Thursday, June 25, 2009

New Hotel Website

The good people at have recently brought their hotel search website to my attention. The Australian-based site claims to serve up worldwide results from over 30 travel sites. I played around with it a bit and it's easy to use and seems to have a good amount of information. It shows a ton of hotels in Springfield but it doesn't even recognize Ashikaga as a city. Sometimes I don't either, hehe. I'll see what sort of prices I can find there if I need someplace to rest my big head in Australia. It never hurts to shop around.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I finalized my Australian aspirations after a long chat with my good friend Tung. I am going over to hang out with him and do whatever it is people do in Australia... hopefully something involving throwing boomerangs at koalas. Fingers crossed. The 13-day trip will be my victory lap after finishing 2 years of continuous bowing and rice eating.

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I'll be spending the majority of my time in Melbourne, although I wouldn't mind seeing some outback. Everything is so far apart though that I would probably need to take another plane... decisions, decisions.

US-Australia relations are pretty solid with both a defense treaty and a free trade agreement currently in effect. Things being so rosy and all, I figured I would just be able to walk up to immigration and wave the ol' passport around a few times and walk right in like I always do. Australia is playing hardball however. I have to fill out some internet forms(ETA) and pay a $20 fee just to apply for entry. Not cool mates, not cool.

So I'll continue my ritual of buying the Lonely Planet guide, checking the wikitravel page, and reading the heck out of both to get a good idea of what I want to do over there. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gettysburg Address Contest

At the end of about a month and a half of practicing the Gettysburg Address with 13, and then 4 students over and over daily, the big day of the speech contest finally came. Despite my objections, I was forced to judge my own kids. All four of them did pretty well under pressure, though, so I was happy with how things turned out. There were thirty kids trying for 7 spots, with each winner receiving a free trip to Springfield for 10 or so days. Not too shabby.

This contest has happened every year for what sounds like quite a few years. This one had a small additional bit of importance due to this year being the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. It was mentioned several times that this was the only officially recognized Illinois Bicentennial Commision event being held outside of the United States.

While the scores were being tallied somewhere unseen, a bit of entertainment was provided for the audience. First a student group and then a couple of talented adults rocked out on their koto. Koto not only have 13 strings, but the bridges are moved during play to change the sound. It looks pretty complicated and sounds very Eastern.

After listening to the Gettysburg Address a total of 32 times, the dust settled and one the kids from Yamabe JHS, Hana, came out on top. Its funny how little emotion any of the winners showed while receiving their certificates up on the podium. I guess they are trained to do that. This victory combined with a winner in the last speech contest gives me a little record I can be proud about.

As you might be able to see, the participants numbered 29 girls and one boy(he didn't win). The contest is timed during the Springfield Sister Cities Student Delegation so that the chaperones from Springfield can serve as additional judges. I wonder if we are ever going to get to see the score sheets.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

New Laptop is Here

My nice new laptop has at long last arrived in the mail. I have been without an internet connection at home for a solid month now, which has super sucked. I am embarrassingly dependent on my computer, even more so because I live in a foreign country. A week from now 3 of my friends from college will be in Japan wanting to do everything the country has to offer, and I'm relieved to have the beautiful trip-planning power of the internet.

Minus a couple of days off I am going to take when my friends come to visit and a trip to Utsunomiya to do some work visa tweaking, I have 14 days of actual work left. My Japan time is quickly drawing to a close.

I've been doing some fun stuff and taking a few pictures over the past couple weeks so stay tuned while I post a few things.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Springfield Student Delegation in Town

The Springfield student group arrived last weekend and is probably running around town as I write this. Two girls are homestaying with kids from Yamabe, and I met each of them on Monday. It's nice when there are foreign visitors at school because the teachers and students both become much more interested in English. It gives everyone a chance to ask their favorite questions to new victims, like "How many people are in your family?" "Where do you live?" "What Japanese food do you like?" All of the classics that I have become so very accustomed to answering time and again.

Another nice thing about the Springfield group arrivals is we always have nice reception dinners for them at the best hotel in town, the New Miyako Hotel. We listen to lots of welcome speeches and get to eat good food. The meals are 5 or 6 courses long and pretty pricey looking.

The first course was pretty fancy, unfortunately it looked much better than it tasted. Subsequent dishes were much nicer.

It is also a nice chance to meet and chat with many of the international association and school board people that I don't see very often. A special guest at this particular event was the newly elected mayor of Ashikaga, Minoru Omamiuda. He is quite a bit younger than the previous mayor and his English is quite a bit better-he read his whole welcome address in English. Hopefully I will have more time to chat with him in the future. I am interested in city issues but the language barrier is a large one.

The mayor sang some Elvis surprisingly well.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Kanikosen: The Big Day

Yesterday I was finally able to see the fruits of my one Saturday of labor. I believe the entire movie was filmed in Ashikaga, and as such the town was treated to an advance screening at a town hall sort of place. As far I as know, Ashikaga, population of about 150,000, has not one operating movie theater.

For months now I've been thinking about this little project. A good number of students and teachers at my school knew I had done some work on the movie, and I wasn't looking forward to telling the whole lot of them that I had been edited out of everything. So when movie day finally came, I was a bit nervous about how it would all turn out.

Kawada Sensei, one of my coworkers who was especially excited about the whole thing actually bought his own tickets to the show. I mentioned that it was too bad there wouldn't be subtitles and I might not understand anything, so he went out and bought this little manga of the Kanikosen story for me. What a nice guy.

Here's a couple of pages that tell my part of the story, in which the pitiful Japanese crab guys get to see how well the Russian fishermen live. It definitely helped me to get a better grasp of the story, but it also worried me a bit. This book of a couple hundred pages had only about 6 that featured the Russians. That not a lot of time for my unshaven face to charm audiences, now is it?

The makeshift theater was fully packed when Shaun and I arrived. We lined up more folding chairs in the back of the room and squeezed in. After the obligatory overpolite speech, the room went dark and the film began.

Well, I'm no film critic, and I couldn't understand most of the lines being spoken, but I will say the film was interesting despite the language barrier. Unfortunately I don't have a clip of the movie to show or anything, but I got a definite look at myself in our scene, so I'm happy with that. Joe turned out to be winner overall. He was probably on screen longer than the real Russians

The cherry on top was the credits at the end, where all of our names were listed in English. That's a nice little consolation to the guys who didn't get any face time.

Then the lights came on to the sound of the audience's applause. I was very surprised to see Sabu the director himself take the stage and answer a few softball questions from the other two sharing the stage. I guess he said something like everything went so smoothly that he will consider Ashikaga for his next projects. We'll see about that.

And then that was it. I couldn't imagine leaving without some sort of movie memorabilia, and Shaun's Japanese lady friend was nice enough to bargain a movie poster out of the guys who had been selling tickets at the door.

As you can see, it seems that the movie will be available to the public on the 4th of July. I will keep a look out for releases in the US. I'll definitely be needing the DVD to show to my family and friends back home. I'm sure they will be amused.

One of my friends alerted me that I was now on the IMDb page for the movie. Thanks to whoever put that up there for me. Very cool.