Time to Say Goodbye

Living in Ibaraki for three years, I felt like a bit of a traitor for leaving. Itako gave me some amazing experiences, and showed me how to become a better person through those experiences. I gained so much from teaching my students, and I hope that what I taught them will somehow stick in their heads despite what may come. I am proud of them, every single one.

I look back with critical eyes when it comes to my teaching methods. This class was better than this class. How much did I do wrong? God, I hope he/she/them get into the high school they want. I messed up more than a few lessons. Will that matter? Did I do something completely wrong? Please, I hope if nothing else, I can’t be the reason they don’t English.

Ms. Nesaki, the English teacher I worked with in Itako 2nd, told me once, “That’s how a good teacher thinks. You worry about the students. You care. Sometimes that enough, deshou?”

I want her to be right. If my kids can think of me fondly, that’s great, but I’d rather them have the knowledge I tried to cram into their heads over memories of me. If even one of them can remember present-past or how to do future tense, I’ll consider it a job well done.

I know I couldn’t have stayed there, not another year. It’s not the students, teachers, or schools’ fault either. I just got worn down from the curriculum, the constant battle between what I knew was correct English and what the textbook told me to teach. I didn’t want to keep doing the same thing every single year, like an endless loop of hodgepodge “English.”

I’m going to miss the people the most, and I just know it. The friendships and other relationships I cultivated over this three year period were usually hard-won, requiring that I try to communicate with them however I can, whether through language or exaggerated gestures. Some were easy, usually with people who could speak English fluently, but even with Japanese on my side it felt like it took so long to discover little gems hidden within my co-workers. Even just thinking about the lady at the 7 Eleven who I saw every other day, who I talked with about this and that but nothing important. I’m sad to think I won’t see her again.


My awesome Itako crew!

I keep trying to tell myself I’m not leaving Japan, so it’s not the same. Yet, I know that even being two hours away will mean that I can’t see these people every weekend or even once a month. I’ll have to just try and go back when I can, and enjoy that time in the moment.

I’m going to miss the Ibaraki JETs, too. The Drunken Duck memories; the trips to Gunma, Hokkaido, and Tokyo; to even the JET Meetings in Mito once a month. I met so many awesome people in such a short amount of time on the program, and they’ll always mean so much to me.

Now, I’m moving onto a bigger city, called Machida.  My new  job is teaching adults instead of kids at COCO JUKU in Yokohama. I’m a little nervous about it, but I hope that since they’re giving me a full five days of training I’ll be able to figure it out fast. Still, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Thank you for everything Itako, JET, and friends. I hope to see you again somewhere, someday soon. Take care!


Thanks for the great memories, everyone!




This Weekend Only! Special Events at the Itako Iris Park

This Saturday and Sunday (June 20th and 21st), Itako will hold two special events for the public at the Itako Iris Park.

One of the events is called the Milky Way Iris Bride Ceremony. At this event, hundreds of bright blue LED lights will be placed in the river alongside the iris park. The Iris Bride will then go down the river in the boat. The lights are really beautiful and cast a cool, aqua glow in the night. With these lights, the idea is to place the bride in a river reflecting the stars from the night sky, as if she’s floating through the heavenly sight herself.

Milky Way Iris Bride

Credit: msn.com


The Milky Way Iris Bride send off will commence at 7:00 p.m. (19:00), but be sure to get there early because the crowd gets really big before the event.

Also, we will have a candlelight ceremony called the “Suigou no Akari,” which in English translate to “The Beautiful Riverside Illumination.”


The park will be filled with hundreds of candles inside of cups that have pictures drawn on, wishes/ prayers written on, or people’s names and organizations written to show their support for the event. If you come during the daytime on Saturday, you can have a chance to make your own candle as well! This event will go from 5:30 – 9:00 p.m. (17:30-21:00).

If you are close and in the area, please head on down! I highly recommend these events for couples. This weekend is going to have a really romantic atmosphere, so if you have a special someone and want to do something nice together, Itako is the place to go!

Some Rules about the Park

The park is a no smoking area, but all the restaurants and bars around the park are smoking friendly. However, the City of Itako would like for people not to smoke near the iris flowers because if the flowers catch on fire it will be a big problem. If you do smoke, feel free to do so at one of the nearby establishments, thank you!

Please do not leave trash at the park! The litter is not just unsightly, it also damages the plants, so please take your garbage with you and throw it away. There is a nearby 7 Eleven where you can take your trash or you can take it to Itako Station where there are many trash bins.

Do not touch the Iris Princesses, Staff, or Characters (City Mascots)! We have had a few problems with people in the past inappropriately touching the Iris Princesses and female staff in the past, and so for protection touching us and the ladies is not allowed. If you have children, they are allowed to shake hands and play with Ayame-chan or the other characters at the park, but adults are asked to please not pat or tap on the heads because it can hurt the people inside.

Thank you for your time!

Only In Japan: Cute Construction Characters


Construction sites, while necessary, are some of the biggest annoyances on the road. They’re dirty, noisy, and cause a lot of trouble. Cars can get backed up for miles because of some city project or another, triggering road rage in even the most temperate driver. There’s nothing to be done about it, shoganai. We just have to resign ourselves to this irritating fate.

Unless you live in Japan, in which case there’s actually something to look forward to with construction. In many Japanese cities they have character road guides and blocks. In most cases the characters are animals or famous things associated with the city. For example, I often see the deer character in my city and in the city of Kashima. Kashima city’s character is the deer (shika). The city’s soccer team is even called the Kashima Antlers and they have a deer mascot.

The two characters seen in the picture below were taken at a construction site just outside my apartment. The deer is obviously from Kashima, but the giraffe was a new one. I asked a teacher why the giraffe and she told me that unusual or really famous cute characters, such as Doraemon or Stitch, are used to tell people that it’s a school zone or that there are children around in the area and to be careful.


The giraffe on the right is to warn people “CHILDREN PLAY HERE.”

In Kamisu, there are dolphins and bunny characters. I only saw the dolphin character once in the three years I’ve been here, but I’ve seen the rabbits many times. The rabbits come in about three or four different colors. I’ve seen them in yellow, pink, and blue.


Pink bunnies at a construction site near Kamisu City Hall


Yellow bunnies seen in Tokyo near the Emperor’s Palace

The idea behind them is to kind of soften the look of the ugliness that we often associate with construction. Instead of getting as upset as we normally would, the characters are there to distract from the stress of the situation and to make people think of adorable things instead.

Also, the bright colors are meant to alert people in either the day or night time to use caution on the road. The big eyes are meant to sort of shock you, because when people see the eyes at night they might think it’s a child or some kind of animal for a split second, and so hopefully drivers slow down around the work in progress.

However, some people in Japan want them removed because they’re too distracting and may actually cause accidents. The argument they put forth is that these characters make it harder for drivers to just concentrate on the road and instead get their eyes fixed to the cute bunny or deer instead. And so then, the distracted drivers won’t be able to react to a situation going on in front of them.

Personally I love them. They do make the long stretches of stop and go traffic in the midst of construction more bearable in my mind, so I hope Japan decides to keep them. I hope to see more of them soon!

Third Time’s the Charm: An Iris Princess Again

The Itako Iris Festival is on from today (May 25th) to June 29th. I’m only there on Sundays, but I have the honor and pleasure of serving with 15 other Iris Princesses this year who will be there more often than me. The Iris Princesses are at the park on Saturdays and Sundays from 8-5.


I am waaaaaaay in the back

Today was the perfect start to the festival. The weather was nice with the sun hitting the iris flowers just right, making them really vibrant. There are over one million of about 500 different kinds of purple, yellow, and white iris flowers at the park.

This festival has been around since 1952, when iris-lovers placed cut iris flowers in beer bottles as decorations in for the festival. Until 1955, the Itako area was built upon a system of canals. For that reason, when a new bride and/or her goods were to be transported to her new home (the husband’s family home) it was done using a Sappa boat. These traditional boats are still used in Itako as tourist attractions. People can ride in the boats and enjoy the beautiful scenery as they travel up and down the rivers.

And to this day, the Bridal Boat (Yome-iri Fune) wedding send of ceremony is performed with a bride at the Iris Park. After arriving at the ‘Itako Bride’ memorial, the bride will walk along the pathway to the boat with her matchmaker and the boatman, then the boat will set off. Often the groom will be waiting at the Wai-Wai Fantasy dock.

The other Iris Ladies and I spent all day posing for pictures and helping people find their way around our little town. I even helped out a few foreigners that came to the park, which has never happened on the first day before.

The park this year is selling some cute straps and plush goods, which they didn’t do last last year. I want them all!


The mini Ayame-chan character strap


The big plush Ayame-chan

On the weekends is the Iris Bride send off event. That’s at 11:00, 14:00, and 19:00 (but times are subject to change). There are several events during the festival, such as traditional Japanese dancing and mochi making. We’ve also got boat rides up and down the river that are quite fun.



By the way, the park is (semi) famous! It was featured on a recent Japanese suspense/ thriller drama on Fuji TV. They actually came to the city and filmed parts of it right here in Itako. Isn’t that cool?! I got to watch it tonight. It was kind of awesome to watch it and go, “Oh my God! I’ve been there!” I thought it was particularly cool because someone was even murdered in a river that I’ve been to (television murder, not real life, obviously).

It’s easy to get to Itako via the Kashima-Orai Line from Mito or the Suigo-Itako Bus from Tokyo station. If you’ve got the time, please come on down!

The Fight to Dance in Japan!

My article got into the iAJET Gazette! Check it out! I talk about the anti-dancing laws and what people can do to change them.

iAJET Gazette 2013 Winter Edition

Editor: Susan ThomasLayout: Albert David

Editor: Susan Thomas
Layout: Albert David


Summary provided by editor: It features a new, stunning layout by Mr. Albert David Valderrama and content to match. Travel to Mt. Akina, the heart of the speed-demon manga “Initial D,” with Albert David as your guide. Kriss Scott, our official Japanese Counterculture correspondent, names his “Top 5 Anime and Manga that Aren’t Internationally Famous (but Should Be).” Want to learn a martial art while in Japan? Get started by reading Mike Foki’s guide to budo or “the way of the warrior.”

In other news, I’ll be the new editor of the iAJET Gazette come April! I’m so excited to get started!


Introduction to Ibarakese

Introduction to Ibarakese.

In addition to this, I would like to introduce “da pe!”

-da pe (だぺ)  – used just like desu (です)

And a funny story to share.

Once upon a time, I went out with the PTA to make some hazy memories. At some point, all the men were yelling out something and at the end they were saying, “~da pe!”

I tried to listen over and over again for ~masu or ~desu, but they weren’t using either of the normal verb endings. I had absolutely no idea what anybody was saying.

Finally, my JTE came over and gave me a small Ibaraki-ben lesson on da pe. Turns out, you can usually use it like desu, but it’s usually only used by the older generations in my area. I started using it for fun. “Bieru da pe! Hoshi da pe! Sashimi da pe!”

At this point a man beside me said something about speaking proper Japanese and I shouldn’t be learning the wrong Japanese. I will claim that I never did this later, but I totally put my hand on his head and said, “Baka da pe! (This is an idiot!)” And the guy laughed so hard he nearly died.

I highly recommend to NEVER EVER DO THAT EVER, but for me it ended well. I apologized to him and we all sang karaoke. Also, I will never do it again.

Still, fun times in Itako. They happen 🙂



I guess it only makes since to talk about the city I’ve been living in for about four months. It’s a very nice little town, it’s a quiet village. Everyday like the one before. Ok, an ode to Disney said and done. Seriously, people here are very welcoming and nice (Granted, I’ve yet to meet an openly hostile person in Japan yet).

Itako is situated near Kashima and Kamisu in Ibaraki Prefecture. Here’s a map:

The city’s biggest tourist season is in the summer. In June, they have an iris festival called the “Itako Ayame Matsuri” in Japanese. The pictures are gorgeous! I’m really looking forward to being here when the flowers are in bloom. Some of them were when I arrived, but apparently the iris park is something amazing to see.

This picture is brought to you by Wikipedia! The college student life saver.

As in it’s so ridiculously gorgeous!

There’s also boat rides! They’re kind of like the Venice boat rides, wherein people sit in them and get rowed around while looking at all the pretty sights around Itako. Every year, Itako chooses some young maidens to play the Ayame-hime, or Iris “Princesses,” for a big iris festival play. Out of the “Princesses,” an iris bride is chosen to “marry” an iris “prince.” My predecessor, Lauren Parker, was one of the iris maidens. Perhaps I will be one, too!

In the fall, there are other festivals. One of them I went to was pretty special. It was a candlelight vigil for the people lost in the big earthquake in March at the Itako Shrine. People’s names were written alongside the paper cups, and the cups had candles in them. Visitors to the shrine lit the candles in remembrance of all that was lost. It was beautiful. The entire place was alight, and the candles were put into formations. One was a heart with the kanji for, “Ganbare!” which means “do your best” or “fight”  or “hang in there.”My friend Nobuko took me, and I’m forever grateful she did. It was a wonderful, sad, yet uplifting experience.

Nobuko and I at the Candlelight Festival

Nobuko and I at the Candlelight Festival

I’m not entirely sure what goes on in the winter. From what I understand so far it’s get under the kotatsu and wait until spring. A kotatsu is the best damn piece of furniture ever invented. I’ve been living under this thing whenever it gets to 10 degrees C or below (my apartment has the same temperature as the outside).  Basically, it’s a low table that heats up. You throw a blanket over the top of the table, put the cover on the blanket, and the heat is trapped. I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ve fallen asleep under that thing more than once, which is really dangerous and if you own one you should never do that! Do as I say, not as I do.

Other things to do involve going next door to Kashima and going to an Antlers soccer game. I would suppose the Antlers are to Kashima what the Wildcats are to Kentucky. In other words, everybody keeps track of the games, traffic in Kashima is hell when a game is about to start (I finally realized that the sense of deja vu I felt was from the same experience in Lexington whenever Rupp Arena had something going on), and people will suddenly yell in the middle of a game while you’re at the mall (scaring you half to death and making you scream a little).

Kashima Stadium is huge! As in massive!

As to why the team is called the Antlers, I can only surmise that it comes from the mascot for Kashima, which is deer. See, Kashima is one of the oldest cities in Japan, and it’s home to one of the oldest shrines in Japan. Kashima Shrine (Kashima-jinju) has deer, because they’re considered connected to the god that touched down at the shrine thousands of years ago. Neat fact: the Nara deer came from the Kashima Shrine.

For some reason I never entirely understood, there’s also a story involving a warrior fighting with an underground catfish (yes, underground, and yes, catfish) because apparently fish cause earthquakes. There’s a statue and everything at the shrine. It’s really cool, and I highly recommend checking it out.

The Kashima Shrine is really something to see. It’s also a nature preserve and park. It’s beautiful in the summer time, and with the changing leaves right now it’s also really pretty. People come from all over to feed the deer and have a spiritual experience. I had fun going there with my Japanese teacher, Yamada-sensei, and her son, Aki. I really want to go back, but the kotatau beckons me!

I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring my town and nearby places. I’ve already found an awesome cafe thanks to Lauren. The chocolate croissants there are delicious! I showed the place to a few people. Samantha is one of them. She’s a new ALT in Kashima. She’s from New Jersey, and she’s a history buff. She and I have been hanging out and getting to know each other here lately. She’s got a sweet tooth and loves bunnies. She’s got blonde hair and blue eyes, so as you can imagine, people stop and stare.

That is something to report, I guess. People in Itako don’t gape at me anymore. I’m just the English teacher now. Instead, I’ve been getting parents stopping to say hi, and more and more people want to try talking to me in English. No one’s really surprised to see me walking around. Although, sudden ambushes by middle school students have happened. That’s always fun! I love my kids. They’re so cute.

Anyway, I also hang out with Mish. She’s my block leader. She’s from Hawaii and she’s all about Totoro. I don’t know if it’s possible to love Totoro as much as she does. I try. I bought a Totoro and he’s quite fuzzy and soft. Mish and Sam can play volleyball. I can pretend to play volleyball and hurt myself.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll try to catch up on my bloggin’ as soon as I can. I had a free hour so I decided to crank this one out really fast. I hope you all enjoyed it!