Author Archives: Mari-chan

About Mari-chan

I once lived abroad in Japan, teaching English. Now I am back in my hometown of Butte, Montana attending school as a MSTC candidate at Montana Tech where I now seem to spend all my hours!

Nearing the end of the tunnel!

Phew!  Now that was a crazy semester.  I only have one week left before FREEDOM!  It has seriously been so busy I had absolutely no free time to write for myself or create any art.  But it was a pretty good first semester.  (I imagine, after this, I can survive just fine for the rest of my academic career here!)

It is funny… a lot of people stress out about finals week.  I have never had a problem with finals week.  Tests usually don’t bother me that much, though I do know people who have major test anxiety!  The part of the end-of-the-semester that I  find most stressfult is actually the week before Finals… Project week.  I swear I had a project and/or paper due in nearly all of my classes!  I had a documentary, a web site, two research proposals, and two oral presentations plus I had to watch over one of my professor’s classes.  (I am his T.A., so it is in the job-description!) Needless to say, I got very little sleep this last week!  Next week will be slightly better.  I have a 20pg essay, a blog entry, my final research topic proposal, an evaluation, a mock-research proposal and a take-home vocabulary test due.  … but most of that involves writing.  I only have one actual Final test next week!

Yesterday we all went to Missoula to visit my brother and I actually managed not to spend much money!  (Kind of hard to shop for everyone’s Christmas presents when they are right there with you!  … plus I still don’t know what I am getting everyone.)  … for my niece and nephews, however, I am making amigurumi crocheted toys.  I have been getting pretty good at it!  I am making Studio Ghibli stuff for the kids.  (i.e. Totoro and Jiji from “Kiki’s Delivery Service”)  and an Angry Bird for baby David.  To top that off I will be going uptown sometime next week to the Secondhand bookstore to buy them a TON of books.  (They hardly have any!… and have you seen how much kids books cost brand new!?!  Egads!)

Of course, by the end of the day in Missoula we were all tired (and Dad wasn’t feeling too hot since he caught the crud that is going around,) so I ended up having to drive us all home.  Missoula is about an hour and a half away from home… and it was dark out.

I haven’t driven at highway speeds in quite a long time!  Japan’s Expressways are not exactly speeder-friendly… not to mention expensive to run on.  Plus the speed limit is a lot slower there! It was kind of freaky driving that fast at first… Thankfully there was a full moon out!  It went a long way to helping me see.  (I swear I am going night blind!)  Well, at least we made it home in one piece!

Tomorrow I have got to get things moving!  We still haven’t put up our Christmas tree!  That is my next goal (along with all of my writing assignments!)

Wish me luck!


Grad School is kicking my butt!

Ha ha ha! Homework is kicking my butt… but I am still enjoying being a student. (I returned to school as a graduate student in Technical Communications this Fall.)

This weekend we were assigned a boatload of reading to do. Basically it amounts to a small textbook! I have several essay/wiki blogs to write, a couple of mini research projects, proposals for a microstudy in technical communications, a webpage to start building, a quiz on building webpages, a 15 slide animation for digital video productions, IRB certification to finish, footage to film… o_O; And this is all to finish up “slush” week before we begin to dive into the “real” studying!

Yep, I am going to die!

But I love it! The Technical Communications dept. feels like it was designed just for me! So far my favorite classes are Intercultural Communications (because I can relate easily to this subject because of my years in Japan and feel I have something good to offer the class) and Digital Video Design (because I have always wanted to learn good editing skills!)

While I can still feel my brain oozing out of my ears… I also feel like I am actually using all that gray-matter that has been lying dormant up there for years! I still don’t like talking in class or speaking up too much in discussions… but I have some awesome classmates who have made me feel right at home. I even somehow ended up being a bit of a tutor to one of them. (I get paid in lunches! Yay!)

Now, I just need to find a part, part-time job to help pay for a “new” car. My little Ford Escort’s master cylinder is done for… it is just not worth it to sink money into more repairs! There is currently a deal in the works to get me a car that is a couple years older than me… but a bit of a classic! Hopefully I hear back from them soon. It has a wonderfully smooth drive, power-steering and fully functional, locking doors! … Oh, how I miss those things!

Well… back to the homework!

Biggest Earthquake in Japan’s Recorded History

And it coincides with my last day teaching in Japan. … Well, it will definitely be a day I will never forget.

Thankfully, I live at least 150 miles south of the epicenter and there were no worries about the tsunami reaching this far inland.

We didn’t escape completely unscathed, however.

After a really hard final day at Oya Higashi Elementary I was not looking forward to this final Friday at Samukawa.  (I hate goodbyes!)   I went to bed the night before feeling very…. depressed.  The next day started off fairly well though.

I had woken up to the feeling of my bed gently shaking.  This was practically the third day in a row that I had felt the  tremors.  I saw that my mother was online on Skype so I called home for a bit of a pick-me-up.  After talking with her I felt much better about things.  (I needed a reminder of why I was leaving!)  I headed to school with the intention to make my last day the best one ever.  ああ、それでもちょっと寂しかった。。。Thankfully it wasn’t as hard as the previous day. This was a school I only visited once a week as opposed to the other four days at Oya Higashi.  Still, I was sad to say goodbye.  I had 2 years of memories stored there.  I was not looking forward to the final goodbye…

Little did I expect that during 5th period with one of my favorite classes that I would experience the strongest earthquake to hit the area in recorded history!  The earthquake started out as a tremor.  At first the main teacher and I just looked at each other and he asked me, “Is that an earthquake?”   I looked at the students.  They may have been excited for their game of “Old Maid/Old Man”… but I didn’t think they could cause that kind of shaking!  So I said “I think so.”    It started to get a little stronger  so I kind of crouched down.  By then the students were finally noticing.  Four of the 6th graders from the neighboring classroom ran into our room and  were yelling excitedly… something I didn’t catch the meaning of.  The earth started to move in earnest then.  Again the teacher looked to me and asked “Should we evacuate?”  … puzzled as to why he was asking me I nodded my head and said, “Yeah, let’s go!”  The students didn’t need any further prompting.  We ran down the stairs from the third floor and flew out the emergency exit.  In fact, just as we were exiting the vice principal announced over the  P.A. system that everyone should remain in their classrooms and get under their desks since it was getting too strong to try running anymore.

I didn’t really notice the movement of the ground since my feet were barely touching the ground as I bounded with the others for the safety of the open school yard.  Once we made it, though, we decided it would be wiser to sit.  It felt like trying to stand on speeding train.  Doable, but difficult.  The kids were a bit worried but otherwise they were very excited. We could see the swaying of the topmost parts of the building and the flag pole.  Behind us the swimming pool was sloshing over.   Several kids became worried about their houses, families and pets.  I did my best to assure them that everything would be okay.  Where we were it felt like a magnitude 5 or 6 earthquake.  (Which I confirmed later on once I was able to connect to the internet.)  After the initial shocks wore off,  a few minutes later. the younger kids who had still been in the building joined us on the field. Then things got really noisy!

It took a bit, but we got the the excited chatter of the younger kids under control.  The school principal told us that  there were very likely to be aftershocks… and the old school building was still moving… so we would be waiting outside until we heard further news.  Several minutes passed and we could still fell small tremors.  The head honchos decided to wait a little bit longer, which turned out to be the right choice because just as the principal was announcing this another earthquake hit.  This time the epicenter was much closer, due east of us  off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture (…only slightly weaker for us than the first.)

We all huddled together in the brisk late-winter wind.  The 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders all took turns stealing me away to be their own personal heater.  Thankfully I am naturally very warm-blooded!  The teachers decided to brave the building to bring coats out to the children.  The sky looked like it was going to rain.  Of course, me being the brilliant person I am, I didn’t bring a coat to work!  The kids then decided to shield me from the wind.  Kyaaa!  So sweet!

After waiting for what seemed like at least half an hour, it was decided that school would be cancelled for the day.  And everyone was to leave with just what they had on them.  They would have to return on Monday to retrieve their bags.  Oh darn!  No homework!  The children were crushed!  LOL!  … and then it was time for me to say goodbye.  And I saw them off gladly.  It will seriously be a day I will never forget!

While we still had power out in the Samukawa area, the main part of the city was dark.  Driving home on Route 50 was a pill.  A drive that normally takes me 15 minutes took me at least 50 minutes.  There were no functioning stoplights the entire way. Once I made it into my apartment it was pitch dark.  That is when the real magnitude of what had happened hit me.  My things were strewn everywhere.  My iMac took a hit.  Thankfully it is just superficial.  Apparently it  fell off the desk backwards and my iPod speaker dock clipped the upper right hand corner and cracked the glass panel as it fell.  But the damage was not so great as to interfere with the main screen.  There is also a dent at the bottom. Seems to be working fine though, thankfully!

I found my emergency candles since the only “flashlight” I own is a book light… (-_-;)  After I got my bed situated I began to try contacting people.  Obviously, the communications systems were either down or congested.  It wasn’t until much later that I was able to send a text message to my facebook account to let everyone know that I was safe and sound.  …a bit freaked by the continuous aftershocks!.. but otherwise good.

Since there was no power I decided to hook my phone up to my laptop and leech off of it’s battery to watch TV.  (My cell also has a TV capabilities. Yay for technology!)  And that is when I saw the damage in Sendai.  And I thanked my lucky stars that I lived so far inland in a relatively safe area.  Still, I got very little sleep that night.  Every time I fell asleep another aftershock would jolt me awake.  The aftershocks continue even now, over 24 hours later.  I have kind of gotten used to the sense of nausea.  Maybe I have finally gained my “sea legs!”  At around 2am we got our power back and I started posting my status on Facebook.  Then my dad called and I assured him I was okay…and then my sister called.  They passed the word along to the rest of the family.  I finally went to bed at around 4am and got a few hours of sleep despite the shaking.

Thankfully, in the morning they also got the gas and water going again.  Communication was still a little sketchy via cellphone but somehow people were able to get in touch with me and through me with others so that worked out well… they also  got the nearby grocery store up and running. Me and my neighbor were able to go stock up on bottled water and non-perishables, just in case they have to shut off the power again.  (The electricity company has asked for us to use as little as possible tonight… I don’t think my computer will be too much of a burden!)

Working up the Motivation… meh.

… when it comes to cleaning I am severely lacking in the motivation department.  My tolerance for clutter is much higher than your average woman’s…. or man’s for that matter!

So, instead of cleaning up my apartment some more and taking out the combustible garbage, I decided to write another blog entry!  Yay for procrastination!

Despite my lack of energy today, I did manage to get quite a bit done this weekend.  I cleaned up some more on Saturday and finally decided that I needed to whittle down my collection of books and manga to just one 20lb. box.  I then finally took that box and my huge box of stuffed Nyanpire plushies to the post office to ship off.  All together it cost me around $100.oo.  I plan to ship off at least two more, much heavier, boxes later this week.  I imagine that will be at least $150 to $200.  Which falls right into the budget I gave myself.

After that, I bagged up a large chunk of my wardrobe (three 45 liter garbage bags full) and brought them into a local 2nd hand clothing store.  They actually gave me money for them!  Granted, it all only amounted to about $12!  Still!  I hadn’t really expected anything for them!  I just wanted to give them away!   While there I also bought myself a new (used) wallet.  It was a designer label (Anna Sui) leather wallet.  At one time it had been a bright red but now it is faded and well worn… which I think adds to it’s vintage charm!  Plus it has a little brass butterfly button!  I love it!  It is a vast improvement over my old, cheap plain brown wallet!

I also managed to get a lot done earlier this week.  Aside from the usual combustible and soft plastic/vinyl trash I also remembered to bring out all of my old cardboard boxes, manga magazines and non-combustibles on the appropriate days.  (Hence my lack of motivation now.  I literally had to take the trash out to the neighborhood trash site every day this week!  Bleh!)

On Monday night I finally came to the conclusion that I should probably just sell my baby. (My 21.5″ iMac desktop.)  It is just too expensive and めんどうくさい to get it home!  So, I put an ad in at GaijinPot . com.  I went to bed with the ad pending approval from their classifieds section.  After work on Tuesday, I had already received 2 inquiries.  I hadn’t expected anything quite so fast!  (I also received several offers in the following days until I took the ad down.)  It looks like I will be getting 7万円 (around $700+/-) for it. Which is fairly good considering I have had it for nearly a year now.  But, man! I will miss it in all it’s 21.5″ LED black-lit High Def glory!!  At least I get one more week with it!  Then I will be back to using my ancient, but still functioning, MacBook.  Hopefully, with the money I make on this sale plus the sale of my furniture and appliances, I will be able to buy a replacement.  I will wait until Apple updates the iMac line though… which should be fairly soon one would assume.  Maybe I should get an iPad and a cheap PC instead…. hmmm…

Man, this week will be rough!

It is my last week at both of my schools!  I am going to be balling like a little baby by the end of this!  Thankfully I have laid down a good cover story.  I have been wearing my new specs all week because the cedar pollen has been irritating my eyes!  Hopefully they will see my red puffy eyes and just assume that the pollen is really starting to get to me!  LOL!  (;_;)  (=.=;)

Packing Frenzy!

Haaaaaaa…. I only have one month left here in Japan and right now I am trying to sort out all my stuff and get it packed.  So far I have managed to sort it into things I need to take home, want to take home and don’t-need-or-want-to-take-home.  Even so,…. I have a LOT of work ahead of me.  It is hard not to get overwhelmed by it all!  I just have to be thankful that, for once, I haven’t procrastinated! …too much!

Of course, I am trying to save as much money as I can.  (Especially since I don’t have a job lined up for me back home!)  Thankfully, I have already managed to sell all of my furniture and household appliances to the incoming teachers… but that still leaves a lot of stuff to take care of! I definitely can’t afford to ship it all home!

I did a packing dry-run today and it looks as though I will be able to fit all of my clothing in my luggage… and not much else.  I have bags upon 45l bags full of excess clothing that I need to somehow get rid of.  I miss Goodwill and D.I!  Japan lacks second-hand clothing stores.  Okay, not entirely true… they do exist, but they are harder to find!  I am hoping someone will accept all of my clothing.

I also managed to whittle my book collection down to two 15lbs boxes that I plan to send in the mail via boat.  Hopefully it won’t cost too much!  (-_-;;)  There is supposed to be a special rate for printed material called a tokubetsu yuuta intastu butsu, or, an “M bag”.  I am really hoping it is true and that my non-academic books will be accepted! It was very difficult deciding which books to keep!  … now I also have to go and sell my remaining books to other ALTs or to BookOff.  *siiiiiiigh!

Then there is the matter of all the knick-knacks and souvenirs I have accumulated through-out the years!  I don’t know what to do with them all!  I know I don’t need to bring a lot of my stuff home with me.  I am trying to focus on my art supplies, my electronics, scrapbooking material such as old tickets, brochures, stamps and stickers…  and small gifts I have received.  Which reminds me, I will probably need to leave space for gifts from students and co-workers etc…

That still leaves a LOT of junk to throw out!

…getting rid of garbage in Japan is a pill!  It is all separated into types.  Combustible, non-combustible, plastic and vinyls, plastic bottles, batteries, cardboard/newspapers/magazines…. so on and so forth.  I wish I could just put all the trash together in one can!  Or even two or three different types… but this is just a pain in the behind!  めんどうくさい!

I have heard that there DO exist some independent incinerators in the city though.  You can bring in as much as you like and they charge you by how much it all weighs.  I will probably end up bringing a couple carloads!  (Hey!  My car is tiny!)

Last but not least is my computer.  I am loathe to part with it.  It is barely a year old!  And it is a beautiful 21.5″ iMac desktop with the LED backlit HD screen.  If I tried to sell it independently I could possibly get $700 for it.  Softmap will give me $510 for it.  Either way, I will need to spend money on a new computer.  Ideally, I would want the same computer… brand new, they start at around $1,000.  So, I would be spending anywhere from $300 to$490 to get it.  OR- I could risk sending it home via mail (in it’s original shipping box) for around $130.  To be delivered in about 2 weeks via air and land.  That is with insurance.  I am hoping they won’t turn me away.  It is within the insurable rate and within the right size and weight so it should be fine…. but I am a pessimist worrywart!

Aaaaaaah!  Only 28 days left!  Can I do it?!?!

Happy 2011… Wait! Where did 2010 go?!

Someone needs to beat me over the head with a wet noodle…  I haven’t posted here in faaaaaar too long!  I have been sucked into the Facebook update status machine!  (Let’s face it… it is a LOT easier to just post a few sentences on FB everyday as opposed to sitting down and actually writing a full-on journal entry!… at least it is for a lazy butt like me!)

… but it has been nearly a YEAR!   (_ _|||) ガ——-ン!  もしあわけありません!(^-ェ-^).oO ( バーカ)

I am still teaching at the same two schools.  They both asked if they could request me to stay (usually we all get switched around every two to three years) … but I had to turn my boss down.

I am FINALLY returning home!

I originally came to Japan with the intention of only living here a year or two TOPS… I have now been here over FOUR years!  (0_o)  And I could keep on living here indefinitely.  My Japanese has improved vastly over the last year.  I understand a large portion of what is going on around me now, I can answer most questions in simple, and oft broken, Japanese… but I usually manage to communicate.  My younger students don’t even realize that my Japanese sucks!  One girl even asked me if I found it easier to speak Japanese or English!!!!  LOL!  “English!”  The other kids laughed and said, “Of course!  She’s from America!”  (I have always been fairly good with pronunciation… and having learned Spanish has been a great help… grammar on the other hand…. I suck at.  Abysmally! … but I am good enough to pass as a 1st or 2nd grader! LOL!)

I have gotten even more practice in my church calling.  I am now a Primary teacher.  But I have to teach the lessons in Japanese!   I guess the Bishop caught onto the fact that I understand and speak more than I have been letting on! … dangit!  Even so, my classes are a mixture of English and Japanese.  Thank goodness my student has been studying English!  Her mom actually wanted to hire me to become their English tutor as well… and if I weren’t going home in two months I would be tempted to do it… which is saying a LOT! I don’t really have enough desire for extra money to go out and spend my precious extra free time teaching… but she is one of the few people I would consider doing it for!

Alas, once I return home to the States I will no longer need my Japanese skills… so they will likely wither away…  though I plan to continue reading manga and watching dramas in Japanese.  (My favorite way to study!)  Not much call for Japanese in Montana… or anywhere else, really!

I really do look forward to returning home, though.  I miss my family!  And, I can’t believe I am actually going to say this…. but, I miss the snow!  (We shall see how long that particular sentiment lasts!)

Once I return home I will be moving in with my sister and her three little munchkins.  She lives alone with her kids…all under the age of 3.  She is also working full time!  The newest arrival came in December, just before Christmas.  It has been really tough on her.  I am going to live with them so I can take care of the kids while she works.  While I am living with them I am planning on returning to college.  So far I am considering taking some refresher courses… in multi-media technical communications. We’ll see how that goes and whether or not I want to continue down the path of getting a Masters… or if I feel like studying something completely new. (As well as something more in-demand and with better pay…)

I am excited to embark on this new adventure.
I have come to the realization that I seem to feel the need to shake things up every 4 or 5 years… something I think I inherited from my father… at least, it seems we moved houses, if not towns, every 4 to 5 years for no particular reason….  Perhaps it was in an effort not to go stale or  stagnate!  LOL!

Why 7-year-olds make the best exercise coaches!

It has been getting hotter and more humid here in Tochigi. The week started out in the upper seventies, lower eighties…which is pretty hot in my books. (-_-;) (Butte, Montana summers rarely even reach the 90s. If they do, usually it only lasts a week or two. ) But then the clouds and rain came rolling in around Wednesday. Normally that would be a relief, right? Yeah… No! Not necessarily. I prefer the sunshine. It was hotter, but fairly dry. Now it is “mushi atsui,” or, muggy. Which means it feels at least 10 degrees hotter even though, technically, it is cooler. …and everything is sticky. Thankfully it is still at a manageable level! I have decided the reason why I can’t stand the summers here is because I store heat like a furnace. (Because of adapting to all those Montana winters!) So, come summer, I start to overheat! Blech! Yesterday, I ate lunch with class 2-1. (2nd years, class 1). Afterward they invited me to join their recess activity. Freeze tag. It was a thirty minute long recess! Non-stop running ensued…well, until I was “caught” and had to freeze! Of course I had lots of “helpful” teammates who came to my “rescue!” Chasing little ones, or being chased by them, really is the best exercise program! They are far more strict than any exercise coach! They won’t allow you to give up. “Ah! I give! I’m dying here!” “Sensei, you are not dying. Obviously! Come on! It is boring if you just stand there! Run away!” I love my second graders!