Utsunomiya and Nagano! (Christmas Part Two)

Published January 27, 2018 by Corinne

In case you missed it… From Iwaki to Aizu! (Christmas Part One)

The next morning, we woke up early and headed back to the train station. There was apparently a famous Buddhist temple higher up in the mountains that Ellie wanted to see, and she had looked up the bus route to get there.

That was when I realized that all buses in Japan are crap, not just the ones in my city. There were tons of buses at the terminal outside the station, and we were looking for a specific one. Google Maps at least told us the Japanese kanji characters we needed to look for on the front of the bus. I was able to speak and read Japanese, so after checking the front of each of the buses (and not finding the bus we wanted), asking a driver from a different bus (who apparently didn’t know what we were talking about), and asking someone else who was waiting at the bus stop, we figured out that our bus would come to that very stop in about five minutes. It pulled up, we got on, and off we went!

After about a thirty-minute ride, we got off again to see this lovely little shrine across the street:


Roadside shrines: one more reason to love Japan!

And after walking about five minutes up the road, we found exactly the temple we were looking for. 大谷元観音, or “Ooyaji Kannon.”


“Home to the world’s oldest stone Buddha. Ooya Kannon”

I had no idea what this place was or that it even existed. Ellie and I had agreed that we would each get to choose something during our time in Utsunomiya. Ellie chose this temple for the morning, while I had been responsible for the afternoon entertainment.


I made a new friend!

We offered our respects with a prayer, then went inside and looked at the giant rock formation. Unfortunately, there were no cameras allowed inside, so I don’t have any pictures of it.



Snuck a photo of the stone guy inside!


The rock formation in full

There was also this cool little cliff-thing outside the temple with a mini-shrine on it.


Ellie climbed up to pay her respects.

There was also a garden in the back, with a cool little bridge. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use the bridge because it wasn’t allowed.


Garden with the bridge.


“The legend of the holy temple and the white snake.”


This is what Ellie wanted to see most: a giant stone Buddha statue.


She climbed to the top, but I stayed on the ground.

All in all, a pretty fun morning. After some quick lunch, we got a taxi to the place I wanted to visit most in Utsunomiya.


I saw this place on Google Maps and got really curious about it. Can you guess what it is?

This is the not-so-famous Utsunomiya “sex museum.” I had no idea what to expect from a place like this, but curiosity got the better of me.

Cue eccentric Japanese guy leading us around talking about the history of sex and the different Asiatic cultures’ view of sexual activity.


A map of all the sex-related festivals around Japan (yes, you read that right)


Various documents showing ancient porn and antique dildos.

At the end of the tour, we were led to a small theater and convinced to watch a documentary that lasted maybe thirty minutes. Of course, it was all in Japanese, so I doubt Ellie got much out of it. (Sorry, Ellie!)

After a quick visit to the museum gift shop, where there were all sorts of… ahem… sexy souvenirs for sale, we headed back to the train station and made our way to our next destination… Nagano!


Our destination: Yudanaka, a small town outside of the capital city with a true traditional feel. AND SO MUCH SNOW!


A cute little doll in the room of the ryokan where we stayed.

After a night of well-deserved rest, we woke up early the next morning, and the owner of the ryokan gave us a ride to Jigokudani. 地獄谷

Literally, this name means “The valley of Hell” in Japanese, but this valley was far from hell. Because what awaited us here were… CHRISTMAS SNOW MONKEYS!


We had to walk about a mile along a flat path in order to reach the monkeys. While walking down this path, we met people along the way from all different countries. I even saw a lady in high heels, and Ellie and I had a good laugh at her foolishness after we had gone out of earshot of her.


We finally made it to the monkey park!


Christmas snow monkeys!

Jigokudani is a park where you can see the famous “hot spring monkeys” and take pictures of them. The monkeys let us get really close to them, but the park employees were very adamant about not touching the monkeys or getting in their way, and everyone followed this rule.


The monkeys were cleaning each other.


Cheeky snow monkey was being sassy.


You can watch the monkeys from your home, if you can’t afford a ticket to Japan!


A view of the whole park, blanketed in snow.

It was so much fun to watch the monkeys that I actually don’t have very many pictures of them–I was so engrossed with just watching them that I forgot to take photos!

We made our way back down the hill and found a cute little restaurant to have lunch.


I had noodle soup with soba (buckwheat) noodles. So yummy!

During our travels together, Ellie and I had developed an inside joke. Anytime one of us made a cultural faux pas or a mistake of some kind, we would both exclaim in unison “We’re getting kicked out of the country!” and then crack up laughing. In my case, Ellie swore that I would get kicked out for how much I swore. (see what I did there Ya see?) Ellie’s reason was simply that she was a foreigner and didn’t know much about the culture, so even if it was a small mistake, we started joking that we would be the reason Japan would develop a hatred for foreigners and we’d get kicked out for not knowing how to do things.

In the afternoon, we packed up our things and hopped on the train again. Our next stop: Kyoto, the culture capital of Japan. We were going to spend three days there before having New Year’s in Tokyo.


Tune in for Part Three, where we spend three days at a Kyoto AirBnB, meet a hilarious fellow, and I make a total fool out of myself in front of Ellie!

If you missed it, read Part One here!

From Iwaki to Aizu! (Christmas Part One)

That’s all for today, folks!

Corinne 乙女


Top Ten Things I Hate About Living In Japan, Part Two

Published August 16, 2017 by Corinne

Click here to read Part One!

5. Houses aren’t insulated


Insulation in housing pretty much sucks. It gets really hot in the summer, and really, really cold in the winter. I do have A/C in my house, but it’s only in one room, and it’s really expensive to use. Whereas back home in America, my house would be nice and cool on a hot day without using air conditioning.

4.Microaggressions and being stared at/being judged


Japan is incredibly xenophobic. So while it’s easy to get a tourist visa and come over here to experience Japanese culture (which the Japanese adore–they love when tourists come and see historical monuments or want to meet a geisha) or even a long-term visa to work as an English teacher, it’s incredibly hard to be accepted into Japanese culture. People stare at you because of how you look. They’ve never seen thick brown hair like yours before! And your eyes, they’re a different shape! And your nose is different, and you dress differently, and act differently, and how is it you speak Japanese? Japanese is so hard, only a Japanese person can speak the language! Hair salons refusing to service you because “they can’t handle gaijin hair.” Going to a summer festival and taking a break on a park bench only to have a small child run up and stare at you the entire time you’re looking at your phone, making you uncomfortable. Saying literally ONE WORD of Japanese and having everyone praise you for “how well you speak Japanese!” Using chopsticks at school and having all your teachers praise you for “oh you use chopsticks so well!” But the worst culprit of all has to be landlords refusing to rent you apartments because “we don’t allow gaijin.”


These all seem like little things, for the most part, so if it was just one or two things happening, or maybe once in a while something like this happened, I wouldn’t mind. But it happens nearly every day.

But Corinne. that’s what Latino/Latina/black/Asian/non-white Americans feel like all the time in the States!

Which is why I’m pointing it out here: it has to stop. Japan has to stop judging foreigners just as much as we have to stop judging non-white Americans.

3. Bureaucracy


Everything has to be approved by everyone. Everyone needs paper copies of everything, everything has to be pre-approved, and Japan, despite having the image of a technologically-advanced country because of places like Tokyo, is very much a country run by old men. Fax machines are common here, and rarely do classrooms have much technology of any sort. Take, for example, my school’s copy machine.


My school’s copy machine is amazing. It’s the latest model, and it can do tons of stuff, like copying, faxing (actually, those are about the only two things it can do, LOL). It also has a USB port, and can print .pdf and .docx files–I make a lot of my class worksheets using MS Word, so that’s absolutely perfect for me! However, my vice-principal came up to me one day and told me this: “You can’t connect the USB to the copy machine anymore because it’s connected to the school phone line and your USB could have a virus that would infect our phone system.” So he directed me to a different machine that could print stuff, only this machine doesn’t like to print out anything except JPEG images. So now, when I make worksheets for class, I have to save them as a JPEG (not terribly hard, just takes a lot of time) and make sure that it’s optimized for an A4-sized paper, because otherwise the machine will print it out horizontally and I can’t use it.

Japan doesn’t know how to use computers, doesn’t appreciate or value technological innovations, and is run by old men who require that everything has paper documentation.

This video explains Japan’s love affair with bureaucracy better than I ever could.

Credit kawaiijutsu via Youtube.

2. Fear of natural disasters


Japan is part of what is known as “the ring of fire,” and it’s no stranger to large earthquakes, typhoons that cause flooding, tsunamis, etc. And it’s very scary here, living in Japan.

But Corinne, that happens almost anywhere. Natural disasters can happen anywhere at all, right?

True. But in California, I never really experienced any earthquakes, except for one relatively big one the night after I got back from my first trip to Japan. Apparently we did have earthquakes a lot when I was living in California, I just never felt them or registered them. So here in Japan, living in an apartment that moves back and forth in order to absorb the shock of an earthquake, is really triggering for my anxiety. We’ll have a shindo 2 earthquake (the weakest one that can be felt by humans) in the middle of the night and it’ll still wake me up. The only comforting thing about this situation is that specifically because Japan experiences so many natural disasters, there’s safety measures in place in case a large one happens.

1. My downstairs neighbor


Some of you are probably reading this going, “Wait, what?” But it’s true.

My downstairs neighbor is a grumpy old guy who does not at all appreciate living below a young, single female. Let me tell you a story…

When I first arrived in Japan, over a year ago, it was blazing hot and very humid. We were brought to Iwaki at about 4 PM, and after a brief visit to the downtown Board of Education, we were each driven to our individual apartments. One of my senpai met us at my apartment building and showed me and my two fellow ALTs various things of importance in our apartments, like the gas stove, the hot water control, the circuit breaker, etc. Then she told us that she was going to take us to get some food and show us the local grocery store so we could buy things we needed. We should meet her outside in front of the apartment building at six so we could walk to the restaurant and make it in time for our reservation.


I was so overwhelmed with everything, so tired from the long bus ride from Tokyo and then subsequently the long car ride from nearby Koriyama where we had first gone for a brief ceremony, and so stressed out, that I did not hear the doorbell ring. I walked past my front door and was scared almost out of my skin to see an old guy standing there in my front entrance way! He scolded me for “walking too loudly” and didn’t really seem very receptive to the fact that I had just arrived, was very overwhelmed, had no idea what was going on, and anxious because at that point I was going to be late meeting everyone for dinner.

It wasn’t until later, when we arrived at the restaurant and met my predecessor that I heard the whole story from her. (My predecessor meaning the girl who had my job before me and lived in what is now my apartment).


He doesn’t like foreigners, and he would often come and yell at her even when she wasn’t doing anything wrong. He would accuse her of making noise when she hadn’t really done anything that was excessively loud, but at other times, she would have friends over and they would be talking in normal voices and he wouldn’t come upstairs. Since it had been a few days since she’d moved out, he’d probably gotten used to not having anyone living above him, and was therefore not pleased about having someone live above him again. It was also at that point that I learned that in Japan, the genkan (front entrance) is considered “public space” if you don’t lock your front door. In Japanese homes, there is a “genkan,” which is a small dugout space where you remove your shoes. So since this guy was standing in this lowered bit of floor, it wasn’t trespassing.

(Makes me wonder if someone could steal my shoes and get away with it if the door was unlocked and I’d left shoes there. Knowing Japan, probably.)

That episode left an enormous effect on me, and ever since then, I’ve been very vigilant about locking my door anytime I’m not actively entering or exiting the house. But after another episode a few months later in which I tripped and fell in the kitchen and he came upstairs and rang my doorbell, I answered it because I thought he was being neighborly and checking to make sure I was okay. But he started yelling at me about how much noise I was making, insisting that I “listen to so much loud music all the time and I need to stop” (despite the fact that I wore headphones 85% of the time I played music in my apartment and the other 15% of the time I played it from my computer but never let the volume go above 20 or so). And there was another time when I banged my leg against the table. A few seconds after that, I heard him storm up the stairs, and then he rang my doorbell over and over again. I knew it was him, and I was not in the mood to deal with it, so I just didn’t answer the door. When he rang the doorbell six or seven times in a row and I didn’t answer, he started pounding really loudly on my door, banging on it so hard that I thought he was going to break it down. Eventually he realized I wasn’t going to answer, and so he left again.


The main reason I told that long, long story is to get to the point: the sound of my doorbell ringing or someone knocking on my door gives me panic attacks. A while ago, I ordered something off Ebay, and it said it would be delivered on the 21st. So on the 21st, my doorbell rang. I knew with pretty much 100% certainty that it was the mailman, but my heart started pounding really hard and I started shaking. I looked out the peephole and saw that it was, in fact, the mail guy. But then after I signed for the package and he left, I realized I was trembling, and then when I registered that, I broke down in tears because I realized that I am now scared of answering my door no matter who it is.


Taking a tip from my predecessor in that she theorized that he didn’t tend to bother her when she had people over, I started pretending that I was living with someone. I started saying “Tadaima” (“I’m home”) when coming home, and “Ittekimasu” (“I’m leaving”) when going out. And apparently, it worked. He now seems to think I live with a boyfriend of some sort and doesn’t come upstairs as often. But it still causes me undue stress, and my downstairs neighbor is the #1 reason I hate living in Japan.

Top Ten Things I Hate About Living In Japan, Part One

Published August 9, 2017 by Corinne

It’s a lot of fun living here in Japan, that’s for sure. I’ve met a ton of interesting people, I love my schools, and, come on, it’s Japan. But there’s some things about living here which suck. Here are ten things I don’t like about life in Japan, in order from least to most annoying.

10. My MMORPG doesn’t work


For those who are unfamiliar with the term, MMORPG is short for Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. Think World of Warcraft or League of Legends. I play an MMORPG called Maplestory, which is owned by a Korean company and is licensed for North America and several European nations. Before coming over to Japan, I had not done much research into whether or not I could play Maplestory in Japan. I was aware of the fact that some sites, such as Netflix, Crunchyroll, etc. did not work with Japanese ISPs, but I didn’t know that MMORPGs would also limit ISPs.

Upon coming over to Japan, I downloaded Maplestory onto my new computer, but it wasn’t until four hours later when the download finished and I tried to run the game that it gave me the warning “You can’t play this game because your ISP is region-banned.” Doing some research, I found that the game isn’t licensed in Japan, and the game read my ISP and automatically blocked me.

But Corinne, why not just use a VPN to play?

I did some research into that, and it turns out that most VPNs don’t work very well. In addition, the Maplestory website says quite clearly “Anyone who is found using a VPN to play the game will be permanently banned.” And I have seen users banned in the past for this very same thing, so I was not going to even risk it.

I can handle it, because I’m going home to California this year for Christmas and I can play Maplestory then, but it still kinda sucks.


And right along those lines, Youtube. I subscribe to an anime review channel–a fairly big one–but because their (fair use) videos are always flagged for copyright infringement by various anime companies, they have had to resort to restricting which countries can and can’t view their videos. Some of their videos are still okay, but a few that have seen quite a bit of back-and-forth between this channel and the company that produced it have been blocked in Japan. I understand completely why they had to do that, but grr. Youtube really needs to get a better copyright system in place.

9. No swim teams


In the States, USMS (United States Masters Swimming) is a huge thing. In every large city, there’s pretty much guaranteed to be a swim team for adults certified by the USMS. Not so in Japan.

Japan does have its own Masters Swimming organization (Japan Master Swimming), however, there are no teams in my specific city, as far as I can tell. And unlike the USMS site, there isn’t a function on the Japan Master Swimming website where you can search for master’s teams in specific cities. Swimming is something I did a lot back home, and it was my main form of stress relief. There is a public pool here, but it’s only open for one month during summer. And there’s also a private pool where you pay $50 a month. It’s the same amount of money as I’d pay back home for my USMS team, but in that case, my money gets me access to a pool in addition to a coach, a workout, a team, and also all USMS meets, both open water and regular pool meets. The main difference is that pools in the States are heated year-round, whereas here in Japan, they’re not heated whatsoever, so only when it’s warm enough outside to swim is the pool warm enough to swim in.

8. Fire hazards galore


Many of you probably don’t know this, but when I was in college, I worked for the New Student Orientation program. Why do I mention this now? Because if there’s one thing I took away from that job, it is how to recognize a fire hazard in case of an emergency. And living in Japan, emergencies are quite common–we have earthquakes up the wazoo. But Japanese businesses don’t seem to recognize fire hazards as we do in the West.


For example, at the convenience store, the aisles are relatively small, only big enough for one person to walk at a time. And the ATM is placed right next to the refrigerator–there’s barely enough space for anyone to walk past it.

Or in the grocery store, stuff is piled up all around the “down” escalator, making it hard to get away from the escalator and head to the exit in case of an emergency. Every time I see something like that, my anxiety starts going crazy and I have to actively fight not to go tell an employee they suck at their jobs.

7. Google Maps and public transit suck arse


It is incredibly hard to find your way to an unknown place in Japan. Google Maps is very finicky and sometimes you can’t search for an address in English–luckily I know Japanese, so I can search for it in Japanese, but I can’t imagine what it’s like for a tourist who doesn’t speak Japanese who’s trying to find a relatively unknown location, or a place off the beaten path. Or when I tried to find a restaurant for an enkai–a drinking party with my colleagues. I got the address from the school nurse and looked it up on Google Maps. Google said it was a thirty-minute walk from the station, which I thought was rather weird. Usually we have our enkais close to the train station because Japanese cops are really strict about drinking and driving–you can’t drive if you’ve had even one sip of alcohol, so my teachers take the train so they can drink alcohol. But I figured that maybe they just wanted to try somewhere new, so on the day of, I took the bus down to the train station and walked thirty minutes to the location Google said was the restaurant.


It was just an empty lot, surrounded by a lot of houses. No restaurant anywhere to be seen, or rather, any businesses whatsoever. Not even a convenience store, when those are a dime a dozen in more busy areas.

I asked a lady nearby walking her dog if she knew where the restaurant was. She had no idea. I showed her the Google Maps app on my phone and she still didn’t know. I asked another lady and she also didn’t know. I had to call the other ALT at my school who was also going to the enkai and get directions from her. Turns out, the restaurant was a mere eight minutes from the train station on foot, in the exact opposite direction of which I’d walked. So I had to backtrack to the train station and then go the opposite way, and I wound up being fashionably late to the enkai.


The bus system also sucks here. At least, in my specific city, it does. It comes really late, sometimes it doesn’t come at all, or it leaves earlier than when the timetable says it will. One only has to look at the situation a few months ago when I was coming home from shopping with about fifteen pounds of groceries, and since it was too much to carry and walk, I decided to take the bus. The same bus I take to and from the train station. I got to the bus stop at 5:15. The timetable said it would come at 5:19. I waited a few minutes. When it didn’t come by 5:25, I wasn’t worried–it’s often late about five minutes. But I waited until about 5:35 and it never showed. To walk home from the grocery store, I walk along the same road the bus takes, and while I was walking home with all those groceries, I did not see a single bus pass by, which means it never even came at all.


Back home in California, I often took the bus, since I didn’t have a driver’s license. But in San Francisco, we have a relatively good bus system. Here where I live, there’s no phone number to call and check how long it is until the next bus. You can’t look up the bus schedule online like you can for the MUNI. And I’m fairly certain you can’t even walk into the bus depot and ask for a bus schedule for the local bus. The bus here in my city is terrible, and the city won’t spend money on it because “not enough people use the buses to make it worthwhile.” But people here don’t ride the buses specifically because they suck.

6. No respect for vegetarians/alternative diets


(To like, the one person out there who gets this reference, you’re amazing)

As the title says. Vegetarians/vegans/pescetarians/other special diets aren’t really respected here. Of course, you have people who are actually allergic to gluten and can get gluten-free options for their school lunches, or the kids who can’t digest lactose and area allowed to drink soymilk instead, but the overall mentality is that unless you are actually allergic to something, you’re not allowed to be picky about eating it.

So imagine going out to eat in America, or in your own home country. You’re excited to try a new restaurant, it’s gotten great reviews, and you’ve seen on Yelp that everyone recommends the special pasta dish, so you are determined to also get the special pasta dish. You arrive at the restaurant and get your table, only to read on the menu that the pasta dish has bacon in it. The problem is, you’re vegetarian. So you call the waiter over and say that you’ve heard that the pasta is recommended but it has bacon and you can’t eat bacon. The waiter agrees to make it without the bacon, and a few minutes later, brings out a steaming dish of pasta sans bacon. You dig in happily, give the waiter a huge tip, and everyone goes home happy. Not so in Japan.


The situation is the same: you’re going to try a new restaurant, you want to get the special pasta because everyone recommends it. You read on the menu that it has bacon, but you’re vegetarian. Heart sinking, you call the waitress over to your table and ask for the pasta to be made without bacon because you’re vegetarian.

“Well, I don’t know if we can do that. We can’t really make any changes to the menu,” she explains.


You decide to order something else, but everything else has some form of meat in it. Even the salad has chicken! Frustrated, you explain to the waitress you’re vegetarian and could she make the pizza without the sausage on it, at least?

“Well, I don’t know. I should ask my manager.”

She vanishes into the back, and reemerges ten minutes later.

“Okay, we can make it without the sausage. But we’ll have to charge you the same price.”


You laugh and assure her you don’t mind about that. So she vanishes into the back again, and you sit back, imagining the delicious meal you’re about to eat. The waitress reemerges with your pizza and places it in front of you. But then you stop as you notice some little specks on the pizza that shouldn’t be there.

You call the waitress back over and ask what happened.

“No, yeah, we couldn’t make it without the sausage after all,” she explains.

But, wait. You explained it to her in Japanese, so she should have understood. And what happened to “the customer is always right” and “customer service is god”?


Japan prides itself on customer service, as long as the customer sticks to the menu and doesn’t make any special requests.

This post has gotten rather long, so I’ll end it here. Part two, coming soon!


If you liked this, you might also enjoy From Iwaki to Aizu (Christmas Part One)!

From Iwaki to Aizu! (Christmas Part One)

Published June 24, 2017 by Corinne

Christmas 2016 was my first Christmas away from home. Some ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) went home for Christmas, but I stayed in Japan.

I had been so overwhelmed with school that I hadn’t had many opportunities to go out and explore Japan. So I decided to use Christmas as an opportunity to travel a bit. My friend from America came to visit, and we went traveling around Japan together.


Me and my friend Ellie set off on our adventure! December 23, 2016. Photo courtesy of Ellie Adelman.

She arrived late on December 22, and we spent the night at my apartment. On December 23, we woke up and took the bus to the train station. Our first stop was Koriyama, a transfer point for our next train. We were greeted at Koriyama station by a huge statue of Gakutokun, Koriyama’s mascot.


Gakutokun greeted us as we stepped off the train!

Koriyama is a relatively large city, but there wasn’t really anything here we wanted to do, so we only stayed long enough to pay our respects to Gakutokun and catch our connecting train. Our destination: Aizu-Wakamatsu, a city farther inland in Fukushima, where we intended to see the old samurai town and have our first traditional ryokan experience together. However, we got stuck in Bandai because of heavy snow.


Bandai-machi, courtesy of Google Maps. To the east is Koriyama and Iwaki. We got stuck at Bandaimachi station for two hours!

Finally, we arrived at Aizu-Wakamatsu station. We were greeted by Akabekko, the mascot of Aizu!


Akkabeko,  outside the station. The legend of Akabekko says that when the people of Fukushima were in trouble, a red cow came down from the mountains and saved them. Akabekko is that red cow.


I just had to give him a hug and take a photo!

We took a taxi to Mukaitaki, which is a traditional Japanese style ryokan, or lodging house, and let me just say we were pampered. I felt like a princess while staying there.


My friend Ellie, posing with the amazing kaiseki dinner they served us. Kaiseki is a traditional style of eating where there are various smaller dishes served feast-style. I didn’t even know what half the stuff was, but all of it was amazing.

You’ll notice that there’s a blanket on the table. This is a kotatsu, a Japanese-style heated table. Japanese houses don’t have central heating and aren’t insulated very well, so this is how they stay warm in winter. The table has a heater underneath it, and you drape a blanket over it and then sit at the table. I have a kotatsu at my house, but this was Ellie’s first time with one, and it was funny how she seemed so fascinated with it.


A strange statue outside the station. At first, I thought it was a shield, but then I realized it was a wheel axel. To the left you can see the yellow bus, which is the one we took.

The next morning, December 24, we hopped the local community bus to go to the old samurai residence. This is an old-fashioned house from the Edo period (17th century) converted into a museum, showing how a high-ranking samurai from back then would have lived.

I have a lot of video footage of the samurai residence, so I’ll make a separate video of our visit there.


Aizu Samurai Bukeyashiki, courtesy of Japan Guide.

Our next stop was Tsuruga Castle, which has now been converted into a museum. Along with the samurai residence, this was the other thing I had wanted to see in Aizu. However, unlike the samurai residence, which was mostly unchanged from how it used to look, the castle had been renovated so much it no longer felt like a castle. I had been expecting it to be like the samurai residence, where you could walk through and actually see what it would have been like to live there. Instead, the castle was more like a museum.


Tsuruga castle, viewed from the grounds


“Map of Predecessor Relations” in Tsuruga castle

Again, I’ll probably make a separate post about Tsuruga castle because I have so many photos from that visit.

After our visit to the old samurai residence and the castle, we’d worked up quite an appetite. So we stopped in at a little food stall near the castle for some lunch. We both got udon (noodle soup) made with mountain vegetables.


This was the food stall. Very cozy little place. Small, and not too crowded, either.

While perusing the menu, we also saw a curious item called “tenpura manjuu.” Tenpura is a style of cooking which involves rolling something in bread crumbs and deep-frying it. Tenpura vegetables and shrimp are pretty commonplace. However, I’d never heard of deep-frying a manju (dumpling filled with sweet red bean paste). So we ordered one out of curiosity.


Tenpura manju.

So delicious! We almost regretted getting the soup, because we wanted to just order several more of these and call it a meal, but the soup was delicious, too. We pigged out on healthy vegetable soup and not-so-healthy deep fried dumplings and headed out again.

Our next stop? Utsunomiya, a city in Tochigi just north of Tokyo.


Utsunomiya, courtesy of Google Maps.

We arrived in Utsunomiya at about 4 PM on the 24th. After finding our hotel and relaxing for a bit, we headed out for dinner. Christmas sushi!


Santa? outside the sushi restaurant.


Christmas squid!

We toasted our little Christmas Eve feast and got cake on the way back to the hotel, because duh, cake. We spent the night at a hotel near Utsunomiya station and woke up early the next morning, December 25. Part two will be seeing what Utsunomiya had to offer us, including a sex museum and getting kicked out of places for profanity!


Various photos

Published March 2, 2017 by Corinne

I have been rather reluctant to update this blog because I haven’t really gone on any big adventures. I did go traveling with a friend over Christmas break, and a blog post about that adventure is forthcoming. In the meantime, I found a bunch of pictures on my phone, so here’s some of those!


Sunset on the bridge


Squirrel statue fiercely guards a walking path


Summertime view in the valley


Horse statue at the train station


The beach!


The Pacific Ocean!


Another valley view


Shopping for a friend’s baby shower gift


At the junior high school speech contest–I don’t teach junior high, so I didn’t know any of the kids


The pool at the local middle school


My base school!


This is my elementary school. It’s pink. 😀


A bunch of us hanging out on the roof of the Board of Education building.


All us ALTs took a “shuugou shashin”–group photo


My friend and her baby


A pine tree up the hill from my school. The rock says “The pine of sending off a bride.” Still haven’t found anyone who knows what this is.


My kids did A Christmas Carol for Christmas! They brought their own props, too!


At my schools during the month of December, I wrote a simplified version of “A Christmas Carol” and had them perform it. They were really good!


My kids are hella creative in ways I couldn’t have even imagined!


Sunset in Fukushima


Fukushima sunset


“Ghost of Christmas Present” says good-bye to Scrooge


Ghost of Christmas Future wakes Scrooge from slumber


A festival downtown to celebrate lighting up the Christmas tree


Some of my students played around with stuff in the English room.


One kid used a Darth Vader mask as Ghost of Christmas Future!


A fellow ALT, Dean, is really good at taiko drumming!


Lost my wallet and found a goat! xD


A typical school lunch in Japan–rice, milk, yogurt, croquette, and soup.


A pond outside the staff entrance at one of my schools.


Dean playing taiko at the talent show at school–she’s really good!


Mascots at the grocery store

Jugyou Sankan

Published December 2, 2016 by Corinne

I follow quite a few Japan-related blogs and Youtube channels about foreigners living in Japan or teaching English in Japan, and yet I’ve never really seen a proper discussion about this subject, which, if you’re an ALT for long enough, you will eventually encounter. That is jugyou sankan, 授業参観or class visitation.

Jugyou sankan is like a rite of passage for Japanese schools. It’s a day when the parents are invited to come to the school and watch the classes. They stand in the back of the classroom and support their child (although a lot of teachers also are under the impression that the parents are judging the teacher rather than the child, which I agree with). Today I went to one of my visit schools and we happened to have jugyou sankan today.

This school gave me a schedule at the beginning of the semester showing which days I would be going to that school, which classes I would be teaching, and special events that were taking place on that day, so I already knew that today would be jugyou sankan. At first, I was mistaken in that I thought it was an all-day event, and I got rather excited that there might be parents watching my class. At this specific school, the sixth graders are doing skits of the classic story A Christmas Carol and the fifth graders are learning how to talk about school schedules (like describing their school schedule, learning the names of subjects, etc. This culminates in a final project of creating an “Ideal School Schedule” where the kids get to design their own schedule for school.) I’m very proud of the materials I’ve made for this lesson. I have 8.5 x 11″ laminated pictures that I downloaded off of Google to represent each subject. For example, this is the one I use for English:English Laungage

And this is the one I used for Japanese:


Can you guess what these other subjects are?

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I also created very eye-catching A4-sized cards for the days of the week:

The pictures included with the text are representations of the native Japanese writing. For example, Monday is 月曜日 in Japanese. 月 is the character for “moon.” Since they can’t read very well, they can’t tell what day it is just by reading the text, so I have to include visual clues, as well. When they construct sentences, I can move the cards around to change the order of things on the board, so I was very excited for the parents to see the materials I was making for class and to see that I had a very different way of doing things than my predecessor did.

But, as it turns out, jugyou sankan was only during fifth period, and I didn’t have fifth period class today to teach. Since the sixth graders were essentially presenting their skit, I asked the teacher if we could move class to fifth period so the parents could watch, but he declined, saying that the kids probably would feel very self-conscious of speaking English while their parents were watching. This took a while for me to accept–back when I was in school, that was a thing. I loved having my mom come to school and watch school plays or performances, because it showed that she was really proud of me and she was taking an interest in what I liked. But here in Japan, they seem to take performances really seriously. Every year all Japanese schools have an event called a happyoukai, which is essentially a talent show where each grade creates a skit or performance of some sort and the parents come to watch, and they take it so seriously. So even though this was just a casual little skit for English class to have fun and take a break from textbook learning, they still seemed to take it way too seriously in that they didn’t want their parents to watch since they didn’t feel like it was “perfect.”

I had kind of a rough morning today because I made several kids cry. During my first class of the day, a sixth grade class, one kid started crying because his team was losing the game that we were playing. And then during the next period, I had a fifth grade class and two separate kids cried on two separate occasions, and while no one cried during my fourth period sixth grade class, I still was really shaken up by the time lunch came around. And while I felt a little better after lunch because I ate lunch with the first graders and they were sooooooo adorable, I still didn’t feel like I was doing a good enough job. Essentially, the school pays for me to be there every day–they pay the Board of Education in order to “rent” me for the day, and then the Board of Education uses that money to pay my salary. So I always feel kind of bad about myself if my classes aren’t successful, like the school is wasting its money on a clueless foreigner who has no idea what she’s doing and who can’t even do the basic duties of her job. And while several other ALTs have all told me on various occasions that if a kid starts crying during class, it’s not necessarily my fault, I’m still trying to find the right balance between “my classes are too easy” and “I’m pushing them too hard and they’ll start to hate English,” so if a kid starts crying during class, I’m always on high alert, thinking that what I’m trying to get them to do is too hard and they’re scared of getting something wrong and messing up. Despite the fact that the fifth grade lesson I taught today has been kid-tested by ten other fifth grade classes at various other schools and the other fifth grade class at this school. The game I was using for the class is a really popular one among fifth graders, and the format is simple: the students are all standing at their desks, I ask a question, first person to raise their hand and answer it correctly can “shoot” energy in one of several directions to make other people sit down or stand up. It’s kind of like a real-life version of a mixture of Bingo and Othello. Since these kids all have the same daily schedule as each other, there wouldn’t be enough variety to be able to practice the sentence structure I wanted to use, so instead, I give them a sentence using a subject card and a day of the week card and they have to say the sentence in English: “I study Japanese on Monday.” Then they have to provide the meaning in Japanese.

Anyway, enough ranting about Japanese schoolkids being bloody perfectionists. During fifth period, I decided to go walk around and show my face a bit to the parents. When I don’t have actual classes to teach, I can sit in the staff room and just hang out, but I’m not required to stay in the staff room all the time if I don’t want to, and since it was a day for the parents to come and visit, I thought I should show my face a bit so they could see that I don’t just come there to teach English but I’m actually interested in the students’ lives outside of English class and I want to be a part of the school community. Although this is one of my farthest schools that takes 25 minutes to get to by car, which basically means that I don’t get to school until about ten minutes into first period, and the taxi that comes to get me to take me back home comes so early that I can never have a sixth period class, either.

So I popped out of the staff room during fifth period and went for a walk. I then happened upon the Special Ed class at that school, comprised of six boys, including one sixth-grader I recognized from my English classes. In order to protect his privacy, I’ll refer to him simply as “R-kun.” I hadn’t realized that R-kun was a mainstream Special Ed student like I had been way back in the day. He’s always incredibly excited to see me and he waves to me whenever he sees me in the hallways or whenever I go into the classroom for English class. I knew that having the English teacher watch the class would be a distraction for the kids, so I stayed by the door, ready to leave at the first sign of “These kids can’t concentrate on their studies while I’m here.” But they were already plenty distracted by their parents being there, so me being there didn’t make one lick of a difference in that regard.

Today’s class was about how to make phone calls and use the telephone. The teacher had prepared two play telephones that actually connected to each other and could transmit sounds so you could use them as you would a real telephone. And she also got the mothers (and me) involved in the lesson, as well. The first activity was “how to call someone else’s house and the person you’re trying to reach is at home but isn’t the one who answers the phone.” So she had one student “make” the phone call and then the mothers answered. The student making the call had to practice saying things (in Japanese) like “My name is _____. I’m calling for ______. Can I please speak to him?” One of the boys’ parents wasn’t there during this activity, so I wound up being his substitute “mom.”

Then the next activity was “how to receive a phone call.” They all took turns making phone calls to each other and practicing proper phone etiquette. And then they practiced “how to receive a phone call asking for your parents, who aren’t at home.” The kids had a blast using the fake phones for the activity, and it was a really fun interactive lesson. I wound up getting into “teacher mode” when it wasn’t my turn to actually pretend to use the phone. The teacher had posted sample dialogues along one wall so the students could read along with the lines if they weren’t sure what to say, so I stood next to the posters she’d made of these dialogues and pointed at each line with my finger so the students could follow along more easily.

Then at the very end of class, she had a short quiz for them, like “What do you say when you bump into someone by accident?” and “What do you say within three seconds of receiving a present?” It was a really interesting experience getting to observe a Special Ed class, because usually I don’t get to teach the Special Ed classes.

After the class, the teacher actually thanked me for helping out during class–she’s the only teacher for the class, and she doesn’t have any aides or anything. In America, Special Ed teachers usually get at least a few aides–teacher’s helpers who have various certifications who help during class and who also accompany the students to their mainstream classes to offer support, but there’s no such thing here in Japan. In fact, most of the time, Special Ed teachers here in Japan don’t even need to have a certification to teach special ed. They’re usually just regular teachers who are assigned to be in charge of the special ed class.

After the class, R-kun gave me an origami wheel that he had made himself. It was such a sweet gesture, and I was really touched. I can’t keep it at the desk I use at that specific visit school, simply because the desk I use isn’t really mine. Since I go to this school rather infrequently, when I’m not there, it’s used by two other staff members, so I can’t keep very many personal items at that desk. But I keep it at the desk at my base school. It’s a really nice little decoration and it makes me smile to look at it. On Monday when I go back to my base school, I’ll take a picture of it at my desk and put it into this post.