said this to laughed and told me I'd change my mind. Whenever anyone claims to know me better than I do, it triggers a stubborn circuit in my brain, that makes me dig my heels in and vow on several deities to never, ever do what the person has just said with such assurance that I will do.

I never dated in high school. I went to one dance, and hated it. I was bored out of my mind. Extroversion is the accepted and promoted social behavior of the US. Us introverts end up fending off the pressure to conform to extroverted behavior. At any rate, high school social gatherings were never enjoyable for me. As an adult, too, going out to parties that involve mainly loud music and drinking makes my list of "things I want to do" only slightly above "swim in a murky tank with crocodiles" and behind "swim in a clear tank with alligators." (I'll have to write a post later devoted totally to my frustrations related to the extrovert-introvert dynamic in society, which I've been dealing with since childhood.)

I realize now that there might have been some boys during middle school and high school who were actually interested in me. Who'da thought? At the time, I took their interest as bullying, teasing, and mocking. Perhaps, that was in fact what it was, but boys of that age have no other way they know of to express "I like you" to a girl. Though, the boy in high school who asked me out while his girlfriend stood around the corner of the lockers smothering giggles was probably doing it only to hurt.

I practiced martial arts all through my youth. When you're a boy who "does karate" it's cool. When you're a girl, it makes you a target, and of course I could not use my martial arts knowledge to defend myself. When the groups of half a dozen kids would surround me on the playground, when they'd steal my books and my notebooks with my stories, I couldn't hurt them, even though I knew how. It's a rule. No using what you know unless to defend yourself, and stealing my books for a game of keep-away wasn't exactly a physically endangering threat.

Maybe it was my martial arts that led me to be more boyish, but I think I remember starting to reject dresses even from an earlier age. I have a photo of me receiving a Barbie doll as a birthday gift when I was probably around seven or eight. The look on my face made it perfectly clear what I thought about it. I played with toy horses, toy dinosaurs, and toy cars. I did have a Cabbage Patch doll, but there were no games of "tea party." I remember enlisting my dad to help me play war between factions of my dinosaur collection. The only reason I once asked for a Barbie was so I could have the motorcycle that came with her. The Barbie itself--ignored. My toy automobiles actually spoke and had personalities all without a driver, in my world of make-believe.

At any rate, I spent my first decade of life just as a person. The male-female thing made no difference to me. I never saw it as a dividing line. Puberty was a horrid wake-up call. I hated it vehemently, but as my peers were all excited about it, and any adult I expressed my disgust to discounted my feelings, laughed, or told me "it will all be worth it when you can have a baby" I learned to keep my feelings of betrayal, disgust, and growing body-hate to myself.

I have no desire to be male, but I hate being female. I would wish for a sexual characteristic-free body. I didn't wear a dress--well, skirt--until the senior banquet in high school, and it was simple, floor-length, and black. I did not go to my prom. There was never even the slightest inclination to go. No boy asked me, and I had no expectation that one would. After all, I was "kung-fu girl" (despite the fact that I was not studying kung-fu) and might beat you up, right? Beyond that, I wore glasses, braces, had nasty acne, never chose clothes with the intent to flatter myself, wore no make-up, and always had my nose in a book reading or a notebook writing or drawing (though by that time I had well learned to always hide my writing and drawing to avoid ridicule).

Even in college, when a few different guys were interested in me, the knowledge (at least I'd gotten to the point that I could recognize it, right?) of it only made me afraid of them. There was one boy at the studio where I practiced martial arts in high school, with whom I one day realized I had a mutual attraction. He was three years younger, and attended a different high school. Maybe he knew a different side of me. Maybe at the studio I showed a different side of myself. Somehow, he liked me when I was nothing, even when I hated myself. And somehow, neither of us knew what to do about it. I went off to college while he was still in high school. We didn't keep in touch. I often wonder where he is now.

Since then, there have been a few times I've noted a mutual attraction, and I've had a few long and lasting crushes, but somehow nothing has ever progressed. Partly, I've spent a lot of time figuring myself out and trying to overcome some major personality hang ups. If you believe such things, I can blame part of it on my personality type (INTJ) which makes me very unique for a female (less than 0.5% of the female population) and other parts, well, who knows.

So, back to the title of this post--me and marriage? Unlikely. My parents learned long ago not to pressure me about it. Most of my relatives have even fallen in line with that, too. My brother is getting married, which I hope will take the focus off me. Realistically, at this late in the game, with no relationship experience to guide me, the statistical chances of me figuring out dating, courting, and getting around to the marriage thing are very, very low, I'd say. Most people start practicing mating behavior in high school, perfect it in college, and by then have their partner settled. Granted, a lot of marriages fail, and some are not healthy, so maybe it's not all that great anyway.

But I was watching the clips of brides choosing their wedding dresses and like 99% of the time when I watch other females of my species, all I could do was shake my head. That will never be me, and I would never want that to be me. I am incapable of getting excited about a completely white dress that I will wear only once but pay thousands of dollars for. I am a Rational. This does not compute. In a way, I'm glad that I ended up taller than my mom, so I can't blame my not getting married in her dress purely on my un-marrying-ness.

If I ever were to get married, the dress would not contain even the slightest scrap of white, and I would at least design it myself. I can't say I'm a good enough seamstress to take on the task of sewing it myself, however. I just can't understand the fuss over a two or three thousand (or more) dollar wedding dress that you have no emotional or time investment in, that is as ultimately as forgettable as every white wedding dress, and that you'll only wear once. Then there's the expense of the wedding, too. If I'm spending thousands of dollars, I'm going to spend it on something good, like a house, or a vacation.

So, nobody hold their breath, okay? The wedding thing and me is not in the least bit likely. Sure, there's an outside chance, but based on my history, personality, and let's not forget location, not to mention height and appearance (though I have ditched the glasses, braces, and acne) I think it's safe to bet on my eternal singledom. I've got a lot of other things going for me, though, like my writing and my teaching, and being unfettered has allowed me to live in many places and experience lots of things that the people with the dog, kid, and SUV in the suburb will never get. There is some mopey "aw, but I don't get what everyone dreams for" rattling around in my head, but that's a societal impression.

I would, however, like to get my first kiss someday (and maybe more, wink wink), but it's gonna take a pretty unique guy to mesh with the big package of uniqueness that is me. As I've said before, the future is a mystery, and that's what makes it so exciting. Let's all stay tuned--and see what happens tomorrow!

Mata, ne.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Food in Japan

Today I want to write about my impression of the food in Japan.

To head off questions early, I'll make mention of the disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant and the radiation-in-food fears. I live in Iwate prefecture, which is in the Tohoku (northeast) area of Japan. The coast of Iwate was hit by the monster tsunami. I am around 300 km away from the Fukushima plant, and inland, so my town was not hit by the wave. The earthquake registered 6.1 at my location. There was minimal damage, but electrical power was lost for three days and the roads were closed to all but emergency vehicles.

So, is there radiation in my food? I really have no idea. Is the government doing a good job checking food? I have only my impression and what I've read or heard. I do not go about watching them do the testing, so I can't say. Lots of people seem to have strong impressions and opinions about it. I honestly don't know. I did receive a newsletter from my local international center which showed a chart of tested radiation levels in local produce and meat. All the levels except a couple were nonexistent, according to this newsletter. The items that did show a result were still under the limits Japan has set as "safe."

If you can read Japanese, this site is apparently a grassroots radiation testing group in Japan. I looked at the numbers a few months back, for produce tested in the capital of Fukushima prefecture, and some numbers seemed very high to me. However, I am not trained in nuclear science. I'm not an expert. Look at the numbers for yourself.

The airborne radiation in my area is at the global average. See this site for airborne radiation all around Japan. If I'm getting radiation other than what I would normally get from background radiation, it must be coming from my food. I try to buy as local as possible, or from other countries, when I buy produce and meats. I have chosen to eliminate Japan-caught seafood. I have also chosen to eliminate Japan-grown rice. The worry I have is, what is ending up in processed foods, pre-made bento boxes, and restaurant food? If hot produce is still getting to market because the government wants to support the farmers from Fukushima, it's most likely to go to the lowest bidders--those who will reprocess it (in which case, it will no longer be tested for radiation levels, so I've heard) or those who will resell it in school lunches or bento boxes.

Other times, however, produce has shown up in the grocery stores, clearly labeled (in Japanese) as being from Fukushima prefecture, and it's being sold cheap. Fukushima peaches, which are apparently somewhat famous, sold way cheaper than usual this year--and people bought them. To me, the country seems divided between those who want to stay far away from Fukushima produce, and those who buy it because they want to support the farmers. By and large, there appears to me to be an attitude of "if we don't talk about it, it isn't real." Certainly, worrying about it all the time will do nothing but drive you crazy, but once you've taken all the precautions you can, it comes down to a choice: leave Japan, or stay and take some risk.

As a 31 year old gal who isn't going to have kids (ok, maybe a 1% chance of that) I choose to take the risk. I do my best to avoid products I think are risky, but at some point--I have to eat. Life is a gamble. I guess I've worsened the odds a bit. Some people drink and smoke and so worsen their odds. I stay in Japan and worsen my odds.

All right, so now that that's out of the way: food. What do I think about food in Japan? It's been tough to adjust to eating here. So many foods I ate regularly in the US are just not present. As a tourist, traveling and eating here is no big deal, but living here constantly, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners have to be sorted out and prepared. It hasn't been the easiest thing for me to adjust.

  • Breakfast: I always ate a mixture of healthy, grainy, crunchy, munchy cereals in the US. Here, the only cereal is corn flakes. You can get plain, sugared, or chocolate flavors. That is the standard option. Corn flakes do not suffice for me. I have found bags of granola, and they aren't bad. A few months ago, I found muesli in an import shop. I now combine the three. Luckily, soy milk is available. I've added to my breakfast yogurt and bananas. Yogurt is an issue. I used to buy a big tub of simple, low fat, vanilla yogurt, and it would last me a week. Here, the tubs are tiny. I've also been unable to find simple low fat vanilla with a short ingredient list (generally I can't read the ingredient lists, but shorter is always better). I now buy a tiny (regular sized) tub of unsweetened non or low fat (I can't tell which, but it doesn't taste like whole fat) yogurt twice a week and add a spoonful of jelly (which I also find in import stores) to sweeten it and cut up a banana into it. That's my breakfast.

  • Lunch 1: I make my lunch to bring to school. Initially, I cooked rice and added chicken, veggies, and an egg, all cooked up on the stovetop (I have no oven, as is usual for a small Japanese apartment). I make my own dashi stock and so would add some of that to the mixture. Only white rice is available here. I have heard rumors of brown rice being available somewhere, or that you can buy direct from farmers, before it's polished into white rice, but I have been unable to get a resolution with those options. Since I ran out of my pre-March 11th rice, I've switched to a different lunch.

  • Lunch 2: I finally found whole grain spaghetti in the import store I discovered a few months ago. Finding anything whole grain in this country is very difficult for me, and it's been one of my biggest complaints. I do not understand the Japanese aversion to whole grains. I've read that, long ago, only the rich could afford to consume white rice, because it took so much extra processing. Peasants ate brown rice. Eating white rice was a mark of status and wealth. As it became easier to make rice white, more people eagerly switched over, because it's a prestige issue. Brown rice was happily abandoned. Of course we now know that brown rice is much healthier, but despite that, it appears there's no market demand. So, I switched to pasta. I now make or buy pasta sauce (I can get it at the import store), add some chicken and veggies, and I'm good to go.

  • Dinner: dinners vary. I've gotten into the habit of making ham, cheese, and tomato sandwiches. Unfortunately, the bread available is only white bread, and the only lunchmeat available is ham. Good cheese only comes shredded. The pre-sliced cheese is actually processed cheese along the lines of "American cheese" which is as gummy and plastic-like as the US version, so I have to buy the shredded variety. I microwave the sandwiches, so the cheese doesn't fall all over the place.
It sounds like I'm being very negative about the food here. Apparently, the Japanese like it fine. I've just had trouble adjusting. There are, however, some foods that are great here, like the many, many sweet breads with chocolate or cream or fruit or whatever on or in them. They make tasty desserts. Eating ramen or tempura out is always fantastic. I also love kara-age (a type of bite-sized fried chicken) but it's not very healthy because it's so fatty and oily.

Another thing I heartily approve of is the absence of corn syrup in the foods here. Remarkably, my skin has cleared up a lot since I came here, and I credit the absence of the corn syrup. Of course, it could just be coincidence, but whenever a care package of sweets shows up from the US and I start eating the snacks, my face breaks out. I still love my favorite snacks from the US, and do enjoy the care packages, just not the acne.

Along the lines of corn, however--who ever thought that putting corn on pizza was a good thing? They were wrong. Corn does not belong on pizza. I am firm in my belief of this, and will not be budged.

One other thing that is reversed from the west--fatty meats are the good meats here. In the US, the lean cuts are the best. Whenever I have discussed this issue with people from one side of the pond, they always seem stunned by the attitude on the other side of the pond. In the US I grew up knowing that you eat the leanest meat you can, remove the skin, remove the fat, because it's healthier. People in Japan eat the fat and the skin because... I'm not sure. Do they think it tastes better? Maybe in the past, when calories were at a premium, fatty foods had higher value because they give you more calories? This is one more thing I'm just never going to be able to understand or accept. I don't want to swallow globs of fat.

One thing I love--is the selling of local farmers' produce in the supermarkets. There's the factory-farm section, and then there are the bins where local farmers have their stuff. Often, there are laminated signs and photos of the family that runs the farm. All supermarkets have this. I love buying from the local produce bins because I know I'm supporting the local farmers, I can be sure of where the food came from, I know it's fresh--and it's often cheaper! The only drawback is that it's very seasonal.

One thing I don't love, is how dang expensive some of the produce can be--especially fruits. Bananas are cheap year round. Apples are cheap in season. Strawberries are all right, in season, if you don't buy the big ones. In the US, strawberries are not sorted by size. You get a little basket, and it's full of all kinds of sizes. Here, they are sorted by size, and lined up carefully in the box. Larger strawberries cost more. I can get oranges from the US for an all right price. Any other fruits are a luxury choice. Grapes are far more expensive that I've ever seen them. Likewise, peaches. Cherries can be gotten sort of cheap, but only during the short season. I would never consider buying a watermelon here. I could spend that twenty bucks on something else.

I guess I'll stop here. This has turned into a very long entry. I expect, a Japanese person moving to the US would encounter another set of food frustrations. I have learned how to eat here, and take a multi-vitamin in case I'm missing anything important, but it has taken some adjusting.

Mata, ne.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Finally about my writing...

Hello again! So, folks who read the subtitle on my blog will notice that it says something about writing fiction, but I haven't really talked about it yet. I'll fix that.

I've been writing since I was little: really little. I started writing my first story when I was in second grade. It was about a bat, named Batter, who lived in a haunted house but one day was thrown out by Frankenstein's monster when he landed on some old lettuce headed for the compost. I illustrated the story by myself, too. Actually, that's not quite true. I invited some friends to help me do the illustrations, but then threw them off the project when their art didn't measure up to my standards. I suppose I was too demanding back then. Now I know to just do things myself if I want it done my way.

I've always been writing. I think, the more you do something, the better you get at it, and you have to go through a lot of bad writing before you grow into good writing. I'm sure I haven't finished my growth as a writer. I hope I keep getting better and better at it.

The cover of Book 1: Dragons to Loose
I have published a few books. I started a short story some years ago, but it turned into a novel that then demanded a sequel and then spawned a four book series. The series is completed now and available on Amazon in paperbacks. As of now, books 1 and 2 are also available on Kindle. Books 3 and 4 will get onto Kindle probably in the next few weeks. In fact, book 1 will be free on Kindle for three days at the end of this month, January, 27-29. So, if you're looking for new reading material, please do check it out. Here's the Amazon page for it here!

I only published this series because an online friend began praising my other bits of short fiction on a sharing website, so I was brave enough to invite her to read the first book, and she loved it and gave me a lot of encouragement and some feedback. She basically demanded I publish it so she could hold the hardcopy in her hands. I first pursued publishing houses, but was turned down, and somewhere in me, I really didn't want to sell my rights to my characters and story away. Writing is a personal thing for me, not a profit-based venture.

Because I have other employment, it really isn't that important to me if I make money off my writing. I don't want people to steal my work or claim it is their own work, but if I don't make much money from it, that's cool with me. What's more important to me is knowing that I wrote a good story and people enjoy it.

I mentioned one friend who demanded I publish the first book. She and I remained online friends until we met in person. For whatever reason, we had a much better online connection than we did in person, and meeting in person sort of ruined that, too. It was sad to see the friendship fade. However, a couple years later, another friend read the first book, and she loved it, too. It was with her encouragement then that I was motived to get the rest of the books out into the real world.

As I wrote these books, I grew as a writer, so my writing in the fourth book is far better than my writing in the first book. Sometimes I want to go back and rewrite the first and maybe second book, but I have been resisting. I'm afraid it would erase my own personal journey, and might damage also the reader's journey.

So anyway, a little about the series: it's a fantasy adventure. The first book has a romance that is essential to the plot, but it's not explicit. I don't write explicit love scenes. The second book continues the adventure, and has some bits that are as scary as I could make them. The third book adds some mystery, and the final book concludes it all.

What some people have said about the series, is that it has a lot about family, and different kinds of families. I hadn't noticed this myself, but I had been aiming to show many different kinds of love, in many different sorts of relationships, from friends to lovers to pair-bonded couples, including bonds between siblings and parents and children and allies, too.

I don't mean to make it all sound like it's all lovey-dovey and full of hearts and rainbows, because there's plenty of fighting, wars, struggle, conflict, and all that, too. I think it's an adventure before it's a romance or a lovey-dovey series, but perhaps what's best to say is that it's the bonds between the characters that are the most important aspect. It's those bonds that pull them through and make them strong enough to fight.

I really hope it's a series that can be enjoyed by more people. I poured my heart into it. That two of my friends have really enjoyed it delights me. If even more people enjoy the world I made, I would be even more delighted. If you'd like to learn more, here's my website where you can find more information about the books. Unfortunately, I don't update the site as often as I should, but I am trying to be more disciplined about it.

Thanks! Mata, ne.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Goodbye to the 3rd years --and-- a little teaching philosophy

It's my second post! There's so much different stuff I want to talk about, I'm not really sure what to write next.

Well, today I sort of said goodbye to many of my third year students at the high school I teach at in Japan. School years in Japan begin in April and finish in March. The third year is the final year of high school, and next week my third years will take their final exams. After that, they'll only come to school once every couple of weeks for one thing or another. I'm not sure why their classes end so early, instead of making them continue to take lessons for two more months and finish up when the first and second years finish.

Most of them have already been accepted into their university or found jobs. A few weren't accepted to university however, and so are now studying furiously to pass a second round of entrance exams; sort of scrambling and fighting with the other unlucky students for whatever spots are still available at schools. Those students will still be coming to school to do their studying. Most of them, however, I won't see again until graduation.

It's a little sad for me. I've been teaching these kids once a week for the past several months. I see around 500 students a week, so it's really impossible to get to know all of them, but regardless, a teacher builds a bond of trust and partnership with the students she teaches. For me, my job is to teach, to give the kids everything I've got and do my very best. I put the information out there, and they are welcome to take it, but ideally, their job is to be a student, to ask questions, to complete the other half of the circle I start. When they do, it becomes a relationship that creates the functionality of the classroom, and makes learning possible.

Maybe every teacher who actually thinks about his or her teaching has his or her own philosophy. I have never been trained to teach. I never went to school for it. I taught martial arts when I was in high school, and learned a lot there, but most of what I know how to do I learned on the job here. I really try to look at the kids. I try to work with them. I don't teach with a baseball bat--though I do ask a lot. Rather, I try to teach with an open hand. The kids can take what I have to offer, or not. I never force them. Maybe I can't properly explain it. Hmm.

I think of it like catching wild birds, or wild horses. If you chase and hunt and try to net and rope them, they're just going to resist. Even when you finally catch one and try to make it do what you want, you'll either be fighting it all the way, or have a broken-spirited slave. Maybe you can fight it's head down and make it perform, but it won't be performance from the heart. On the other hand, just putting out the food and waiting takes longer, and maybe won't give you the "results" you want down on paper, but when the wild critters do come and see you aren't going to hurt them, and work with you, you develop a trust, a positive relationship, that I think gives much better long term results for both the student's view of English, and for the student's confidence and spirit.

If a student doesn't like English, fine. That's really all right with me. I never liked Spanish, honestly, so I can relate. I think, trying to force a student to perform is only going to damage the student. Plus, his or her already negative view of the subject will only become more negative. In my classes, it's ok to sleep, but it's not ok to talk while I'm talking. I don't remember, back in the US growing up, that it was ok to continue conversations while the teacher was talking. It really bothers me that students are allowed to here. Anyway, I think the best learning happens in a calm, non-scary environment, so I try to create that as much as possible.

Maybe some people would disagree with me, but I let the Japanese teachers of English be the tough guys who demand that students perform, and I walk in with the open hands. I want a positive friendly relationship with my students. I'm lucky that, in my position, I get to be the good guy. I'm just making this stuff up as I go along. At some point I should get some kind of certification I suppose, but it's not required to work in Japan teaching English at my company, so I don't have to.

At any rate, I said goodbye to most of my third years today, and it's sort of sad. I care about my students a lot. Of course I'm happy to see them mature and go off into the big wide world, but I'm going to miss them when they're gone. I keep wanting to do more for them, help them more, but some of it has to come from them, too. I remember what it was like before I walked out of high school, how much I didn't know I didn't know, and how much I thought I knew that I didn't. Heck, I'm still learning tons every day.

I want to protect them, to shield them from the bumps and bruises of the real world, let them make it through all their coming trials and tribulations without collecting scars, but I suppose, even if I could do that, I probably wouldn't be doing them any favors. The real world is a rough and tumble place. I suppose, mostly, what I hope as I look around at the bitter, negative, grumpy and depressed adults in society, is that my students can retain their wonder and hope and energy and joy, and still have the spirit in their eyes and hearts that they have today forty and fifty years from now. It's a lot to ask, but I suppose, as I watch them fly away, that it is my biggest wish for them.

(That, and use sunblock every day, drink in moderation or not at all, and don't smoke.)

Mata, ne.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Welcome - and- Teaching English to Deaf J-students

I am a western dragon living in Japan.

This my first blog, so it make take me a little while to hit my stride with it, but I hope I can share some interesting information from my not completely unique but at least uncommon life situation. I'm an American, female, 31 years old (at the moment), living in Japan, where I teach English at a high school and a school for the deaf.

Many people ask, as soon as I say I teach at a school for the deaf, how exactly that works. Maybe a lot of people think deaf children can't speak and can't hear so learning a foreign language might be awkward if not impossible. I agree in that, when I found out I'd be teaching at a school for the deaf, I wondered exactly how that would work. I've never known a deaf person myself, and really wasn't sure how I'd go about teaching there.

There are around fifty students total at the school, from preschool up through high school. Some are just deaf, but perfectly bright and functional in all other ways. Others have additional learning disabilities. Almost all the students wear hearing aids because almost all of them can all hear at least a little. All the regular teachers use Japanese sign language--which is a combination of the finger-spelling used in American sign language and the more symbol-based British sign language (neither of which I really know much about). I only teach there once a week, so it's difficult for me to pick up a lot of the sign language, but I can use some.

It's also so true that communication is much more than words. Whether it's working with deaf students or just being in a country where few people know my first language, I've learned how to be extra-expressive with my body language and facial expression. Even though I know how to say "I don't understand" in Japanese, I can also say it with a little uncertain tweak of my head and face. In a society that values subtle, non-confrontational communication, a facial expression might even be better than spelling it out with words.

So, communication with my deaf students, although challenging sometimes, actually isn't that hard. I have a few signs. I understand a few more than that. I have facial expression and body language. I can draw pictures (I really like drawing, and I'm not bad at it). They can hear sometimes, and read my lips if I use Japanese, and sometimes they can hear or lip-read English. I can also write out what I need to say in Japanese or English. If none of that works, a regular Japanese teacher can step in and translate.

Maybe teaching English to deaf students doesn't sound useful or easy, but some of them are better at English than my regular high school students. They certainly try harder. Some of them have more obstacles than just deafness to overcome, and they're still better and try harder than some of my high schoolers.

I'm making my high schoolers sound lazy now. That isn't totally the case. Some students at my high school really do make an effort. For others, sleeping in class is more important than English. Others have decided long ago that English is too hard, and don't make much of an effort. Learning a foreign language can be difficult, and the more I teach English and learn about it myself, the more strange and counterintuitive English appears to me. There's lots more to write about that topic, but I'll close for now and come back to write more later.

Mata, ne. ("See you later" in Japanese)