I know it's been three months since I posted. I'm sorry. I didn't really know how to follow up climbing Mt. Fuji, so I just kept putting it off. This post still won't really measure up to the last, but at least it's something, right? I'll try to keep a more regular schedule, too, from here on.

Sunday night, my throat started hurting. I figured it would go away, and tried to ignore it as best I could, but didn't get much sleep.

I woke up and it was still hurting, but I went to school anything, thinking it would go away. I get a little under the weather all the time, and I thought this would be the same. Sooo not the case. I maintain that the 35 min walk is what did me in, but I went to class, and started feeling really dizzy. I was in the back of the classroom while the JTE was scolding kids in the hallway and leaned on the cabinets. I felt really faint and my ears started ringing and my vision blacked out a little, and then I threw up a little. Well. That decided that. I went out to the hallway and told my JTE I was feeling sick, so he looked concerned and told me to go to the teacher's room.

I went to the bathroom first to clean my hands and mouth and just sort of hang on to the sink. Then I went to my desk and explained what happened to the other ALT, since she didn't have class. My JTE came back a little later and asked what happened and told me not to worry. He called Interac, who called me and told me I should probably go home. They asked if I wanted to go to the clinic, but I said no, because I figured it would pass and I just needed to sleep it off. And I just don't like going to doctors.

Well then the branch head called and said I really should go to the clinic to make sure it's not anything serious. So I can't really argue with him, and tell him I'll go. The other English teachers come talk to me, along with the nurse, and the vice principal and tell me to just rest and go home and not to worry about classes. And if I need to take the next day off, to please do and not worry.

About 20 minutes later, an IC (someone from Interac who helps translate and takes employees places) came to pick me up. First stop is the clinic which is actually fairly near my apartment. It's about halfway between my school and my apartment.

It's just a walk-in clinic, I think, so my IC gave them my Health Card and we got a number. We waited maybe 20 minutes, which I didn't think was that bad. Once that was over, we went into this a small curtained off room, and there was like 5 nurses just kind of hovering. I have no idea why half of them were there. Also, they didn't wear scrubs, but the skirt, stockings and little hat combo that women wore in the 50s in the US.

Anyway, the doctor didn't really speak English, and my IC didn't really know medical terms, so that part was fun. She had her dictionary, so we basically got things figured out. The doctor just asked a few basic questions and poked at my stomach and looked at my throat and decided I just had a cold. I didn't have a fever. He prescribed me some medicine and that was pretty much it.

The visit cost 1070 yen and the medicine cost 380 yen (roughly about $11 and $4). I have to take it three times a day before each meal for the next three days. It's just a tiny pill, so it's not bad. I have no idea what it actually is.

After that, my IC was nice enough to take me to the grocery store because I have no food at my apartment. Then she took me home, and I fell asleep watching some dorama.

I ended up sleeping most of the day and then this morning, I was still feeling not so great, so I called in. I had hoped to recover enough by the end of the day to go in to Mito to get my re-entry visa for when I leave the country in a month, but I somehow fell asleep and stayed asleep all day.

I'm feeling mostly better now, though my throat still aches a little and I'm kind of drowsy. I'll head back to school tomorrow, and hopefully make it through the day in one piece.
I'm not entirely sure how I did it, but I climbed to the summit of Mt. Fuji.

Our journey began early Friday morning. I take the first train out of Hitachi (5:12am) and meet up with four other climbers. We have to take a long series of trains and one bus to get to the 5th station where we'll start our climb, but we we finally make it early in the afternoon.

We spend some time at the 5th station, adjusting to the altitude (7,500 ft) and getting some lunch. We're climbing up the Yoshida trail, and started in Kawaguchiko. It's really important to know which 5th station you're starting from, because there are several around the mountain (and our trail split partway down). This station is the most popular because there's lots of parking available, and the trail has quite of few huts to rest in compared to the other trails.
We started climbing around 3pm and the trip to the 6th station is pretty easy. And it would have been a lot easier if we'd been better prepared. It started to rain on us, and two people in our group didn't have any rain gear. We were close enough to the 5th station, that the two guys volunteered to go back to buy rain jackets, and thankfully, that worked out just fine. We have a rockslide shelter to hide out in until they got back, so we stayed dry. And of course, the rain stopped as soon as they returned. But, I still got a cool jacket out of the deal, and the extra layer was good to have later.

After the 6th station, though, the trail got much more difficult, and much rockier. I very quickly became very glad I'd gotten a walking stick, because that extra balance was essential to not falling down and having an extra boost up the rocks. When we finally made it to the seventh station, I was disappointed to find out that there were actually several 7th stations, which made it kind feel like we weren't making any progress, and the sun was starting to set.

So we got our flashlights/headlamps and pressed on. Hiking through the 7th stations was soooo difficult. I was having a lot of trouble getting enough oxygen thanks to the altitude, plus I'd been up since about 1:30am, so I had to stop to rest a lot. Plus the trail itself was extremely difficult. It was legitimate mountain climbing. There were times when I was using all four limbs or climbing up on my knees just to move forward. Plus it was in the dark, and my lamp wasn't all that bright. I could see and I wasn't going to fall of the side of the mountain, but it was hard to move forward.

Then, we finally reached the 8th station. Or, as before, the first 8th station. This part was the worst, because we had a hut reservation in one of the 8th station huts, but we weren't sure where ours was on the trail. So we'd reach one station only to find out that it wasn't it and we had to keep climbing. At one point, I had to stop to get food (really gross cup noodles) because I was so exhausted. But by this time, it was somewhere around 9pm, and we really needed to get to our hut so we could get some rest before continuing the next day. So again, we pressed on.

Somewhere between 10 and 10:30, we finally reached our hut. And there was much rejoicing.
The hut is basically a building with two rooms. The first room is kind of like a dining area with a few long tables and food and drink you can buy at 5 times their regular price. The second room is where we sleep. It's divided into section with curtains for doors and room enough for 6 sleeping bags side by side. And that's it. And they're bunk bed style, so you can't stand up in them. However, we we lucky enough to have our group of 5 all get the same section, so we were at least sleeping next to people we knew. And really, I was perfectly content. I just wanted to sleep.

Wake-up call was at about 1:30, though me and one other member of our group stayed in bed a little longer because we were still so tired. We ended up leaving around 2 and were the last to leave the hut. Usually, it should take about an hour to get from our station to the summit, which would be plenty of time to catch the 4:30am sunrise. However, the trail was completely packed and moved very slowly. Plus, I was still pretty tired and not getting all the oxygen I would have liked.

I was still just below the summit when the sun came up, but I climbed off the trail a little to sit and watch it and take a few pictures. It was seriously so beautiful. There are a few more pictures in my photostream to the right, but my camera really couldn't capture it. We could see two lakes, one of which was turned a gorgeous crimson.
Once the sun was mostly up (and my batteries were pretty much dead), I finished the climb. I reached the summit at about 5:30am. There's actually quite a bit up there. There's a shrine and some little shops to get food and drink, plus the crater to go see. That crater is incredible and really kind of scary to look into. Our group got a group photo in front of it and spent some time look around and just basking in our success before heading back down. And it really wasn't that cold, I thought. I had a t-shirt, zip-up hoodie, sweatshirt, and my vinyl jacket, with some sweats and gloves, and I was perfectly comfortable. I took my gloves off at times for pictures, and was still good. We really lucked out with the weather, because it was perfectly clear, too. It was gorgeous.

Then we headed back down around 7:30, I think. The way down is completely different from the way up. For one, it's all dirt and dust and switchbacks. There's nothing really to see and it's pretty boring, compared to the epic adventure on the way up. Plus, the dust kept getting in my eyes, making it really difficult for me to see anything at all. Eventually, I rigged my hood, sunglasses, and bandana for some relief, but it was still pretty slow going for me. Plus I ran out of water, and there's no place to buy any on the trail. So I'm pretty sure I got pretty dehydrated. It was really slow going for me.

But finally, I made it back to the 5th station around 12:30. I downed three bottles of Aquarius, and got some food and souvenirs, and then we were back on the bus. I made it back to my apartment around 10pm, completely exhausted. I'm pretty sure I peeled off skin when I removed my socks, and I have a serious blister on the side of my right heel. And it's Tuesday morning, and I'm only just regaining the ability to climb in and out of bed and up and down steps without seriously soreness and aching in my legs.

But, it was worth it. I can say I climbed Mt. Fuji and survived. Tomorrow, I go back to school, and I certainly ended my summer with a bang.
So we left off with me in Yokote after seeing the Akita Kanto Festival with all the lanterns.


Day Four started off badly. I didn't set my alarm the night before, because I'd been naturally waking up around 6 everyday and wasn't in any hurry. However, I was apparently exhausted, because I woke up at 10:03. Check-out was at 10. This was not good.

So I scrambled to get ready and gather all my belongings and managed to check out about 10:20. Thankfully, they didn't charge me for a late check-out and I was on my way.

I had a couple hours before the next train left for Sendai, so I just walked to the station. It was soooo hot. Thankfully, the station wasn't really that far, and it was a straight shot from the hotel, with a minor detail to get to the entrance on the other side. I waited inside where it was a little bit cooler until my train came.

The trip to Sendai was mostly uneventful. I say mostly because this is the leg where I met the man who loves American. He got really excited and sat across from me and wanted to talk and talk and talk. Then he saw my camera and told me about a really cool scenic spot coming up that I HAD to take a picture of. As in, I had to get up and stand by the door so I could get a good shot out the window.

He was really impressed that I was able to get a shot (though I cheated and did a video) and said that 99% of people can't get it. So, go me. Then of course, he had to take a picture with me, and of me with his cell phone. Oh and he gave me the weirdest compliment - he said my face was pretty because it was round, unlike Japanese faces which are flat.

When I reached Sendai, I actually only had a few hours because I was staying with Jul, who lived about another 45 minutes away. While in Sendai, I scouted out the area a bit, and grabbed some lunch.

The station was huge, but there was an information stand set up for visitors coming for the festival. Some school girls came up to me to ask if I needed help in English, and we chatted for a bit. They were way cute and impressed with my Japanese.

Eventually, the time came to head to Hebita and meet up with Jul. Her husband Josh met me at the tiniest station ever and we walked back to their place. We had a nice dinner and I got to steal their electricity and recharge everything. And their daughter is absolutely adorable.


The next day we head back to Sendai. After discovering that every locker in that huge station was already taken, I suggested to try my hotel and see if they'd hold my stuff until I could check in. And success! I could. So relieved of my bags, we were free to go look at the decorations.

There's a huge shopping street, that was completely filled with these things, and crammed full of people shopping and taking pictures.

We look around for a bit before their daughter (who is about 14 months old, I think?) passes out and they decide to call it a day. We get lunch at this cute little cafe, and then we head back to the station.

After I say goodbye, I can check-in to my hotel, so I do that and just kind of chill in the air conditioning for awhile, because once again it is reeeally hot outside.

When I finally do venture back outside, it's a little bit later, and it's because there are mascots that I can see from my window and I want a picture.

Also because it took me some time to get dressed, haha. Now, I'm pretty sure I Gaijin Smashed my way into this picture. I'm fairly sure now that the assistant was announcing that no more people can get in line because time is up, but I stood in line anyway. Because he was using polite words I didn't know because they're long and I wanted a picture. But I figured it out when no one else got in line and I heard 'ah, owari?' which is just, 'ah, it's over?' But still, it was worth it.

I took a couple pictures in the station, too, and then I changed back into normal clothes, because it was hot and yukata are hard to move in. I only wore it because it was a festival and pretty much every female under the age of 30 was wearing one.

Anyway, it was back to the festival and I found the stage where there were some performers.

In addition to this awesome fan dance, they had the most unusual band festival I've ever seen. Basically, a different band stands and performs every 50 feet or so, then rotate after a couple minute performance. It was really interesting, but soooo loud and difficult to hear. One group was a high school band doing High School Musical, no lie.

After all that was over, I head back to the hotel. I picked up some food at a conbini and was promptly annoyed I did so because food booths were all over the place on the streets back. They had awesome foods like yakitori or oknomiyaki. I went ahead and bought a chocolate crepe regardless. Those things are delicious.

And then, back at the hotel, I promptly passed out.


Day six was uneventful. All I did was got back to my apartment. I was going to go to Matsushima and another shrine nearby, but I was tired and just ready to get home. This was about a 4 hour train ride, I think.

Funnily enough, I ran into someone I knew at my station. It's a small world even in Japan.

And that was my trip.

Because there is so much to report, I'm splitting this into two posts. Here's the first 3 days of my trip.

Ok, so I got back from my trip on Sunday, but I'm still recovering. I'm exhausted~. But I need to recap before I forget everything, so here we go!


Day One starts epically early. So early, that I just don't go to bed the night before and I leave my apartment while the sun is still rising. This is even more impressing when you consider the fact that the sun rises at 4:30 am in Japan. But yes, I left around then to catch my first train at 5:32. There were a surprising number of people out and about, mostly middle aged joggers, but still. That's really early, man. Get some sleep.

The rest of the daylight hours were spent on trains. I rode a grand total of 7 different trains, and arrived at my final destination at about 7:30 at night. That's a lot of traveling. Most of it went fairly smoothly, except for just after stupid Morioka, where a private company owns the railways for about 6 stops, and I had to buy a separate ticket. Thank all that is good for the window operator who helped me figure out what I needed to do. I have a special pass that grant unlimited local train rides for five days, but that was of course useless on the private rails. Instead, I had to pay for those 6 stops, and then it switched back over to JR. I don't know. I didn't have to switch trains or anything.

Also, Northern Japan is pretty at first, but... there is NOTHING there. For about three hours, I was on a two-car, one conductor train that would stop at the TINIEST stops. Stops that were a platform, and a cluster of like 10 houses, maybe. Out in the middle of nowhere. I don't know how those people don't go insane.

Anyway, I get to my final destination for the day, Hirosaki. I manage to find my hotel fairly quickly, because it is RIGHT in front of the station, which was really nice. I check in and then leave in search of food. But I notice how empty the streets are, which is odd for a city of that size when it wasn't even very late. So I do a little more exploring, and hear some drums and BAM find the Hirosaki Nebuta Parade.

I think I must have been at the very end or very beginning of the route, because there weren't very many spectators. But it was very cool to watch and surprisingly casual. People would leave the parade to talk to someone they know, or someone on the sidelines would run in to take a picture with a friend. In fact, some guy ran up to me to say hi and ask where I was from. He'd apparently gone to DC to work for a few years. He thanked me for coming and told me to enjoy the culture.

I watched for a couple of hours, actually, until it ended around 10:30. Then I remember how I was hungry and grabbed some food at a conbini and went to bed.


Day Two didn't have near as much traveling to do, just a 45 minute trip to Aomori, so I had a lot of time to kill. In the morning, I decided to check out Hirosaki Castle. It was maybe a 20 minute walk from my hotel, and pretty easy to find.

It was pretty cool, but nothing terribly exciting. However, I did run into another foreigner while there. She was from Canada, and was living in Kyoto, but was touring the festivals like me. She had a really strong accent, so that was fun talking to her.

After that, I went back to the hotel and decided to head over to Aomori early. The parade wasn't until after dark, but I figured I'd be able to kill some time wandering the city.

Aomori was much bigger and busier than Hirosaki. And there were tons of people dressed up in yukata, which was really fun to see. But the coolest part was when I found where the floats are kept during the day.

I wandered in the direction of the ports, because those are usually pretty interesting, and what do you know, huge tents with floats in side! So I took a bunch of pictures, and I'm glad I did, because I got much better ones than if I'd tried to take them at night, and my battery ended up dying early in the night.

I also got to watch as one float got damaged and repaired. Two smaller ones kind of collided when they were being moved, but there was a guy who just tore away the ripped part, covered it back up with the rice paper, and bam, good as new. Luckily it was all white.

Then I went back to the main streets where there were shops and places to eat, and grabbed some food at a McDonald's. I ate outside and was actually joined by more foreigners - only French ones this time. And only one of which actually spoke English well. So that was an interesting experience there, too. They were with a Japanese later and were actually part of the parade, which was kind of cool.

It was starting to get kind of late, so I decided to hunt down a spot to watch from. It was easy to find where the parade route was, because there was chairs set out for the tour groups who had paid in advance, and also families had little blankets claiming their territory. I managed to find a little ledge that I could sit on and still have a good view.

The parade itself was also much bigger than Hirosaki, and I could easily see why this was one of the most famous festivals in all of Japan. It made me think of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade what with the huge floats and all the people and everything. It was incredible. Unfortunately, as I mentioned already, my battery died pretty early on, so I didn't really get many good pictures. But you can get an idea from this video:

After the parade, it was back to my hotel in Hirosaki and lights out for me.


Day Three was a half travel day. I had to check out of my hotel around 10, but my train didn't leave until 11:17, so I bummed around the station for a bit. Which actually worked out in my favor, because there was a shamisen group and drumming group performing there. I watched them for awhile, then caught my trains. I had three on the way to Akita, and arrived at my destination around 2pm, so it wasn't too bad.

The first thing I had to do in Akita was get a locker. My hotel for the night was actually another hour train ride away, so I needed somewhere to keep my stuff until then. Of couse said lockers only took 100 yen coins, so first I needed some change. I bought a postcard off one of the stalls in the station and luckily managed to snag the last locker, but I accidently locked my camera in! Of course I was again out of change after that, and had to go buy some Aquarius (think Gatorade) at the nearest conbini and unlock the locker, take out my camera, and relock it. So I basically paid twice what it was worth.

But once my items were secured, I was free to wander. Akita was a little bit smaller, but I stuck to my method of following large groups of people or people in yukata and found a park where there was a competition for the lantern balancers that would be in the parade later.

Basically, these guys were incredible.

I watched them until the competition was over, then it was back to wandering for me. It was really hot out, so I tried to stay inside department stores as much as possible. It was a good way to kill time.

Then it was time for the parade. The route was a little bit further from the station, but again, easy to find after following the crowd. I found a spot that wasn't too crowded, but I was still towards the back, leaning against a building when a police officer came up to me. He said they were blocking off the roads now, and since it wasn't dangerous anymore, I could sit in the street. At first, I was confused, because my ears only heard the word 'dangerous' and I thought I was somewhere I wasn't supposed to be. But then he said it again and I ended up on the front row, right in the street. It was great.

Then a lady sat next to me, who was very talkative and really impressed with my Japanese. She ended up buying me one of the guidebooks, which had some cool pictures in it.

Before the parade, there were a ton of girls and women in yukata that danced in the streets.

After that, the men and boys paraded around with the lanterns, while followed by floats with taiko drums on them. Then, once the whole route was covered, everyone stopped and began balancing the lanterns.

They rotated three times, and then invited the crowd to try out the drums or take pictures with the guys. I decided to go ahead and go back to the station instead, but along the way actually ran into another ALT from where I live! He was with a friend of his, and we chatted for a bit. He was also going up to Aomori, so I gave him some tips on where to go and whatnot. It was weird running into him, though. Small world.

Anyway, It was a little over an hour ride to Yokote, which housed my next hotel. Once I got the the station, I was so tired and out of it, that I didn't even really bother trying to find my hotel on my own. Instead, I opted for a taxi, which turned out to be expensive, but worth it. This hotel was a little bit further away, and on the opposite side of the tracks, so it was a little hard to get to.

And that is the first half of my trip.
I went to Tokyo Disneysea for the first time on Saturday.

My day started extremely early, and only seemed earlier by the fact that I was late the night before at a yukata party (which I'll talk about later). I got picked up from my apartment at 5:30am. You might think that no one else in their right mind would be up at 5:30am on a Saturday, but you'd be wrong because this is Japan where people get up freakishly early for no real reason.

Anyway, I got picked up at 5:30 and we picked up one more girl after me, so we left my town around 6:00. Our party was made of two boys, three girls, me, and the dad of one of the guys, who served as our driver, and all were from church. The drive to Tokyo is only about 2 hours, and we stopped at a rest stop along the way for some breakfast, and also got very lost once *in* Tokyo, and arrived at the park around 8:30. Along the way, we also got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji because it was a nice, clear day, and wow that is a big mountain.

So we waited in line to get into the park, which opened at 9am. We bought our tickets beforehand at a convenience store (well, someone bought mine for me), so we just had to wait. There were a lot of people, but not quite as bad as I expected.

The gates opened and in we went. Out first stop was Tower of Terror so that we could get fast passes for later, but the line was short enough that we went ahead and rode that first thing. That is an intense ride. The girl behind me was crying "I wanna get off, I wanna get off" from the moment we step into the elevator. It's definitely one of those rides where the anticipation is half the ride. Also, it's really high.

After that, we went in search of more fast passes and rode some other rides, as one does at Disney Theme Parks. I think we got all the major rides, like Indiana Jones, a small-ish one called Raging Spirits, a Sinbad one that I think was a Japan only thing (kind of Pirates of the Caribbean-ish), and a Little Mermaid one that I forget the name of. We also saw two shows, both of which were very cool. The first was the Genie's Lamp which was a combination magic show and 3D show. There were live actors on stage that did some magic, and then when it was the genie's turn, he came out of the lamp onto a screen above the stage and interacted with the actors. And we had glasses. It was really fun.

We also saw the Little Mermaid show, which was *awesome* and one of the must-sees for those of you who make it to Disney sea. Almost all the actors were on wires and "swam" in the air, and the songs were in English with the dialogue in Japanese. It was so cool to watch. An interesting thing though, was how they changed the story a little. They started with Part of Your World, then went to Poor Unfortunate Souls, to introduce Ursula, but Ariel turned her offer down. It was very Japanese to be "I'm happy with my life here and I don't need to go changing things" and the moral of the story is to be content with what you have, which is kind of the opposite of the movie? But yeah, very Japanese. And then they finished with Under the Sea, which was also fun. The Dry Ocean thing they had going was gorgeous.

I also got to see the Legend of Mythica, which is like the boat parade/show thing. It was incredible to watch. There were several boats that were all character themed that paraded around in the harbor while dancers put on a show on the shore.

It was a very exciting show and the costumes were incredible. There was just so much energy and it was awesome.

I only got my picture taken with one character, Scrooge. The dad that drove us kept telling me to jump ahead of the kids in line because I was a foreigner and I could get away with it, but I didn't want to cut in front of some kids. But really, the only other characters I saw were Stitch, Pinocchio and the wolf guy from Pinocchio. And we found Stitch just as his time ran out, which was sad because I would have liked to get that picture.

We stayed at the park until just before closing, which was 10pm. Completely exhausted, we headed back home, and I slept half the drive. I got home around midnight, and to bed around 1 because I had to ice my foot. I'd pulled a muscle or strained it or something about a week ago, and it swelled up a bit from all the walking I did.

And then I slept. For eleven hours. And even then, I only woke for a couple hours to eat and such before falling back asleep in a five hour nap. That's how tired I was.

But it was definitely worth it.
After school, I help students prepare for an upcoming English competition. We've been meeting for about a month already, so I've gotten to know these students pretty well, and they've gotten really comfortable speaking around me. So sometimes they say some really strange or funny things. Here's just a few:

Mi: Want to see my boyfriend?
Lauren: *somewhat confused and surprised, as she is really shy and quiet* Okay?
Mi: *pulls out her tennis racket* This is my boyfriend! He is very kind. We are always together.

Or this conversation, which was all English, and somehow went on for 5 minutes. Note that these are all really sweet, 2nd year girls. And both K and A are on the kendo team.
Mi: What would be a better pet, a lion or a gorilla?
A: A lion!
Ma: Me too! He could eat people!
A: Like K!
K: No!
A: K tastes delicious!
Ma: Oh really?
A: Yes! Her meat is delicious! I ate her last summer.
K: No no no!
Ma: How about you, A?
A: My meat is not so delicious. K's meat is delicious. Let's eat K.
K: No no no! Don't eat me!

Some kids in my classes often forget that I can understand most of what they're saying.
*While waiting for class to begin, in Japanese*
Snotty 1st year: This sucks. I hate English.
Mr. C: That's too bad.
S1Y: I don't wanna do this.
Mr. C: You know Lauren can understand you right?
S1Y: Eh?! Well, she's ok, then. She's a teacher after all, so...

There's also the same group of 3rd years that come clean the teachers' room everyday, so they get to know me a little bit, too, since I help. For the first few weeks or so, I always got the same question (from everyone, though this kid had more chances to ask since I saw him so often). It became something of a game.

Ka (in Japanese): Are you married?
Lauren: (in English): Can't say, it's a secret. :)
Ka: Secret?! Always the same answer! Always 'secret, secret, secret'!
Another student (in Japanese): Well you always ask the same question, stupid!"
Sorry for the delay between posts! I'll try to be better.

I have a couple things to talk bout, the first of which is earthquakes!

There have actually been about three or four since I've moved into my apartment, but the first few felt just like a large truck had driven by. Or like when I had classes in the JKHB while it was still under construction.

But yesterday, we had one that was undeniably an earthquake. It lasted about 30 seconds, which feels quite long when you're in a shaking building. This is the one that I felt. It was a 6.1 at the epicenter, which is actually pretty big. I don't know how strong it was where I was, but nothing fell over or anything like that. I did brace myself against the wall, but that was probably more out of nerves than anything else.

The next thing to mention is packages! I've gotten two (THANK YOU), and both have had macaroni in them. ^_^ The cheese in Japan is not good cheese, and there is no prepackaged mac'n'cheese at all. Even the Doritos which say they are Nacho Cheese Flavored are a lie. They taste really, really bad. Any cheese worth getting is from the import store.

And speaking of food, corn does not belong on pizza. I don't know why, but it is impossible to get a corn-less pizza. It's the strangest thing. Broccoli is also a popular topping. Pizza in general is just not good here. I wish I could make my own, but alas I have no oven. I got an ad for a pizza place kind of near the station that I still have to investigate, and it might actually be good, but we shall see.

Also, Mexican food isn't nearly as difficult to find as I thought it would be. Lots of snack bars have some kind of taco or fajita (or not good nachos with crappy cheese).

But the pizza always kills me.
Here it is, the Sports Day post. And really, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's a bunch of moving pictures to tell you about it better than I could.

And that was pretty much my Sports Day. I just chilled and watched the kids compete. It was entertaining, definitely, though I wish I could have been a part of it somehow. Maybe for the next one.
(No this isn't about Sports Day. I still haven't gone through my pictures yet.)

Japanese teachers tend to wear one thing to work: track suits. It makes a lot of sense, because they do their fair share of chasing down kids and running around, so it's good to have something they can move in, and can get dirty. Plus, they have long days, and I don't blame them for wanting to be comfortable. For example, my 1st grade teacher said he gets to school around 6am because he's the sponsor for the kendo club, and they have practice every morning. Meanwhile, my 2nd grade teacher mentioned that she didn't leave until 9pm the other night. Crazy! My hours are nothing like that - I arrive around 8:15 am and leave between 3:30 and 4pm.

However, track suits aside, they always have a spare business suit in their locker. And when those come out, you know something important is going to happen.

Like today. I was with my 2nd grade teacher in the classroom, waiting for the bell to ring, and I realized she was wearing her business suit. Then she turned to me and said, "Oh, we have visitors today, and they'll probably come to this class first."


Not ten minutes later, five or six men in business suits walk down the hallway. Our principal and vice principal are two of them, and the others are from the Board of Education, I believe. They all had clipboards and all filed into the classroom.

Meanwhile, we were just starting our warm-up song. At the beginning of every class, the 2nd graders sing Abba's "Thank You For the Music" to switch to English Mode. My teacher had warned the kids about the possible visitors, and told them to be extra energetic.

That might have been the wrong thing to say to this particular class, but they certainly were energetic. They can only really sing the chorus at this point, but they belt it out with all their little hearts. And the Suits take notes.

After that is Q&A, where the students stand and read questions and answers off a worksheet to each other for 30 seconds at a time and see how many they can do. They do this every class, so they perform like pros, and the Suits mingle for a bit.

Thankfully, they leave at the end of Q&A. I'm really glad I didn't really have to do anything, because they were really intimidating. My role was simply to sing with the kids, and meander around the class to listen to their questions and make sure they're doing what they're supposed to. So basically, look happy and make my presence known. Which I can do at this point.

I never heard the results of the visit and probably won't, but my teacher was pleased and told the students how awesome they were at the end of class. So that's good.

The point of this post is that you should pay attention to what your teachers are wearing. I thought it was funny how obvious it was when I realized what was going on. The previous day during cleaning time, they didn't just sweep the teachers room and hallways, but mopped, too. And the teachers do look impressive when all in business suits. One of them even commented how cool they all looked when dressed up like that, haha. At one point, they were all gathered to meet with the BoE visitors, and they just looked so official.

I'm still at the point where I wear a suit everyday, and I have to continue to wear business dress as per my contract. So I always have to look spiffy. Which is nice in a way, because I don't have to worry about sudden visits and not being appropriately dressed. But at the same time, I do miss the days of college of jeans and a hoodie.
This week is Golden Week, where three national holidays all fall in in the same week, so the country pretty much goes on vacation for a week. And since my school's Sports Festival was Thursday, which was also a holiday, we got Friday off to make up for it. Then there's the weekend, and Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are all holidays. It's fantastic. Most people travel, but I'm keeping it local and seeing what I can find around here.

Yesterday, I was invited to lunch by one of the secretaries at my school. We went to her friend's house, and were joined by her daughter (who is about my age), her friend's husband, and their former host-daughter, who is an ALT in Mito with another program.

I had a really fun time, and the food was sooo good. Everyone was really nice, and we spoke English most of the time. And we were there for about 4 and half hours. It was a really long lunch, and we played mini-bowling on the kitchen table with a super cute little bowling ball and pins made of wood.

In other news, I've also got my alien registration card! I simply had to go to the main City Hall and take the form I got when I went with my IC. I showed it to the host, and he took me to the right place, and the worker gave me my card. I was worried it would take like 30 minutes, and it ended up taking less than five. Which was really nice, it gave me some time to shop at the mall by the station.

I am working on a Sports Day post, I need to go through my pictures. I can't post anything with my students' faces or the school's name, so I have to be kind of careful. But hopefully I'll have something good for you in the next couple of days. This was just kind of a general update post, hopefully I'm have some more interesting ones coming.
My first week of school was a little different from most people's, I think. Because my school is under construction, they don't have grounds to hold the sports festival (more on that in a later entry). So, they're holding it at the elementary school this coming Thursday, because that's a holiday and school is out. Usually the festival is on a Saturday and class is canceled the following Monday to compensate. Not so much with my school's situation. And as a result, classes are canceled half the time in order to prepare. Which means I don't really have a lot to do.

Additionally, the school year only just started, so there's all the textbooks to hand out and beginning tests to do. So far, I've just given my introduction to each homeroom, which was about 14 times. And I think I still have a couple more third year classes I haven't gotten to yet. I've also assisted in a couple 2nd year classes, which means I read flash cards or lyrics or short paragraphs from the workbook. Nothing terribly exciting, and lots of time in the teachers' room. This week is going to be a lot of the same, but after that, things should go back to normal.

Instead I'll talk about how my school runs, for those who aren't familiar with the Japanese system.
Each grade is divided into homerooms, and those homerooms are where the students stay all day. The teachers switch rooms according to the schedule, and when they aren't in class, they're in the teacher's room. Everyone has their own desk, and students are often in and out. Before a student can enter, they have to announce their grade, homeroom, name, and purpose. At the beginning of each class, students come down to the teacher's room to see if the teacher needs any help carrying materials to class. Sometimes they come down to get the schedule for the following day, to report back to the rest of their class. As you can imagine, it can get very noisy and busy in between classes.

This isn't my picture, it's from wikipedia, but my teachers' room looks almost exactly like that. My desk is on the inside facing away from the window, right in the middle. The other ALT has a desk right across from me, though he's only there on Mondays and Wednesday.

As for class itself, it always starts with the aisatsu, or greeting. The students stand and the script goes like so:
Japanese Language Teacher: Good morning, everyone.
Students: Good morning, Ms ___
Assistant Language Teacher (me): Good morning, everyone.
Students: Good morning, Ms Lauren
ALT: How are you today?
Students: I'm good, thank you. How are you today?
ALT: I'm ____( usually fine, good, or sleepy). What day is it today?
Students: It's *day*
ALT: What's the date today?
Students: It's *date*
ALT: What's the weather like today?
Students: It's *mumble mumble*

And then I repeat all the answers and they repeat after me and then we go into the lesson or warm-up. A couple of my teachers use songs for warm-ups, and as a result, I had ABBA in my head for a couple days. Good times.

I think that's it for one entry. Next time will probably be about the sports festival. Let me know if you have any more questions about the school. :)
I've survived my first day of school! And that is probably mostly due to the fact that I did nothing at all.

I'm only at one junior high, and it's currently under construction, though I was told it should be done in December. Classes just started this week, and English classes don't start until next week, so there wasn't anything for me to do.

I arrived right around 8:00, and found my way to the teacher's room. The Vice-principal said hello and welcomed me, and then had other stuff to do. Some other teachers came in and talked to me, too, and I was really surprised by how many could speak decent english. One of the teachers (I met so many and don't remember *any* names) gave me a quick tour, showing me the teacher's bathroom, and my locker where I could keep a coat or change of clothes. I didn't get to see any of the classrooms, though, because they were so busy.

One of the english teachers gave me the books I'd be working with and explained that we didn't have any classes, so I had the day to prepare my intro lesson and look through the books.

Well, I finished reading all three books and my lesson plan and the interac guide around 10am. So there was an awful lot of time of just trying to look busy. I spent most of it listening to other conversations and talking with some of the other teachers. The teachers with desks right next to mine are really nice and friendly, and one spoke English and the other spoke really clear Japanese and a little English, so that was good. There's another ALT at my school, and his desk is right across from mine, but he wasn't there today. I'm not sure why I needed to be there at all.

Lunch was kind of awkward, because I had no idea what to do with my tray and had to ask someone to show me. (Lunch was served and eaten in the teachers' room.) But the teacher I asked was super nice and helpful. Everyone was super nice and helpful, I just had to ask, which was sometimes difficult because my Japanese is so rusty.

After lunch, classes were cancelled so that the teachers could go visit the students' families. But first, the students clean the school, and that includes the teachers' room. So after they finished that, one brave boy came and talked to me, with some help from another teacher. It was very cute. And I think another one was talking about me, thinking that I couldn't understand him, because one of the other teachers scolded him in a hushed voice. And I wasn't really paying attentions, so I couldn't tell if he said kowai or kawaii - one means scary, the other means cute. SO yeah.

After that, I was allowed to leave, and I had several students shout "Have a good weekend!" or "Hello!" and get all excited when I replied to them. That was encouraging, at least. And they gave me the leftover bread and milk, haha. So I got three little loaves of bread and like, 8 mini-cartons of milk. Which was great, because I'm out of milk, and I needed some hot chocolate as soon as I got home because it was freezing today. I'm just glad it wasn't raining, because that would be miserable.

Next week, though, I should be actually in a classroom. I should be getting my scheduled mailed to me this weekend, though I'll most likely just be doing my intro lesson.

And that's pretty much it. It is really really cold, so I'm staying inside tonight, and possibly tomorrow, though I need to get more food. Might make a quick grocery store run in the afternoon, but that's it.
I'll just keep this simple - here's a video of my apartment, taken the day I moved in. I've moved in a bit more since then, but you get an idea of my little place.

A very cool Japanese tradition is to go see the cherry blossoms in the spring. Many people go have picnics under the trees, and there are also lots of festivals. I went with five other ALTs down to Mito over the weekend to check out a music/cherry blossom festival, and it was awesome.

I live about a 40 minute walk from the train station, and Mito is about a 25 minute train ride away. Of course, once we got to Mito, we had no idea where we were supposed to go, so we just kind of wandered for a bit. We found a nice lake with gorgeous cherry blossom trees, and lots of people were out picnicking or taking pictures. We also found a shrine that we explored a bit, but in the end, we did find the festival.

There were lots of food booths set up and I got a very yummy melon crepe. There was also a stage for the performers. I only stayed for a couple sets because it was really cold, and I didn't have a jacket. As it was, I still got back to my station after dark. Thankfully, it's not a complicated path to my apartment.

The music itself was pretty cool. The first group was actually a few dancers that reminded me of the ones from the Hari Krishna Festival of Colors. After that was a very indie sounding group that had lots of cool instruments that were very Japanese, and a couple that sounded like those you hear in Australian outback-y type songs. After that was this awesome group that did all english songs - Superstitious by Stevie Wonder and I Feel the Earth Move by Carole King, just to name a couple. But they were great and so much fun.

I'm playing a little bit of catch-up here, sorry. It's been a very busy past few days.

Beautiful Hitachi

Thursday I ended up going out with a few other ALTs for dinner, and then we hung out at the arcade. The department store next the to the station and our hotel was pretty cool - It had shopping for four floors, a grocery store in the basement, and restaurants and a bunch of games on the fifth floor. And the food was quite good, and as always, very pretty. The food in the picture below is not actually food - that's a cell phone charm that looked freakishly real.

Friday was the last day of Orientation, and we had to give our sample lessons. I get really nervous presenting in front of adults, though I'm ok with kids, so I was really anxious for the whole thing to be over. We were partnered up, and my partner kind of...winged his half? That was certainly interesting, heh. But overall we did fine, as did everyone else. No one got sent home. :)

After that, though, was the party. First we went to this gyouza bar that one of the previous ALTs really liked. I think there were about 30 of there at one point, because there were all the new ALTs, plus a bunch of foreigners that were already in the area, plus our bosses! Yeah, I met my branch head in a bar. It was very odd. But the gyouza was really good, and there was even a taco flavored one! Those were tasty.

After that, we hit karaoke. A few people declined or went back to hotel because they had to catch early trains, but we still had about 20 people in one room (and the room was meant for maybe 10-15). Most people sang English, but a few brave ones tried Japanese (and were really good!). It was a ton of fun and we didn't wrap it up until around 2am. And then in the lobby when we were paying and such, a few members of our group made friends with some Japanese guys that were getting their own room. It was great.

And that was the end of Hitachi Orientation. I am very glad it's over, though I already miss some of the people. We had a really good group. Luckily, a lot of people are still here in Hitachi, so I'm set with people to hang out with. The next few entries will be about my apartment and assorted other business, and then about the Hanami (Cherry Blossom Viewing). Lots to talk about!
So it's Wednesday night and we're halfway done with Orientation. Most all of the administrative paperwork and such is done as far as the job goes, but I'll have more once I move into my apartment what with getting my alien card and bank account and all that fun stuff.

Other than said paperwork and the health check, Orientation has actually been pretty fun. Everyone here is pretty cool and there are some great senses of humor mixed in with the crowd. So we get some great conversations (zombies in Japan and our survival chance, also a screenplay) and running commentaries (It's Japan.). We've got quite the mix of foreigners, too: American, British, Irish, Scottish, Canadian, and Australian (I think I got them all). And somehow a bunch of those Americans ended up being from Texas. Seriously, I think 3 people in Hitachi are from Texas. With that group of people though, it's been a lot of fun.

Our evenings are free, though I haven't done a whole lot with mine. The past couple days, I was still recovering from jet lag and just slept or chilled in my room. But today I went exploring with one other person. Basically we just checked out the department store by the station and found the 100 en shop (the dollar store equivalent), but we also spent some time in the arcade on the top floor. You've never seen crane games until you've seen 20 or so of them all crammed into one place. There were also purikura (photobooths), tons of slot machines, pachinko, air hockey (which we played and I lost) and a taiko-type game (which I also lost).

I also took a video of my hotel room, for anyone interested. It's not terribly exciting, but there you go. :)

And I think that's it for tonight. I've also gotten my school schedule and my apartment location, but I'll go more into those once I've moved in and can give pictures and such.

If you have any questions for me, please leave them in the comments, and I'll try to answer them. :)
After a very, very long day of travel, I finally made it to Japan. A quick rundown of the trip, keeping in mind that I work up around 5am CST:
-2 hour plane to Houston
-1.5 hour layover
-13 hour plane to Narita
-1.5 hours through immigration/customs
-1.5 hr at the airport, buying bus tickets, sending luggage, calling ahead, waiting
-3 hr bus to Hitachi

And then, sleep. I was completely exhausted by the end. That was a very long flight. I think I watched about 5 movies, and 10 episodes of various shows.

I'll post a little more about what I've done here later, but I need to get ready for another day of Orientation and getting set up. I know this was a sparse post, but I'm still kind of jet-lagged and I'm trying to multi-task.

Hope everyone else who's traveling is doing well and everyone at home, too!
I can't believe it's finally here. I'm sitting in the hotel next to the airport right now, preparing to get on my 7:30 flight tomorrow morning.

I ended up with two huge bags to check, and then my giant purse and a laptop bag. It's going to be an adventure in and of itself getting from the airport to the hotel. It's a good thing I aimed for one checked and one carry-on, because if I planned for two checked bags, there's no way I would have made it. As it is, I'm probably going to have one bag overweight. It is really hard to condense your life into two suitcases!

But enough of that. These last few days have been spent saying goodbye. My co-workers were super sweet and we had a little Going Away Get Together thing. It was a lot of fun, and while I'm not going to miss that job so much, I will miss the people. My last day of work was Wednesday, and it's a good thing I gave myself a few days off to finish getting ready.

Today, I also said goodbye to most of my family. We went out to dinner at the plaza in Kansas City, and I have to say that Jack Stack Steakhouse was a fantastic choice for a last American Meal. It was sooo good, and I was completely stuffed. Afterwards, my mom and I came to this hotel and my brothers and Dad went back home. We live about an hour away from the airport, so instead of leaving at 4 in the morning, we just got a hotel room. An extra hour of sleep and a little less stress.

However, in an attempt to get a head start on jet lag, I want to stay up all night. Then, I'll sleep on the flight and my clock will be so messed up that by the time I get to bed in Japan, I'll sleep a full night and be set. I don't know that that'll work, because I'm already sleepy after a very busy day.

The next post will be typed in Japan!
Less than a week and half to go and now I'm just tying up all the loose ends and waiting and waiting.

The biggest thing on my mind is getting everything packed. I did a trial run and failed horribly. I'm going to try again Friday on my day off, and this time with those vacuum sealed travel bags. The ones you suck all the air out of? I've heard they work wonders, so we'll see what I can do.

I've also been gathering teaching stuffs. I raided the local hotel for brochures and maps and things like that, which was kind of fun. I've also gotten a few take-out menus, though I don't know if I'll actually take them, since the places I eat at tend to have half the menu in something other than English. For example, I thought Olive Garden would be a nice example. Nope, most all the dishes are in Italian. Same problem with Chipotle, only in Spanish. So that might not work. But I am taking a couple Dr. Seuss books, which I think will be fun for the kids to have. I want to get some Monopoly money or something, too, but we'll see.

Other than that, I've just been working as long as possible, trying to bulk up that bank account. I have four days left of work, which is actually quite exciting. Sorry the the long quiet spell, but I'm sure things will start to pick up soon. It's so close now!
So this time when I got a phone call at work, I was able to dash into a fitting room and hand my operator duties off to a coworker. Unfortunately, I kept my pen and while I was fiddling with it, I accidentally dropped it, tried to catch it, then stabbed my palm. Enough to draw blood. Meanwhile, I'm trying to carry on a conversation. Yeah.

But as for the conversation itself, I got a bit more information about my placement. I'll be at one junior high for sure, and possibly one elementary school. This makes me really happy, because I like getting to know my students, and not having a million schools will be very conducive to that.

Also, I'll be in a Leopalace! I figured I would be, since other Hitachi placements were saying they were in Leopalaces. They're small, but not shoeboxes, and they're mostly furnished, with internet already set up and ready to go (which is important to me, haha).

Here's a very short Japanese commercial for Leopalace that gives a brief look. I'll make a video of my own place once I'm settled and all that jazz.

I'm happy to report that I am tuberculosis free. :) And the whole process was very easy. I made an appointment on Friday, and basically went in, got pricked with a needle, and left. The doctor didn't even charge me for a visit, just for the injection, and I got a discount since I didn't have insurance. So that cost all of $12. Then today I went back to get the injection site read, and I'm good to go. Some people mentioned they had red spot and that was supposed to happen, but mine was completely clear. You couldn't even see where they stuck me with a needle. That made me a little nervous, but from what I understand, if the redness is under a certain diameter, that means you're fine. I don't know. And yes that's a lousy picture, but the flash kept whiting out the paper and I couldn't be bothered to find better lighting.

So now, all that's left is to pack. I'm going to put in my notice at my current job tomorrow. And that's pretty much it. I still have a little shopping to do, mostly clothes. I still have what, 25 days until I leave? Ah, that late start. So much fun. That just means I have that much longer to work and save, and that all of you people that leave before me need to give me good advice and tell me what to expect, ok? :)