Sunday, August 31, 2008

Non-Edible Edibles

Woodblock prints, bonsai, haiku, Japanese calligraphy, oragami, bunraku and kabuki---all common and popular forms of the Japanese arts.  However, there is one art form that, in my opinion, is not given its due justice in the line of these skilled crafts.

That is the Japanese art of realistic-looking plastic food models!

EVERY restaurant and eatery (okay, maybe not the really upscale places) has these tantalizing wonders outside of their establishment to beckon hungry mouths (especially non-Japanese-menu readers like myself).  These things are incredible!!  The attention to detail and presentation is so...Japanese!  Every food, dessert, and even beer imaginable has been molded with loving plasticized care and is on display somehow, somewhere in Japan!

Pardon the terrible shots...trying to get reflection-free and correctly exposed plastic food shots with a point-and-shoot does no wonder for my "try and not look like a huge tourist" status.

I'm especially fond of the "floating chopstick" variety:

For those of you interested, I did a little prodding and found out how this stuff is actually made!  You can check it out here:  Plastic Food Factory

I love Japan!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Would You Drink This?


Whereas most people have nice lawns, flowers, or other inviting areas as their front yard, I on the other-hand have a nice big, pink school.  That is, the Hokkaido Sapporo Intercultural and Technological High School, to be exact.  As I stated earlier, this has been one of the best parts of my placement...the 40 second commute to work is unbeatable!

My first week of classes actually consisted of 3 days as I had JET Sapporo Orientation for the first few days of school.  With the help of my wonderful neighbor-girl, Nagi, my Japanese office introduction and addressing of the school went decent.  Everyone told me my Japanese was clear and understandable, altough the Japanese have politeness and compliments down to an art, regardless of if it's deserved or not!  I have a feeling, in reality, it sounded like someone throwing up, but that's just me.

Nagi and I working on my speech.  Photo by Ross Cole-Hunter.

When we were bored with speech-writing, we put our hair in our sunglasses like a couple of hairy linguistic animals:

Oh yeah...back to school.  S.I.T. has about 80 teachers and 1,000 students.  All of the teachers have their desks in a communal staff room (typical of most Japanese schools), which is also open to the students to come in and chat or ask questions. 

My desk and the aging, glowing, growling box that is my computer, a heirloom passed down from the many ALTs before me.  I must always listen to it (when it does turn on) and learn from its ancient ways: 

Added benefit of the community staffroom:  the lunch-lady who brings bento lunches for sale (I love bento lunches)!  Many smaller schools merely have a tea-lady.  We, however, get bento!  My first bento lunch (and I promise, my last photo of said school bento lunches):

Like I already stated, the JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) who I work with are all lovely and speak amazing English!  S.I.T. really is a leader in foreign language education as far as the Japanese school system is concerned (most other school's English classes are usually taught in Japanese by instructors who know basic English at best!).

A few of my colleagues (my stalking abilities only captured two of the four teachers I work with...more to come in the future):

Sakai sensei and me

Me and Matsuhashi sensei

The other English ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), Dawn (from Singapore) and me

A few interior shots of the school.  I have some fabulous shots of some of my students, however out of respect and privacy of them (not to mention the internet's creep-factor) I probably won't be posting them in the near future anyway. Don't despair, though...if I can get some of their permission in the future, I will be bombarding you with them!

The "canteen" (name given to the common area):

Hallways with shoe lockers (I still love that we have indoor shoes and outdoor shoes):

A common sight, six days a week (yes, they are even at school many Saturdays), from 7:30am until 6:00pm or later!  These kids are involved in SO much, from studying to sports to clubs.  In addition, some of them have up to a 2-hour commute to and from school each day:

I'm still trying to figure out which drug this guy doesn't want us to have:

I won't pain any of you with the details of my self-introduction (a rousing round of True/False questions about me...the same one done 6 different times for 6 different classes), however it did involve an open-question session afterwards.  Here are a few that I got:

Do you like Johnny Depp?
Do you have a boyfriend? (asked in every class)
Where do you live?
What is your bloodtype? (apparently, knowing your bloodtype is like knowing your birthday)
How old are you? (to which I replied, 87)
What is your favorite Japanese food?
Do you like natto?
Do you have kids?
What is your favorite American food?
Do you care to know about Japanese culture?

In addition, I also received many letters telling me about themselves and asking even more questions!  I now end with some of the highlights (note:  all letters edited for space, but copied exactly as written):

Dear Crystal,
Hello!  Let me introduce myself!  My blood type is A and I belong to badminton club.

Dear Crystal,
Hello!  How are you?  I'm fine thank you.  But I'm sleeping now.

Dear Crystal,
My hobbies are playing the piano and blowing the oboe and playing my cat.  I want to become friendship with you.

Dear Crystal,
Do you like Japan?  How do you feel Japanese students?  Look good?  or Look bad?

Dear Crystal,
HIP HOP is very important to me.  HIP HOP inspirated  me a lot.  And it may last until the end of my life.  And I also like Rock as one of the junres of music.

Dear Crystal,
I have two questions for you.
First, when did you marry?
Second, how is your husband?
Third, is he cool?

Dear Crystal,
My question for you is why did you come to Japan?
And why do you teach English for me?
Where are your husband?  Are you miss your husband?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Prada, Raman, and Tractors

I've been in Japan for nearly three weeks now and haven't really talked about my city, Sapporo, which is Japan's fifth largest city and one of the newest, most Western-like cities in the country. It's super clean, friendly, and laid back.  I love walking the tree-lined streets and keeping my eye out for all of the many festivals and events going on, all while pretending that I don't really stand out (or up, if we're talking height).

Suffering from "Eiffel Tower Inferiority Complex," the Sapporo TV Tower is one of the city's most recognized and most visited sites.  It's especially popular during the winter, when you can get a fantastic view of Odori Park and all of the brilliant snow sculptures during the Snow Festival in February.

More pics of Odori Park, sans Beer Festival:

Akarenga, which means Red Bricks, is the former Hokkaido government building and present tourist site.

Eri and faces...thrown in for personal-effect:

Restaurants abound...shops galore (everything from Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany to 100 yen shops and Hello Kitty boutiques):

This is Raman Alley...a tiny space crowded with about 18 raman shops (yet ANOTHER speciality that Sapporo and Hokkaido are known for!).

Miso raman...aka, hot good lovin'

Hokkaido has the sweetest sweet-corn I have ever tasted in my life!  Seriously, this stuff is like candy...I've never had anything like it before (and I'm from the Midwest!!).  Summertime means loads of roasted sweet-corn stands everywhere.  It's even better topped with creamy Hokkaido butter, making what I like to call "Agriculture-On-A-Stick" (whereas stick equals cob).  

Odori at dusk:

Sapporo Station...our biggest subway/train/bus hub with shopping and department stores galore.  It's pretty much it's own functional city powered by high heels and neon (clothes, that is...more on Japanese fashion later...)

Around my neck of the woods--city--things are a bit calmer.  The thing that fascinates me about this city is it's huge connection and recognition of agriculture.  In terms of food, they are all about local, local, local here, which I love!  In fact, most houses have some kind of garden in their yards consisting of tomatoes, potatoes, melons, and...CORN:

Sunflowers are another staple in these gardens as well.  Strangely enough, though, I've never seen packets of sunflower seeds in any of the stores:

Just a ways down from my house and school is, you guessed it, a farm!  I think it has some historical importance, but I can't read what the sign says.  It does have horses and chickens, although they were not to be seen today:

And right across the street grocery store, Big House!  Don't let the comforting English trick you.  Inside is one of the most frightening things I've experienced, if not for the sheer volume of new and curious treats, than for the intimidating foreign characters screaming out to me (much like the lights in Tokyo) that I'm illiterate.  When I shop for groceries, I like to play games such as "Is This Tuna or Cat Food?" and "What Did These Eyes/Eggs/Parts Belong To?"

To be completely random, I'd like to end with a compelling photo from our JET Sapporo Orientation Welcome enkai (all you can eat/drink party) held at the Kirin Beer Garden this week.  Being as we're all government-employed teachers, the extent of internet-posted pics from our "gatherings"  is usually rather limited:

See all of the fun you can have in Sapporo!?