Ain’t No River Wide Enough: The Tanabata Festival of Japan

Summer festival season in Ishikawa has kicked off with Noto’s famed Abare Matsuri, and the JLPT summer date has – for better or for worse – come and gone. Give yourself a little break tonight and go star-gazing with that special someone! Why, you ask? Because today is Tanabata!

Tanabata (七夕; meaning ‘The Seventh Night’) is a traditional holiday celebrated all over Japan and was once described to me as ‘kind of like a Japanese Valentine’s Day.’ Well – another one, because we already have two of those here. It is also called the Lover’s Festival or the Star Festival. The legend of Tanabata is an old one, originally imported from China during the Empress Koken’s first reign in 755. It tells the story of two literally star-crossed lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, and their unbreakable, eternal vows of love to each other over their many years of separation.

According to the story, the King of the Heavens had a talented daughter named Orihime (Weaver Princess), and she made the most beautiful clothing in all of the universe.

No, not that Orihime!

He loved to wear the clothing she made so much that she spent every waking moment weaving so that he would be happy. However, this meant she had no time to find a suitor, and she was very lonely. So, the King of the Heavens arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (Cow-herd-star), a cowherd who lived on the other side of the Amanogawa (The Heavenly River), a nearby river. They met, fell in love instantly, and got married.

Unfortunately, the Heavenly King’s plan worked a little too well; as they now spent all of their time together, Orihime stopped weaving and Hikoboshi let his cows stray. This made the king furious so he separated the lovers once again. However, his daughter came to him and begged him to let her see her husband. So moved was he by his daughter’s tears that the king relented and said the lovers could meet on the seventh night of the seventh month  before returning to their respective sides of the Amanogawa and going back to work.

This story is all very romantic and sad, but it’s made even sweeter by its heavenly counterparts. Orihime is actually the star Vega, and Hikoboshi is Altair, and they are in fact separated by an ‘Ama No Gawa:’ the heavenly river of the Milky Way. On the seventh night of the seventh month every year, if the weather is clear and the stars are visible, it is said that stargazers can see the lovers cross the river and meet for their requisite one night a year – which happens when Altair and Vega intersect. If the weather is bad, Orihime cannot find the bridge that crosses the Amanogawa to see Hikoboshi, and she must wait another year to visit her husband.

Altair and Vega, separated by the milky way. If your long distance relationship is shorter than 14.81 light years then I don't wanna hear you complaining.

Altair and Vega, separated by the milky way. If your long distance relationship is shorter than 14.81 light years then I don’t wanna hear you complaining.

Tanabata is celebrated throughout the month of July and into August all over Japan . The festival is old enough that the old lunar calendar’s seventh-month actually lines up more with August, so traditionally, many towns celebrate on the 7th of August instead of the 7th of July. The most famous is in Sendai, and has been held every year from August 6th to 8th since the city was founded during the Edo period. Other famous festivals take place in Kanagawa and Tokyo Disney Land – Mickey and Minnie even dress up as Hikoboshi and Orihime! There are even Tanabata festivals outside of Japan, with large celebrations taking place in California, New York, and São Paulo. There are many different traditions from different regions, but there are some that remain the same no matter where you go:

tanabata

A woman in yukata hanging her wishes out for the stars to see.

The same cosmic forces that allow Orihime and Hikoboshi to cross the Amanogawa and meet every year are said to be able to grant wishes, so many people will write their wishes on tanzaku – thin vertical strips of paper – and hang them on bamboo trees. It is not uncommon to see bamboo stalks at shrines and other popular places filled with tanzaku on Tanabata, all of them containing wishes for the future: for love, for a good marriage, for passing exams and getting into a good high school, or just for happiness. Other common sights include chains of paper cranes, kusudama (which are those origami balls that hang above streamers), fairy lights, and other star-shaped decorations that are intended to bring good fortune and love into one’s life.

As you might imagine, Tanabata is also a popular couple’s festival and date night. It’s not uncommon to see couples dressed in yukata tying their tanzaku on bamboo together, or going out to dinner, or having picnics in popular star-gazing spots to see Altair and Vega intersect.

Unfortunately for those of us in Ishikawa, Tanabata falls right at the beginning of the rainy season (and it is one of the rainiest in Japan!) – so as I write this post and stare out the window near my desk in my faculty room, all I can see are grey skies stretching out over the Nihonkai. Perhaps, on this rainy Tanabata, Orihime will not be able to find the bridge to cross the Amanogawa and she will have to wait another year to see Hikoboshi. However, don’t let that stop you from taking part in the festivities! If you can, head over to Kanazawa’s Omicho Market and add your own wishes to the tanzaku display there. And while perhaps this weather is not conducive to star gazing, there’s nothing more romantic on a chilly rainy night than cooking dinner and watching a movie with that special someone.

stardust

I recommend Stardust.

Frances Visintainer is a first year Junior High School ALT in Kahoku. You can follow her misadventures in the wide world of teaching at her blog, Footsteps in Education. Her Tanabata wish this year was for Orihime to build a boat or something, because seriously girl, this bridge nonsense was getting old 1,000 years ago. Go get yo’ man!

The 2014 AJET Primer

The results from the election are in, and it’s time to meet your new 2014 Ishikawa AJET Council!  The newly elected members of the Council are already planning and implementing ideas to make 2014 a great year for us Ishikawa JETS.

ajetishikawa

But first, you may be wondering, “What exactly is AJET?”  The acronym stands for the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching.  Every prefecture in Japan has an AJET Council in some shape or form.  Then, prefectures are grouped in “blocks,” each of which also has its own Block Representative.  And of course, those blocks compose the National AJET.  Ishikawa belongs to Block 5, which you can read more about here.

But what does AJET do?  President Dan Campbell explains “The main purpose of AJET is to bring people together, we’ll do this through events, activities, trips, money raising and volunteering opportunities.”  (Dan helped me a great deal with this post, so from now on his input will appear in italics.)

Unlike Prefectural Advisers (PAs) or Coordinators of International Relations (CIRs) the AJET members are selected by fellow JETs, not the Board of Education, CLAIR, or any other outside agency.  And though the council members are all elected, they are also volunteers – no stipend or remuneration is provided.

This year the ishikawa AJET Council has eight positions: one President, three Representatives (north, central, south,) and then four chairs, Social, Charity, Sports, and Communications.  But who are these council members?  What do they do, how do they work, and what do they sing when they think they’re all alone?  Read on the learn the answers to all of these questions, and more!

 

 President: Dan Campbell

Dan

I feel that my role as AJET president is to make this year the best it can possibly be. I’m on top of whatever event or activity we’re planning and I’m also a link between you and AJET. I value any opinions you guys have and if you want help arranging a specific activity or event then let me know, or if you just need support with something then I’m here for that too. Contact me through the AJET email: ajetishikawa(at)gmail(dot)com or through our Facebook page: Here (be sure to ‘like’ it too!).

 

As you may know, Ishikawa is commonly divided into three areas – North (starting from around Nanao and extending up into the Noto) Central (from Kahoku to Hakusan/Nonoichi) and then South (from Hakusan down, including Kaga and Nomi.)  Each area boasts its own unique festivals, events, and great things to see/do.  As such, AJET has one representative for each area.

 Northern Representative: Alexander Schloss

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Alexander will be spreading the news of the north. He’ll let us know about activities or festivals happening the beautiful north peninsula of Ishikawa.

 

Central Representative: Maritza Santa Cruz

 

Martiza

Maritza is the center for central support! She will be telling you what’s going on in and around Kanazawa, as well as giving out handy tips about the big city. If you want to know anything about Kanazawa and it’s surroundings Maritza is your go to.

 

Southern Representative: Donna Pleso

Donna

Donna is repping it for the south. If there’s anything you need to know about the southlands of Ishikawa she’s the one to ask, she’ll also be promoting any events and news from said region.

 

One of the primary purposes of AJET is to connect the JETs living within the prefecture.  And one of the primary ways this happens is through social events like bar crawls, beach parties, festival meet-ups, and the like.  Our social chairs make sure these events happen, and see to all the nitty gritty details.  When you have a great time at an AJET sponsored event, thank these guys!

Social Chairs: Tom Foran (left) and Gerard Noakes (right)

photo1 (4)photo2

These lads are in charge of the years’ events. They already have some great ideas and have made it clear that the tagline for this year is bigger and better.

 

As I’m sure you all remember, JET salaries and expenses (think Tokyo Orientation and plane tickets to/from Japan!) are covered by the taxpayers of Japan.  That means we’re public servants in our communities.  And what better way to serve our communities than through charity?  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

Charity Chair: Frances Visintainer

photo2 (1)

Frances’ role is to establish and build connections with charities and community projects in Ishikawa, she is also eager to set up a volunteering network in Japan and abroad.  Many of the events this year will have a charity element, which will be organised by Frances.

 

After a long week of teaching, what feels better than tossing a frisbee with some fellow JETs?  Or during those long, dark winter months, what gets the adrenaline flowing like a weekend ski trip?  Here’s the guy who makes it all happen:

Sports Chair: Clint Kimzey

Clint

 

Clint will be organising and creating this years sporting activities, with everything from skiing to frisbee golf. If you’re not sporty don’t fear, because there will be many events that are all about having a laugh and not running a marathon.

 

This year, I’ll be spreading the word about the AJET comings and goings.  You can visit our Facebook page, follow our blog, or just keep your eyes peeled for the emails that’ll be heading your way.

Communications Chair: Daniel Kenneston

Daniel

Daniel’s position in AJET revolves around spreading the word. He will continue to post information about upcoming events and activities in the prefecture and as communication isn’t a one way street we want you guys to talk to him about what events/activities etc you’d like to see.

There you have it, straight from the President’s mouth!   This year the  Ishikawa JET Blog and AJET will be closer than ever, so feel free to use the “About & Contact” if you’d like to submit feedback or requests for AJET or the Blog!

Or, if you’d like to get a hold of AJET directly, you can reach them at ajetishikawa(at)gmail(dot)com or through the Facebook page: Here.

 

Daniel is a third-year JET in Kanazawa, teaching at a junior high school.  He likes drinking coffee, riding his bike, and hanging out with his wife.

 

A seasonally inappropriate post on sakura

103 years ago, the city of Washington D.C. accepted a gift of 2,000 cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Japan. However, the donated trees were found to be infested with insects and nematodes and were subsequently burned.

BURN, NEMATODES, BURN!

Three years later, Mayor Ozaki tried again, this time donating over 3,000 sakura trees to the United States. Those healthy trees now line the Tidal Basin, a partially man-made reservoir in West Potomac Park, Washington D.C., and inspire annual cherry blossom fever and festivity in the capital of the U.S.

Cherry blossom trees encircling the Tidal Basin, backed by the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.

Neither the initial failed donation nor the second successful donation of cherry trees would have been possible without Toyama-born, Ishikawa-raised chemist Jokichi Takamine. Dr. Takamine was the first to isolate the eponymous enzyme takadiastase, which catalyzes the breakdown of starch; he was also the first to isolate and purify the hormone adrenaline, which is now used to treat cardiac arrest and anaphylaxis.

Dr. Takamine’s contributions to modern medicine are overshadowed only by his luxurious mustache.

These discoveries, in combination with his pragmatic licensing agreements with American pharmaceutical companies, made Takamine a multi-millionaire. When Takamine heard of Japanese efforts to donate cherry trees to the United States, he generously funded the gift in collaboration with the mayor of Tokyo, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Geographic Society. This year marks the 100th anniversary since the successful donation and cultivation of sakura in Washington D.C. (Recently the United States government sent 3000 dogwood trees to Japan as a reciprocal gift in recognition of this anniversary. 70 of the trees were planted in Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures. Many of the remaining trees will beautify the still-recovering Tohoku region of Honshu.)

However, the United States is certainly not the only country to receive sakura from Japan. Although the sakura is speculated to be native to the Himalayas, the tree and flower have become inextricably associated with Japan and Japanese culture. The tree and its blossoms have been featured liberally in classical woodblock prints, in anime and manga, in songs and poems, and as a design on consumer goods (as well as on the money with which those consumer goods are purchased).

Sakura blossoms depicted on the 100 yen coin.

Now, cherry trees are to Japan as pandas are to China; significant cultural property gifted to allies as a symbol of friendship. Japan has presented cherry trees as an act of diplomacy to Canada, Australia, The Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, and the UK, among other countries.

In other areas, sakura do not necessarily symbolize goodwill between Japan and other nations. Although cherry trees grow naturally in China and Korea, the presence of sakura trees also serves as a reminder of Japanese imperialism, as many of the most famous cherry blossom viewing sites were cultivated by the Japanese during occupation of mainland Asia. Indeed, according to Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney in her book Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms, the Japanese planted sakura to “mark” their conquered territory in mainland Asia, thereby militarizing the aesthetic of the cherry blossom. In Korea, both cherry blossoms and the practice of hanami were introduced by the Japanese during the long and brutal period of Japanese colonization. Cherry blossom festivals continue in Korea to this day, but lingering tensions between Japan and Korea have led to the destruction of many trees.

Lastly, multitudes of cherry trees blossom and grow in Brazil due to the Japanese diaspora to South America that began in the early 1900s. Japanese immigrants to Brazil brought sakura seedlings with them. Nowadays, cherry trees are a common site in São Paolo, home of the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.

No doubt the memory of blossoming sakura and hanami picnics in springtime will follow Ishikawa JETs no matter where in the world life takes us. Thankfully, due to the spread of Japanese influence abroad, sakura have spread to other countries and, in most places, remain a symbol of international friendship, spring, and Japan worldwide. For Ishikawa JETs, the sakura we encounter outside of Japan will serve as a reminder of the times we spent in Japan and the memories we made in this country.

Karin is a second-year ALT who enjoys puns, trivia, and other annoying stuff. She had “Sakura Kiss” stuck in her head throughout edits to this post.

Konbu Tsukudani

Just made dashi and have left-over konbu and katsuobushi? Tired of eating plain rice? Konbu tsukudani is the answer.

Tsukudani is just the name for a style of cooking where the ingredients are cooked in mirin, soy sauce and sugar.

Ingredients:

  • Leftover konbu from dashi
  • Leftover katsuobushi from dashi
  • Mirin
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sugar

The mirin : soy sauce : sugar ratio should be 2 : 2 : 1. For example, 2 tablespoons each of mirin and soy sauce with 1 tablespoon of sugar. How much of each depends on how much konbu and katsuobushi you have, so just keep tasting and see how it goes.

1. First, chop up the konbu into thin strips. Try and get them as thin as you can, kind of like seaweed julienne. Be careful while you’re cutting, as the konbu is slimy after the dashi process.

It could be thinner than this.

It could be thinner than this.

  1. Put the sliced konbu and leftover katsuobushi in a small pan and cover it with a little water. Only add enough water so it is covered. Let it simmer calmly for about 20 mins, if the water evaporates too soon then just add a little more. If the water hasn’t evaporated after 20 minutes, just leave it a little longer.
Add enough water to cover the konbu and katsuobushi.

Add enough water to cover the konbu and katsuobushi, let it simmer.

  1. When the water has evaporated, add the mirin, soy sauce and sugar. Start it at a medium heat and then turn it down low. When it has caramelised and it’s dark in colour it’s done.
Add the soy sauce, mirin and sugar to the pan and wait for it to caramelise.

Add the soy sauce, mirin and sugar to the pan, stir and wait for it to caramelise.

Tsukudani is best eaten with rice, as a filling in an onigiri or just used as a topping but it tastes so good you could have it with anything (I have it with eggs). This recipe is only for konbu tsukudani but you can substitute the konbu for a number of things. At the restaurant ‘Hanbey’ in Kanazawa they serve cricket tsukudani!

Tsukudani!

Tsukudani!

Dan is a first year ALT who enjoys nothing more than a tabe-nomi houdai. He loves Japanese food, travelling and snowboarding.   

Dashi – 101

Dashi is to the Japanese as pasta is to the Italians. It’s the heart of hundreds of Japanese dishes.

Fortunately, it is not like other broths that you have to leave boiling for hours. Dashi is simple to make and only takes 20 minutes.

What you’ll need:

  • About a 10cm square piece of dried konbu, about the size of your hand.

Konbu (kelp) is a type of seaweed. It’s better to buy wild konbu as it’s more flavourful and goes further.

  • 10-15g (1 generous handful) of katsuobushi.

Katsuobushi are the fish flakes that you sprinkle over okonomiyaki. It’s Skipjack Tuna or Bonito that has been cooked, smoked, pressed, preserved into a block and then shredded.

  • 1 litre of water.

1. To begin, place the konbu in a pan with cold water. The konbu is quite tough so it needs a slow approach to release the flavour. Start with a low heat and leave the konbu to warm lightly. When the pan shows signs of boiling the konbu stage is done.

Note: If you’re a vegetarian strain out the konbu and stop here. This is a vegetarian safe dashi that still has the taste of the sea from the fragrant konbu.

Drain after it’s simmered if you’re a vegetarian.

2. Leaving the konbu in the pan, add the katsuobushi. Turn the heat up a little to bring it to a slow boil, as the fish flakes are so light it doesn’t take long for the flavour to escape and over boiling it can ruin it. After it’s started boiling, or when the flakes have sunk to the bottom, turn the heat off and let it rest for a minute.

A generous handful of katsuobushi.

3. All that’s left is to strain out the konbu and katsuobushi and it’s finished.

The finished product.

(Tip: Save the leftover konbu and katsuobushi in the fridge or freezer to make konbu tsukudani another time)

Dashi can be used for loads of other dishes, Tamagoyaki, Miso soup and as a base for Udon to name a few. You could even have it as is, enjoy!

 

Dan is a first year ALT who enjoys nothing more than a tabe-nomi houdai. He loves Japanese food, travelling and snowboarding.   

Hyakumangoku: One Festival to Rule Them All

This weekend, Kanazawa celebrates the 63rd Annual Hyakumangoku Festival, beginning on Friday the 6th and ending on Sunday the 8th.  The largest festival in the prefecture, it’s definitely one you should see in one capacity or another – and you’ll have many chances this weekend to get in on the action.

First, the history.  Hyakumangoku, or 百万石 in Japanese, refers to the 1,000,000 koku, (or about 5,000,000 bushels, if you know your farm measurements) of rice that Lord Toshie Maeda purportedly oversaw during his rule.  This made his domain the richest one in the Edo Period, since wealth was measured in how much food you could provide to your army back then, rather than pieces of paper with numbers printed on them.  But the purpose of the festival comes from before that time, when Maeda first moved into Kanazawa Castle to rule over present-day Ishikawa.  He and his entourage marched through the city to the castle and settled in for a good long lordship.  To symbolize this, the main parade (held on Saturday) starts from Kanzawa Station and ends at the Castle.

There’s the guy – Toshiie Maeda!

The festival activities kick off Friday evening, however, with a children’s parade and a lantern ceremony.  The children’s parade starts at 6:40 at the Shiinoki Reception Hall (the fancy building in the park across from City Hall in downtown) and circles around downtown, past Kohrinbo 109 and over to Hirosaka.  But, if you live in Kanazawa, you can go to your neighborhood’s elementary school and probably see a local parade.  The children put on happi and carry red lanterns on sticks.  Usually there’s a tiny shrine on wheels and a miniature taiko drum on the mix, too.

At 7pm on Friday there’s also a lantern ceremony at the Asanogawa, right next to the Higashi Tea District.  About 1,200 Kaga Yuzen lanterns are set into the river upstream and gently float down the river for about a kilometer or so.  People line up along the banks to enjoy the view and snap LOTs of pictures.  Get there early and be prepared for a crowded time.  But, it’s well worth it.

Hyakumangoku Matsuri : Three Days Centering on First Saturday of June

The floating lanterns on the Asanogawa River (http://www.kanazawa-tourism.com)

Saturday is the main day for the festival, with the aforementioned parade.  At 2pm, right before the parade in front of Kanazawa Station, there’s a huge taiko performance.  After they clear the drums out of the way (usually around 2:30), the procession, headed by Toshie Maeda, make their way from the Station, turning at Musashigatsugi (Omicho Market), then down to Kohrinbo, along the road in front of City Hall, the between the Castle and Kenrokuen Garden before finally entering the Castle grounds through the Ishikawa Gate.  Here’s a graphic of the route (Japanese, courtesy of http://100mangoku.net):

Hyakumangoku Parade : First Saturday of June

The parade on its way to the Castle. (http://www.kanazawa-tourism.com)

Children?  Floating lanterns?  A huge parade?  I bet you’re thinking that’s all the festival has to offer.  Well, you’re in for a surprise, because the party continues immediately following the parade, at 6pm.  That’s when the huge dance parade/party kicks off, beginning at Minamicho (near the Bunkyokaikan, for all you JETs who go to ESS events) and in Kohrinbo.  Thousands of people dressed in kimono and yukata take to the streets, dancing famous dances from Ishikawa.  Anyone can join, as the music blares through all of downtown and the dances are fairly easy to learn and imitate.  The dancing continues for about two hours, ending around 8pm.

百万石踊り流し

Folks dancing up a storm after the parade. (http://100mangoku.net)

At about the same time as the dancing (from 7 – 9 ) in front of Kanazawa Castle, you can see a Noh play acted out in front of a huge bonfire.  Talk about a cool Japanese experience!

Hyakumangoku Parade (Celebration of Toshiie Maeda’s entry into Kanazawa Castle) : First Saturday of June

The torch-lit Noh performance. (http://100mangoku.net)

Finally, on Sunday, you can see traditional dancing and tea ceremonies at Kanazawa Castle Park and Kenrokuen Garden (respectively).  The Tea Ceremonies go from 8:30am to 4pm, and admittance is 1,500 yen.  The dancing (oddly enough called Bon Shogatsu, a mash-up of the two biggest Japanese holidays – the Bon festival and New Year’s) goes from 11am to 4:30pm.

 

Don’t miss this year’s Hyakumangoku Matsuri!  For more information, check out these useful sites:

http://experience-kanazawa.com/event/hyakumangokumatsuri.html

http://www.kanazawa-tourism.com/eng/event/event2.php

(Japanese) http://100mangoku.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell! JETs Heading Home from Ishikawa This Summer

 

The end of July is getting closer every day, which means it’s time to begin saying our goodbyes to the JETs who will be leaving this year.  In honor of the “Leavers,” we at the Ishikawa JET Blog sent out a little survey so that we could spotlight some of the folks who’ll be heading on to a new chapter of their lives.  Here are some pearls of wisdom from those exiting the JET Program:

 

 

 

-Name: Natalie Boon

 

-Home Country: Singapore

-Began the JET Program: August 2013

-Why JET? I work for the Ministry of Education back home so after a few years I wanted a change or environment. Lucky for me I was able to apply for 1 year of leave to do the JET Program, and to return as a better teacher and person.

-How did you end up in Ishikawa? It chose me! But I’m really glad it did.

-Most memorable moment during JET: Too many! But I think just looking at the sheer amount of nature, especially flowers by the road and in people’s gardens always takes my breath away.

 

-Advice for incoming JETs: All wonderful experiences are mind-made… and be the person you would want to be friends with.

-The song that summarizes your time on JET: Climb Every Mountain….(I’ll have conquered all 3 sacred ones before I leave!)

-You have to teach one last class before you leave the JET Program, but all you have is a stick (no more than 12cm long), an empty bottle of soy sauce (any brand, but it hasn’t been rinsed yet so it still has a pungent odor), and whatever is in your pockets right now.  What lesson do you teach? First, I’d use my last wetwipe on the bottle cos I’m OCD that way. HAHA. I guess with the stick and bottle I would teach music beats, sorta like STOMP since clapping and snapping fingers and slapping thighs won’t require props.

 

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-Name: Liz

 

-Home Country: USA

 

-Began the JET Program: July 2011

 

-Why JET? Honestly, I like living in other countries. I had never been to Japan before I moved here and I was curious about this island. I like teaching kids and I adapt quickly.

 

-How did you end up in Ishikawa? I had zero control over where I went. I blindly put down Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka because they were (sadly) all I knew about Japan before I came. I am SO GLAD I didn’t get placed there and Ishikawa snatched me up! Didn’t realize the tub of butter I fell into when I accepted this post! Best Ken Fo-EVA!!

 

-Most memorable moment during JET: I remember driving around the Noto during my first year and just feeling completely free. My first recontracting reason was to see the cherry blossoms one more time, the second time I recontracted was to experience autumn one more time. Its just a beautiful country. Life is very good here.

 

-Advice for incoming JETs: Soak in Japan. Please don’t hurry through this experience, no matter how long you stay. Fun is on the other side of yes. I promise you will wake up at some point in this year and look around you at your friends or your school or your apartment and think “WHERE am I? How did I get here?” Relish that feeling. (unless its Prison. Then you are screwed)

 

Also—give yourself at least 3 months to unwind from moving to Japan. I was so stressed at the long to do lists before I came that I felt like a tornado when I got here. Japan is VERY different from your home country. But that’s what makes it overwhelmingly cool and frustrating and awesome and mind-boggling. Process all of this with patience.

 

-The song that summarizes your time on JET: One song? When you get here you are all like LA to Tokyo by Iggy Azalea (Fancy). Then you settle in and it feels like Home by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros. Around year two it feels like Rather Be by Clean Bandit, with a combo track of Brave by Sara Barillies. Finally, now as I write this, this resonates looking over the last three years: Without you by David Guetta (or These are the days by 10,000 Maniacs)

 

-You have to teach one last class before you leave the JET Program, but all you have is a stick (no more than 12cm long), an empty bottle of soy sauce (any brand, but it hasn’t been rinsed yet so it still has a pungent odor), and whatever is in your pockets right now.  What lesson do you teach? Totes Easy!! Present continuous using irregular verbs! Kids LOVE it!!! And I don’t even need this folded up book I found in my pocket!

 

 

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-Name: Melissa Cho

 

-Home Country: Australia

 

-Began the JET Program: April 2010

 

-Why JET? I studied Education and Japanese in university, and I wanted to do something that let me use both. That and I really wanted to get back to Japan after living here as an exchange student.

 

-How did you end up in Ishikawa?  It chose me – I found out 3 weeks after my interview, and only had 3 weeks to prepare. I had to do some fast research because I had no idea about it, but I have fallen in love with the place.

 

-Most memorable moment during JET: Arriving in Ishikawa and having my school wide Welcome Party the same night. It was a memorable way to kick off my life here.

 

-Advice for incoming JETs: Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it – there are always people out there who are willing to lend a hand. Also, Shirako is never tasty. Just don’t do it.

 

-The song that summarizes your time on JET: Dumbo – When I see an elephant fly

 

-You have to teach one last class before you leave the JET Program, but all you have is a stick (no more than 12cm long), an empty bottle of soy sauce (any brand, but it hasn’t been rinsed yet so it still has a pungent odor), and whatever is in your pockets right now.  What lesson do you teach? If Macgyver isn’t part of the school curriculum – then I would go all out on a Infomercial lesson or a creative writing lesson “Why?/What happened?”  You could even be a bit ridiculous and have the kids debate which of the two is more useful in life/in an emergency.  Simpler lessons could be done by having students think of words related to the grammar point you are focusing on – brainstorming vocab about kitchens/ adjectives related to the items. If they do it in pairs, you could swap lists with another group, and they have to make sentences using as many of the words on the list as they can…

 

 

—————————————————————————————-

 

 

-Name: Jon-Mark Overvold

 

-Home country: USA

 

-Began JET Program: August 2009

 

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-Why JET? I liked Japanese movies and had done a summer internship in Tokyo, but mostly I wanted something very different from my life in school. JET was plan B. Plan A was to join the military but I discovered that I’m ineligible. If I didn’t get into JET, plan C was to live at home, work the register at a big box retailer, and try to create from sadness. Plan D was to go to South Asian mountains, find a monastery, fake amnesia so they have to let me stay(?), and become a Marvel superhero/villain/sad man.

-How did you end up in Ishikawa? It chose me! I asked for “rural.”

-Most memorable moment during JET: Best not said.

-Advice for incoming JETs: Be open, be aware, and find the balance between you and your environment that gives both the respect they deserve. Or, it’s not all about you, but sometimes it really is about you.

-The song that summarizes your time on JET: “Midas Touch” by THE PROOFS, since this was song was…specifically made to summarize this time. (http://theproofs.bandcamp.com/track/midas-touch)

-You have to teach one last class before you leave the JET Program, but all you have is a stick (no more than 12cm long), an empty bottle of soy sauce (any brand, but it hasn’t been rinsed yet so it still has a pungent odor), and whatever is in your pockets right now.  What lesson do you teach? “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” improv class

 —————————————————————————————-
So there you have it.  Make sure to say your farewells to those who’ll be leaving this summer, and don’t forget about Sobetsu-Prom on the 28th of June, for one last night dancing and revlery with our friends!

Welcome, Incoming JETs of 2014!

By the looks of the Ishikawa JET Facebook page, the incoming JETs are being notified of their placement.  If you’re one of the lucky few who ended up in Ishikawa, a hearty welcome to you!

This is the Ishikawa JET Blog, a resource for living and working in Ishikawa.  It’s maintained by current JETs, with contributions from the Ishikawa JET community as well as former JETs.

To get started, click the “Ishikawhat?” link above for an overview.  Then, explore around the blog for any articles that catch your eye – the blog has been running for a long time, so you’re guaranteed to find a ton of useful information and advice.  We also have linkt o other extremely helpful websites.  Enjoy your last few months in your home country, and we look forward to seeing you at Ishikawa Orientation this summer!

Cultural Gap: Gogatsu Byo

Congratulations – if you’re reading this, you made it through the cold, wet Ishikawa winter and are most of the way through the crazy spring weather.  Summer is almost here (not sure whether to celebrate that or not…)

To many Westerners, spring is a time of new, fresh things and pleasant weather.  We have the term “Spring Fever” to describe the times when we don’t want to go to work/school, instead wanting to call in “sick” and go for a bike ride or toss the frisbee.  Here in Japan, however, there’s a more sinister fake illness afoot – Gogatsu byo (五月病), or “May Sickness.”  Unlike its cutesy, fun-loving Western counterpart, Gogatsu byo is a serious situation, not to mention a serious downer.

Have you noticed the symptoms of Gogatsu byo among your co-workers?  They include (but are not limited to):

-Heavy sighs right before class starts

-A lack of focus on tasks at hand

-Frequent references to the way things were at their previous school

-A distinct lack of spring in their step

-A reply of “no so good” when asked “how are you?”

I'm "fine," thank you.

I’m “fine” thank you, and you?

Simply put, Gogatsu byo is the lack of enthusiasm and/or feeling of depression that usually comes in early or mid-May every year in Japan, after the buzz of the new school/financial/business year fades.  There are a few contributing factors to this illness.  In April, everyone gets new schedules, new co-workers, new staff rooms, new students, and so on.

For the first few weeks, everything’s a bag of laughs.  You’re getting to know the ropes, giving self-introductions a-plenty, and watching every day as the weather improves.  The caboose of the gravy train is, of course, Golden Week, when you can take that four-day weekend and have a grand ‘ol time.

…Then there’s that Wednesday after Golden Week.  The new students stop tittering excitedly when you walk into the room, your self-introduction has been filed away in your desk drawer, and the weather’s already getting too hot.  Things aren’t as great as they seemed a few weeks ago, and you look at your calendar only to realize that there are no public holidays in June.  Harsh!  (Also, sorry to the avid fans of the “Know Your Holiday” segment…)

This reality, while certainly a factor for us JETs, hits our Japanese coworkers (and students!) even harder.  After all, they’ve been through the cycle their entire lives.  It’s important to remember that when dealing with particularly, — how shall I say it — deadbeat coworkers this time of year.  It’s possible they’ve just caught a little bit of the Gogatsu byo, so you made to be a little extra-patient with them.  It’s also helpful to keep this in mind when dealing with students.  They may find these next few weeks difficult to stay motivated in their English studies, and enthusiasm will certainly take a nosedive.  Don’t take it personally, you’re still the ace English teacher you always have been.  If you have the responsibility of lesson planning, it’d be a good time to bust out some active games that’ll get students on their feet and using their creativity.

Although there is no known cure for Gogatsu byo, we can take heart in knowing that it usually needs but a few days to run its course.  If you, yourself are suffering from this illness, know that you’re not alone by any means, and that you’re just particularly well-adjusted to Japanese culture… practically a 日本人 yourself!

Blending in like a champ.

You chameleon, you.

If someone you love (or have to team teach with every Tuesday and Thursday…) is exhibiting symptoms of Gogatsu byo, keep in mind that you may just need to let them be for the week or so that it takes to get back on the horse.  You could try cheering them up, of course, but remember you don’t have to take the responsibility squarely on your shoulders.

Knowing is half the battle, after all.  Now when your star student schleps into class in the morning and stares blankly at you, or when you ask your teaching partner a question only to have them blink silently back, focusing on a point behind your head, you’ll know what’s to blame.  がんばって.

On a Roll: The Internationalization of Sushi

No matter where in the world you come from, chances are you ate sushi even before moving to Japan. The sushi boom worldwide has led to the achievement of something once thought impossible: an international devotion to raw fish and cold rice. Sushi is now a basic bourgeois staple in the West, and trends seem to indicate that it will continue to become even cheaper and more accessible abroad. But how did sushi become so popular outside of Japan?

Sushi actually has humble origins as a working-class food. Portable, eaten without the need for utensils, and long-lasting due to the introduction of salt and vinegar (which kept the rice and fish from spoiling), sushi made a good meal for laborers who would tuck an oshizushi into their pocket on their way to work or pick up nigiri from a food stall on the way home. As with pizza and the hamburger, history and technology took its course with sushi in Japan and elevated its status to expensive delicacy. First, in the 1950s the fatty belly cuts of tuna once considered suitable only for cat food were popularized through a governmental marketing campaign put into action to address tuna shortages. Nowadays, these cuts, known as ootoro or shimofuri, are considered the finest meat available on the fish and can only be purchased from the highest quality fishmongers. Next, sushi restaurants introduced the conveyer belt to enhance the speed and efficiency of sushi delivery in restaurants. This innovation allowed restaurants to serve more customers, and the domestic popularity of sushi increased dramatically.

Kaitenzushi, making the rounds from Japan to Perth, Australia (where this photo was taken).

Sushi launched abroad when Japan’s economy boomed in the 1960s, giving sushi chefs the chance to try their hand at making sushi for Japanese expat communities in the Americas. Emigrant sushi chefs were often forced to alter their sushi to make up for the lack of certain ingredients and to make it more appealing to the American palette. Perhaps the most famous product of this alteration is the California Roll, attributed to Ichiro Mashita, a sushi chef at Kaikan restaurant in Los Angeles. The California Roll eliminated or downplayed certain ingredients considered to have an “ick-factor” among picky Americans: the uramaki (“inside out”) roll featured an outer wrapping of rice rather than nori and a filling that substituted high-fat avocado for traditional raw tuna. Changes such as these transformed sushi from an unappealing foreign import to haute cuisine.

Anatomy of a California Roll: cucumber, crab, and avocado wrapped in nori with an outer layer of rice and toasted sesame seeds.

Upon its introduction to the West, sushi had an air of exclusivity: it was foreign in origin and used expensive, unconventional ingredients. Those wealthy and brave enough to sample squares of seaweed; raw fish; tart, vinegared rice; and wasabi became “initiates” in a food trend that quickly spread among Los Angeles celebrities. Celebrities were the perfect incubators of the sushi trend. The aesthetic of sushi appealed to those who could afford to go out to eat and wait for the chef to meticulously prepare a dish that was just as much a work of art as a meal. Furthermore, the small portions and healthfulness of fresh ingredients tantalized famous devotees of diets and health food.

In fact, the international spread of sushi is in part due to the advocacy of actor Robert De Niro, a close personal friend of restauranteur Nobuyuki Matsuhisa. Matsuhisa began his career abroad in 1973 in Lima, Peru, where he developed his signature fusion style due to the unavailability of Japanese ingredients in South America. He later moved to Los Angeles, where he met De Niro. De Niro convinced Matsuhisa to open a restaurant with him in New York City. Matsuhisa did so, and the restaurant, NOBU, became a sensation and the flagship restaurant of the Nobu Chain of sushi restaurants. Masuhisa and De Niro now co-own the Nobu Chain, which has 11 American locations (think Aspen, Beverly Hills, Lanai) and 18 international locations (think Dubai, Hong Kong, Milan).

“You’re welcome.”

Now U.S. consular offices in Japan issue over 1,000 visas a year to chefs, tuna buyers, and other members of the global sushi industry—and it truly is a global industry. In the words of Japan scholar Theodore Bestor, “A 500-pound tuna is caught off the coast of New England or Spain, flown thousands of miles to Tokyo, sold for tens of thousands of dollars to Japanese buyers in Tokyo…and shipped to chefs in New York and Hong Kong? That’s the manic logic of global sushi.”

As sushi trickles down from its high-tier status to the proletariat, innovations in the industry abound. My own hometown of Santa Rosa, California, has become infamous as the spawning point of anthropomorphic pineapple Guy Fieri‘s sushi-fusion empire. At Mr. Fieri’s Tex Wasabi’s Rock n’ Roll Sushi Barbecue restaurant downtown, you can consume outlandish “Gringo Sushi” creations such as Big Bird on Fire (barbecued chicken and french fries wrapped with sushi rice), Jackass Roll (barbecued pork and avocado with chili garlic mayo), and Hog Tied King (salmon, bacon, cream cheese, sriracha, and unagi sauce).

"Hey...he does kind of look like a pineapple!"

“Hey…he does kind of look like a pineapple!”

A ways down the 101 Freeway in San Francisco, you can buy what’s called a “sushirrito“—if that sounds to you like a combo of sushi and burrito, you are correct. Thus, sushi has come nearly full circle from cheap, portable working class food to expensive haute cuisine and back to cheap, portable delight of the cultured masses.

The “sushirrito.”

The spread of sushi abroad has not come without consequences, however. Worldwide demand for certain fish like red snapper and tuna has led to overfishing of these species, causing environmental concerns. Sushi has been called the leading cause of “the inevitable collapse of wild fishery,” and it is uncertain whether farm or ranch fishing will be able to satisfy the needs of the international sushi market—the slow growth rate of tuna is one concern for farm fisheries. The emerging rarity of certain species coupled with unabated consumer demand has resulted in deception on the part of sushi chefs; often chefs will intentionally mislabel more common species of fish as their fancier, more expensive counterparts, which can expose diners to higher levels of mercury and other health risks. (For example, in the past some chefs have swapped white tuna for escolar, which causes gastrointestinal issues in humans.) A more scrupulous response to the jeopardization of the ecosystem is the rise of the sustainable sushi movement, which addresses the vulnerability of certain fish species and wasteful fishing practices in the creation and distribution of ethical sushi. The sustainable sushi movement puts the responsibility in the hands of the consumer in choosing restaurants and dishes that abide by rules protecting the diversity and productivity of the ecosystem.

A sustainable seafood chart from NAB Communities.

If it weren’t for environmental factors, the global rise of sushi would certainly persist, with increased affordability and accessibility worldwide. However, it’s not clear whether extant supplies of fish will satisfy consumer hunger. Sushi could easily retreat back into exclusive, expensive territory, available only to those who can afford to purchase such a delicacy.

Sources:

Sushirrito

Wikipedia: California Roll (Wikipedia)

Sustainable Seafood (Wikipedia)

How Sushi Ate The World (The Guardian)

Raw (The New York Times)

How Sushi Went Global (Foreign Policy)

Sushi: Globalization Through Food Culture (東アジア文化交渉研究)

Sustainable Sushi in San Francisco: Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar (NAB Communities)

Karin is a first-year ALT who enjoys fighting evil by moonlight and winning love by daylight. Her favorite sushi is kappa maki (cucumber roll).