What’s Hot? Spring 2014

What’s Hot? Spring 2014

It’s pretty important to be able to keep abreast of what is popular with our students and what isn’t. Who wants to be the teacher that brings in a bunch of stickers with a character the kids think is uncool and outdated? Whether when considering who to put on your worksheets or what kinds of prizes to bring, this quick cheat sheet will keep you in the know and help your kids think that you’re way more hip then you have the right to be.

First, here is a quick overview to a few ‘Classics’ that you can stick with which have weathered the test of time.



Our hero, Goku
Our hero, Goku
Vegeta, making receding hairlines sexy.

Dragon Ball With the remastering of DBZ about to start playing on TV again, DBZ is guaranteed to be pretty big. Younger students love it for the ridiculous attacks and it’s a bit of a nostalgia trip for the rest of us. You should know Goku (our loveable hero with a power level over 9,000) and Vegeta (the cranky widow’s peaked anti-hero). Chances are that you probably know at least a little about DBZ if you spent any time in the 90s.

The Straw Hat Crew
The Straw Hat Crew

One Piece Your kids will either love this perennial Shonen Jump pirate story or they’ll hate it. It’s a mixed bag for the older kids. But, so long as you know Luffy, Ace, Zorro, and Chopper– you should be good to go. One Piece goods are everywhere, seriously. Pick a rare character to be your favourite and the kids will be even more impressed.


Sailor Moon says~!

Sailor Moon With the new anime (finally) given an airdate of July of this year, Sailor Moon and all of the other planets are going to be everywhere. Sailor Moon goods are already popping up across gatcha machines across the country. The big down side with Sailor Moon is due to a lack of merchandise for the past twenty years, if you want to get anything Sailor Moon related for your kids, you are going to have to pay for it due to the price mark up. Sailor Moon says: Not cool, retailers!

Duffy, The Disney Cashcow
Duffy, The Disney Cashcow

Disney/Pixar Mickey, Minnie, Chip, Dale, Pluto, and one Disney character you may not be so familiar with– Duffy the Bear. Duffy is a mascot character at the Tokyo Disney parks that you can buy outfits and accessories for. He looks just like a regular bear but has a mickey shape on his paws. In terms of Pixar– the hot Pixar properties are Toy Story and Monsters Inc. Learn to draw a good Mike or ‘Little Green Man’ and you will be the jouzu-est teacher on the block.


Don't be fooled. He'll TPKO you.
Don’t be fooled. He’ll TPKO you.

Video Games Pokemon, Monster Hunter, Mario, Dragon Quest… these are still popular. A blast from the past, right? There’s a good chance that you won’t know too many of the newer pokemon or much about Monster Hunter besides that it has cute cats and pigs for mascots but that’s okay. They’re cute and what’s what matters. Also, who doesn’t love a blue slime?


BFFs, yo.
BFFs, yo.

Doraemon/Anpanman These are classic characters for little kids but learn how to draw them and even your most jaded SHS kids will appreciate this nod back to their youth.



Cute Kitty-chan, Rilakkuma, Sentimental Circus. You don’t have to know about the characters but if it’s cute and pastel coloured, your kids will eat it up.

What’s Hot Now?

Pictured front centre is Barysan. The weird wheel with legs is Nishikokun...
Pictured front centre is Barysan. The weird wheel with legs is Nishikokun…

Yurukyara Those crazy mascots. What will we they get up to next? Currently, Funasshi is the king of the Yurukyara with his crazy shouting and running from explosions. Other popular yurukyara’s include Barysan (a previous winner of the Yurukyara grand prix), Nishikokun (I don’t even…), and the current reigning champion of the yurukyara Grand Prix– Sanomaru. A local yurukyara how is starting to gain a bit more country-wide popularity is Koriyama’s own Gakutokun. He’s pretty easy to spot in UFO catchers in Tokyo right now!



Lil' Levi
Lil’ Levi

Attack on Titan//Shingeki no Kyojin Kids flying through the air with swords fighting giants who eat people. What isn’t to love about this overtly gory anime and manga series? Erin, Mikasa, and Levi are the top three favourites– especially Levi with the girls. Include Levi on your next handout and you’ll be deafened by the squeals of delight.


Slimes and cute creatures and shirtless warriors, oh my!

Puzzles and Dragons//Puzadora The whole swap-three style game brought to brand new levels of popularity here in Japan thanks to the incorporation of cute characters you have to breed and raise. It’s like Digimon meets Bejewled and your kids are eating it up. Thankfully, many of the characters are just blobs and easy to draw.


Taiga and Tetsuya
Taiga and Tetsuya

Kuroko’s Basketball//Kuroko no Basuke The plot of this anime/manga, as told by Wikipedia: ‘The basketball team of Teikō Middle School rose to distinction by demolishing all competition. The regulars of the team became known as the “Generation of Miracles”. After graduating from middle school, these five stars went to different high schools with top basketball teams. However, a fact few know is that there was another player in the “Generation of Miracles”: a phantom sixth man. This mysterious player is now a freshman at Seirin High, a new school with a powerful, if little-known, team. Now, Kuroko Tetsuya, the sixth member of the “Generation of Miracles”, and Kagami Taiga, a naturally talented player who spent most of middle school in the US, are aiming to bring Seirin to the top of Japan, taking on Kuroko’s former teammates one by one. ‘ Two characters to know here are the blue-haired titular charcter Tetsuya Kuroko and his red-headed partner Taiga Kagami. Tetsuya #2, Tetsuya’s cute dog is also worth knowing.

Cast of Silver Spoon
Cast of Silver Spoon

Silver Spoon//Gin no Saji From the creator of Fullmetal Alchemist, this is a new slice of life manga/anime that focuses around a boy from Sapporo transferring to an agriculture high school in the country. Comedy, love, life, and valuable moral lessons are probably contained within the story– in addition to newfound respect and cool points with your kids.



Current animated heart throbs of your students.
Current animated heart throbs of your students.

Free!An anime about a boy’s SHS swimming club. You maaaay want to avoid including goods and prizes with Free! as the characters are typically depicted in speedos or the like but it’s good to recognise what the characters look like (half naked anime boy on a student’s bag probably means it’s a Free! Character) so that you can talk to your kids or comment about it. At the end of the day, we all just want to relate and find something that we can connect to our kids with.


What’s Out

Kumamon That big black bear is still seen everywhere but it so decidedly uncool wit the kids anymore.
Nameko I’m not sad to see those phallic looking weird mushrooms fall from grace…
Stitch He’s still here and there but he’s reached the point of over saturation with most students so he’s seen as a little hokey with most students.

These are just some guides as to what is trendy with our kids. Each school and each individual kid is different. Pay attention to what straps, stickers, and pencil cases your kids have to help you learn what your kids like the best. And even if something that you love isn’t ‘cool’ with your kids, MAKE it cool to your kids. After all, I’m working on making Mameshiba the most popular character out there one student at a time.

Art and Tradition: FuJETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Kyudo

Art and Tradition: FuJETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Kyudo
kyudo_headerThis is the first in a series of articles exploring Fukushima JETs who practice traditional Japanese arts as a hobby.

Kyudo – The Art of Japanese Archery

Kyudo is one of the many Japanese martial arts. It can be deceptively similar to Western archery, but kyudo has its own unique rules and traditions that make it seem closer to tea ceremony than to archery. The footwork, the way the bow is held, and even the way the archer approaches the firing line is predetermined. It is more important to have this process done correctly than it is to hit the target accurately!

“There are particular ways to enter and exit the shooting hall,” says Tiffany Kwok, a second-year ALT in Tanagura. “The shooting sequence also depends on the occasion: exam, competition, ceremonial demonstration, etc.”

These traditions are not continued simply for tradition’s sake. The Japanese longbow, unlike a Western bow, is held not in the middle of the bow, but about two-thirds down. If held incorrectly, the archer can injure themselves, as third-year Aizuwakamatsu ALT Russell Aquino explains.

3rd year Aizuwakamatsu ALT Russell Aquino
3rd year Aizuwakamatsu ALT Russell Aquino

“Many things can go wrong when you shoot. I’ve had – and still occasionally get – a fair number of cuts and bruises on my inner arm to prove that.”

But practicing kyudo is a great way to learn more about Japanese culture. Tiffany explained that many of the terms used in kyudo have their roots in Japanese Buddhism. And as kyudo was originally a martial art practiced by the samurai, its tradition is steeped in the Japanese way of thinking.

“When you practice kyudo, I would say that it’s impossible not to get a sense of the spirit that led to its development as an art,” Russell says. Of course, even as a traditional art, it is practiced by modern Japanese.

Tiffany Kwok, 2nd year ALT
2nd Year Tanagura ALT, Tiffany Kwok

Tiffany says, “I’ve also heard A LOT of oyaji gags during practice – that’s probably just at my dojo, but it counts as Japanese culture, right?”

If you’re interested in starting kyudo, dojos are often looking for new members. Ask your coworkers where the local dojos are. They will often hold workshops for beginners. Also, many junior high and senior high schools have kyudo clubs which practice after school. Ask the teacher in charge if it’s alright for you to drop in! Russell has this advice for kyudo beginners,

“Be prepared to commit time to it. It takes a while to get even the basics of it, but once you do, there are few things as satisfying as hearing the twang of your bow and the sound of your arrow hitting the target.”

Special thanks to Tiffany Kwok and Russell Aquino for their interviews.

The Sapporo Snow Festival 2014: Retrospective

The Sapporo Snow Festival 2014: Retrospective

The Sapporo Snow Festival
By Renata Janney

snow1The yearly trip to the Sapporo Snow Festival in February is the biggest trip organised by FuJET. Each year JETs head for the coldest prefecture in Japan for snow sculptures, skiing and various other activities. If you haven’t gone on this trip, it is highly recommended – maybe next year?
snow2About 29 ALTs, my husband and I included, participated in the FuJET trip to Sapporo’s Snow festival in mid-February. We went to Hokkaido together by ferry, which, for land lubbers like me, was a new experience! After I got used to the rocking and the endless black night outside our windows, I had a good time! Both our ferries to and from Hokkaido had restaurants, onsen, TVs, and one even had a karaoke lounge! It might have taken a long time, but it was nice to travel in style.

Once we arrived in Sapporo and settled into our hotel, we had our only combined activity in Sapporo – an all-you-can-eat meal at the Sapporo Beer Hall! Though I wasn’t interested in the beer, I got to try out Genghis Khan – lamb and vegetables cooked on your table. After the dinner, however, everyone could do what they want. A lot of people took advantage of the ski slopes near the city, or visited the chocolate factory in Sapporo. Our hotel was only a few blocks from the main site of the Snow Festival, so Tyson and I visited the sculptures throughout our weekend. There were some huge sculptures of palaces, but I really loved the smaller snow sculptures of everything from hinaningyou (traditional Japanese dolls) to Totoro! We were also really close to the Maruyama Zoo! I loved seeing some of the Hokkaido wildlife there, as well as some cute polar bears and the tropical bird exhibit.

Tyson and I also went to the town of Otaru, a port city about one hour from Sapporo. While it was a lot busier than I thought it would be, I loved seeing the lanterns they had strung out over the canals. Tyson and I also had a fun time getting lost and we ate at a kaisendon (sashimi over rice) restaurant off the beaten path.

In case you couldn’t tell, one of the best parts of this trip for me was the food! Hokkaido is famous for its ramen, and Tyson and I had the opportunity to eat in Ramen Alley, a small street with 17 ramen shops. The area is also famous for its crab, and I got to try a lot of crab dishes – one of my favorites was crab miso soup!

snow3To sum up, Tyson and I had a great time in Sapporo! The town has a very different vibe from other Japanese cities, since the area was only settled in the 19th century. I was worried about the cold and the snow, but as long as I bundled up I stayed warm! If you have the chance to visit the festival, I recommend that you take it!

The First Ever Fukushima ALT Blood Drive

The First Ever Fukushima ALT  Blood Drive

by Steven Thompson

Last November, 15 brave souls gathered in Koriyama to give their lives to save others.

Well, maybe not exactly their lives, but they did sign up to give blood. Donated blood is life for the people it helps. Aside from emergencies and transfusions, donated blood is also used in life-saving medical research and drug manufacturing. The often-quoted figure is that one whole-blood donation saves the lives of 3 other people, but it can be more, and it certainly means much more.

Donating blood is an important cause to me, and I wanted to put together this blood drive event for two reasons. 1) To show the foreign population in Fukushima that it is not only possible, but relatively easy for us to donate blood once provided with some met requirements and translated forms; and 2) To show Fukushima that we support them in every way, and that just because we’re here temporarily doesn’t mean we don’t want to contribute.

For all my seriousness, the event itself was actually a great deal of fun! We all first gathered at the Stamina Taro buffet in Sukagawa for a huge lunch. Once we’d stuffed ourselves full of carbs and protein, we waddled over to the blood center (located inside Koriyama Station, just up the stairs from McDonalds). The blood center had extra staff on hand to make sure things went smoothly, and two staff members from the Fukushima main Red Cross office came down to offer English assistance as well. The Tokyo Head Branch even got involved, sending collaborating documents, and their heartfelt thanks.

The donation process went well, if slowly. The Koriyama center only has two computers for entering new donor information, but we did everything we could to print out information and the questionnaires ahead of time. Out of the 11 people who came to donate blood, about half were able to complete donation. Some people were not able to due to medical history, recent travel, or general ineligibility. In order to ensure blood is collected and distributed safely, they have to be very strict and exceedingly careful. Most people who receive transfusions have weakened immune systems and are particularly vulnerable. Even still, 6 people donating whole blood means that something like 18 lives could be saved! That’s pretty incredible.

It’s my hope to make this a quarterly event in Fukushima, since there are 4 Japan Red Cross blood donation rooms in Fukushima, and quarterly is about how often one can donate. With one event successfully completed and all the complications and challenges worked out, I think they’ll go much more smoothly as time goes on. Recently, I sent completed English materials to the Fukushima JRC office for them to begin reviewing and distributing to the centers in Fukushima for English-speaking donors.

Keep an eye on Facebook to see when the next blood drive event will be (I’m thinking right before spring break, this time in Iwaki)! If you’re interested or have any questions about donating blood in Japan, please feel free to ask me in person, on Facebook, or anywhere! Hope to see you out there with a needle in your arm and a smile on your face.

Yanaizu Naked Man Festival

Yanaizu Naked Man Festival

By Danielle Markewicz and Tito Santare

This is a yearly festival that occurs in Yanaizu, Oku Aizu. All men are welcome to participate (usually a JET helps with organising for non-Japanese) and anyone is of course welcome to watch! Danielle gives her perspective as an observer, and Tito tells us what it’s like to join in!
From Danielle:

On January 7th of every year, the people of Yanaizu town in Oku Aizu have a very unique festival. Despite the freezing cold and the snow that covers the ground, a group of men strip down to their fundoshi (Japanese loincloth), drink a lot of sake, then run up the hill barefoot to the temple. Once they reach the temple, they compete with each other to climb up a rope to the rafters. If they manage it (and some do with more grace than others) they receive good luck and prosperity for the rest of the year.

The temple where this takes place is Enzo-ji Temple. It is in a beautifully picturesque location at the top of a hill overlooking the Tadami River. At night, they light up the temple grounds and you can view the area as you drive over the two red bridges that lead into town. Enzo-ji is famous for being the place of origin of the akabeko legend, which is now a symbol of Aizu and Fukushima as a whole.

The observers all crowded around the edges of the inside of the temple, huddled together not only because of the small space, but also to keep warm. I got there early to get a prime viewing spot, and I was glad that I wore my long johns and woolly mittens, because despite being indoors, it was quite cold with the doors to the temple wide open!

We heard the participants before we saw them, with a chant of “Washoi! Washoi!” that got louder and louder as the men approached. Then all of a sudden, a long line of men in loincloths poured into the temple and began hauling themselves up the rope to the ceiling!

They pushed and pulled at each other, and scrambled to get into place to climb up the rope. Some were able to shimmy up in no time flat, whereas others got stuck halfway up and had to slide or jump down when they gave up.

The first few men sat on either side of the large gong that is usually rung while visitors pray at the temple. There, they shouted encouragement to the others below and occasionally lent a helping hand to those who were struggling.

Even some of the younger boys got to participate too, with a little help from their dads, of course. They wore matching-coloured headbands so they didn’t get separated, and while normally the men were quite ruthless about pulling, pushing, and even climbing over others to get to the top, everyone backed off when the young boys gave it a try and everyone cheered when they reached the top! What good sportsmanship! Though I will admit that the younger boys tended to climb up the rope like monkeys, they were so quick! It was the older men that had a bit more trouble!

The Yanaizu Naked Man Festival is without a doubt one of the weirdest festivals I’ve been to in Japan, but it was all so much fun to watch! It’s definitely worth a visit!

Originally published on the Goju no Aizu Blog, a blog introducing sightseeing information in the Aizu area.
From Tito:

This was my second year participating in the Yanaizu Hadaka matsuri. I learned about it last year from a friend who pretty much sold me on the tag line that I would get to drink sake and run around the town in a fundoshi to the local temple. Having no idea what the event was premised on or even what a fundoshi was, I agreed anyways. It’s definitely become of those unforgettable “Japan experiences” that I am glad I took part in.

At the ryokan of my group we started pairing up to have someone snugly tie up our fundoshis before the march. The ryokan master supplied new fundoshis for everyone there. The participating children were first to get their fundoshis tied by their dads. Almost immediately, the childish antics commenced with butt-slapping. Once they were all fundoshi-ed, there was a brief stand-off until all the boys became adjusted. Easily the most entertaining part of the night. I had my fundoshi tied by the ryokan master, which was interesting experience to have to walk up to an old man naked, cupping yourself with one hand, and asking “Onegaishimasu…” and handing over your loincloth with the other hand.

After that, we took one last drink of sake, got salted and started our march through Yanaizu to the temple. The cold wasn’t that bad and my feet quickly adjusted and numbed out after a bit. After purifying ourselves in the temple spring, we moved towards the rope. A mob was already man-handling the rope back and forth. This is where you have to forgo being any bit of “Japanese polite” and just push yourself through to the rope.

Although it feels insane getting bumped around in this mob, there is still some honor amongst everyone. Whenever a child was trying to climb, everyone at least seceded a bit and cheered the kid on. One of the boys was moving a little slow up the rope even with his father helping him. Another spry young man tried to jump ahead of the little kid since he was taking too long. This guy was quickly knocked off the rope (not hurt) and thrown back into the tussle. If there isn’t a child on the rope though, it’s free game on getting rope climbing space. Some people will try to help you while others will step on your head to get a boost. During a failed climb, I was trying to help boost up people above me while climbing. I didn’t get very high, so when my muscles burned out and I stalled, someone was prompt to grab me and pull me down.

After some rest, mental psyching and repositioning, I was able to get back up to the rope and find my time. Both years, my successful climbs up the rope were based on watching the rope and just knowing when the right time to climb was. This year, space on the rope opened up, but it was a bit far away from me. I could feel that was my time, so as soon as it got a bit closer, I leaped from a platform next to the rope, pulled myself in and shimmied my way up to victory. Up top, I was greeted to many congratulations and high-fives. I was glad that I didn’t hear any bells ringing while ascending, which signals that you are exposing yourself while climbing. Up top, I continued to cheer on my fellow climbers until the event ended.

Then we left the temple, strolled back down the stairs and lined up for a sake raffle with prizes ranging from a simple 300ml bottle up to a whopping 2L twin bottle set! This might have been the toughest part of the matsuri though as shuffling slowly through a line quickly sucks the heat out of you. Eventually, my feet started to sting through the first signs of frostbite. After returning to the ryokan, we were treated to the onsen, where I could re-feel every single knick and gash in my skin again. This was followed up by a complimentary feast and continued boozing from the ryokan master through the night. I am looking forward to participating again next year!