I have now attended a few Judo classes at the Jr. High School. The teacher has given me his old set of Judo robes and pants. It starts with these crazy exercises where you use your for arm to pull yourself across the dojo. The kids do this effortlessly as though they are snakes or some other animal that is meant to scurry about on their bellies, I on the other hand can barely move five feet. Then they do somersaults and back flips across the room. I can do about 2 somersaults before I get dizzy and then maybe one of the backwards flips.

Next is the ground play, where you and a partner practice flipping and throwing each other for about three minuets before changing partners. Since I have no idea what is going on, I just try to do what everyone else is doing, basically trying to push or flip your opponent onto their back. I am not sure if I have actually figured out many of the moves I am supposed to be learning, but every once in a while the Sense or one of the students will teach me something new.

After ground play, we pair up and spar from a standing position. Here you try to trip, flip or push your opponent to the ground. This one is much more athletic. By the end of the 2 hours I am usually pretty worn out. If nothing else, I am getting a good workout a few times a week.

Got a haircut the other day. Not as simple as one might imagine. I went to the local barber near my house. I had my phrase book and told him to trim my hair and clean up my neck. I don’t normally think of a haircut a being a long process, maybe half an hour between getting to the shop, waiting for the barber to be free and getting your hair cut. Today, there was no one before me. I don’t know how it took one and a half hours, but somehow it did. At one point he asked if I wanted my eyebrows shaped. I told him, “no thank you”. And somehow it took about three tries before he actually cleaned the back of my neck. I guess it is not in style here to have shaved neck. Anyway, included a shave (not so good) and shampoo and the whole thing cost 2500 yen. While I am happy with the actual haircut, I think I will need to look further for a barber next time.

Rice Harvest
The rice harvest is now under way.

I was biking this weekend and came upon some fields where tractors were harvesting the rice.

At one field, the men stopped their work and invited me to have ice tea with them.As we sat I tried out the best Japanese I possess to communicate a very little bit.
After taking some pictures, I continued on my ride. I had been going up a mountain. The road came to a point where I could continue on the path I was on or, I could cross a large dam and go over to the next mountain on the other side of the river. I continued on my path for an hour or so until I decided that I was not getting anywhere so I turned back and started back down. By the time I reached the dam I was pretty tired, but still crossed the dam. As I started down I thought to myself, “if I cant cross back further down stream, this will be a pain to go back up.” Lucky for me there was a bridge at the bottom of the hill.

Tried a different onsen after the ride. In the sauna room here there was a televising set behind a glass window. Everyone was sitting watching a big Sumo wrestling tournament on the TV. The preliminaries to a match take about 5 minutes. From what I saw, the fight itself only takes 10 seconds, although I will not claim to be an expert on Sumo after watching 10 minutes on a TV in a sauna.

Kuma Rock Festival
Went to a rock and roll festival in Hytoyoshi. Japanese groups from all over the area preformed. There were some pretty great acts and good food and of course the ubiquitous drinks. Had fun rocking out with a crowd of people.

Menda Elementary is one of my absolute favorite schools. I only go once or twice a week, everything is ready and planned out for me. The kids are super energetic, and seem to enjoy the lessons, and the teachers are all really sweet people.

The classes always include a lot of games, songs and a little bit of vocab. Most teachers are a lot of fun to work with and like I said, the kids are awesome.

Walking through a hall way at MES can be an adventure. The kids are always excited to see me and use the only 3 English words they know, “Hellohowareyou” “imfinethankyou” and “nicetomeetyou”. They always want to shake hands, hold hands, or give high fives. It is very sweet, unless it is a swarm of children in which case I try to evade their affection. One or two children are cute, but a mob is a mob, and even cute little Japanese kids can overpower a full grown guyjin if there are enough of them.

The principal has asked me to find a sister school in the states and I will try to hook them up with Soloman Schecter in NJ. My friend Susan from temple has 2 children in the SSDS and has agreed to help me get the ball rolling on that project. I think it would be cool to teach all 400 kids at Menda Elementary school the Hora as part of that cultural exchange.

Little kids here in Japan have a game, they sneak up an adult and try to poke the adults butt with their fingers. I believe this game is aptly called, Concho. I have seen kids do this to parents in the supermarket.

At MES, I imagine I am a relatively good target as a guyjin. I have gotten quite good at first avoiding the pokes, or if that fails grabbing the fingers mid-poke, spinning around and telling the kids in my most serious voice, “Daamee, if you try it again I will break this finger off. Wakareymaska”, which to them comes out as “NO, english english english. Understand?” Of course they don’t understand, but they say they do, and the recidivism rate is zero for three. I wonder; is an idle threat still a threat, if the person you are threatening doesn’t understand what you are saying?

Yogurt Drink
There is a company I like here called Yakult. They make these supposedly healthy yogurt drinks that every one believes have special medical properties. A woman at my office told me as she was buying two, “this one is for your small intestines, and this one is for your large intestines.” The drinks are available in supermarkets and convenience stores, but the main way they are sold is through an army of about 50,000 Yakult laddies who travel around the country selling these drinks in every office building, workplace, home, etc. [I love the company, and at a lower price, I would probably like the stock. (2267.jp) currently over 30 times earnings, a little rich for me. The valuation that is, not the yogurt.]

Anyway, the point of the story here is that I like the yogurt drinks. I went to a convenience store the other day to pick up lunch and get a yogurt. They didn’t have the Yakult drink I like, but had something in the yogurt section that looked pretty good. When I got back to the office I had a sip. It was quite thick and very sweet. Dang, I thought, this must be a kids drink. Oh well I paid for it so I may as well drink it. Over the next half hour I continued sipping my yogurt drink until it was finished. I said to my friend Yasmine, “this drink is terrible, I would advise against buying it. It tastes like icing.” My coworker Hiromi, asked me what had I had to drink. I showed her the bottle. She got a serious look on her face and said, “This bottle says you should mix a little bit into a cup of plain yogurt for flavor, not for drinking.”

I guess being illiterate has its downsides.


Josh Bernstein
JETAA 2005-2006
Asagiri, Kumamoto Prefecture