Sumo in Furudono

Sumo in Furudono
Maxwell_Sumo
Let the tickle fight begin!

by Maxwell Lamb

In my long history of pinning large men to the ground, I’ve come to fancy myself something of an expert on the subject. Sumo wrestling seemed like it would come naturally to a lad such as myself, seeing as how I’m quite tall, a little girthy, and unnaturally talented at hugging. Nudity is also a speciality of mine, particularly in a public setting, so the opportunity to wear a tightly wrapped long strip of fabric leaving very little to the imagination was simply too irresistible to pass up. With that, I joined a merry band of Fukushima fellows for a day of amateur sumo in the mountains, and proceeded to have my butt, covered by absolutely nothing at the time, completely handed to me. I don’t know where it went wrong, exactly. I’m dangerously ticklish, so my first fight had me erupting in gigglish fits of laughter, which was actually quite effective in psyching out my opponent. My height seemed to be particularly disadvantageous, as the others were able to duck under my reach and go for the full lift, promptly before tossing me outside of the ring like a beanbag. I couldn’t even frighten my opponents with my patented girlish scream. It would seem that the men in business suits who populated the judges area expected as much, and were entertained enough to hand us 1000 yen bills for amusing them. It would now appear as though I’m an expert in squeezing money out of businessmen by frolicking around without any clothes on. No change there…

In all seriousness, sumo wrestling was far more taxing and aggressive than I had originally envisioned. I haven’t been an athlete for some time, and it was nice to refresh the feeling of sport and combat in such a setting where the jovial spirit meets the athletic. By the end of the weekend, large, hand-marked bruises had formed on my chest like battle scars, my body had been tenderized like a chicken breast under the hammer and I could barely walk.

Completely worth it. Expect to see me next year. Rematches abound, and to he who bested me better than any other: I can’t wait to hug you again.

Teaching: Mission Impossible

Teaching: Mission Impossible

Kim_MISSION_IMPOSSIBLEby Kim ‘Possible’ Morris

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing.” With Thomas Jefferson’s words in mind I set out on a mission. My mission was to not sit around for summer vacation doing nothing. I believe I had an Einstein moment and the idea of a summer camp was conceived. It was early March so I had sufficient time to nurture my idea. Step one was to inform a few teachers about my “brilliant plan”.  They stressed that they would be busy and would have no time to help me with such a concept.  I was also told that this has never been done and that “Japanese people” are not accustomed to camps, and of course that the students would be exceptionally busy during the summer. I must say those words did hit hard. In fact, my “brilliant plan” appeared to be not so brilliant. As a result, I returned my focus to my other duties.

However, after a few months I realized this plan would not escape my thoughts. So by May I was back to planning. This time I kept my ideas to myself. I created a rationale to prove how my plan would be beneficial for all involved. I started planning several activities that I knew English Club students and other students of my high school would enjoy. I also thought it was ideal to invite other ALTs to be a part of this mission. I was overwhelmed by the support and feedback that I received from ALTs. This was just the motivation I needed. With motivation level at its peak I was ready to sell my “brilliant idea.” I went back to some teachers who told me it’s best I do my camp during winter vacation, one also told me that it was “impossible” to invite other ALTs without them taking paid leave. I was saddened by this and as a result many ALTs started to refuse my invitation. I sought guidance from a more authoritative source…I told him of my plan and that I knew it would be great. A few weeks later I had the green light. Now all the real challenge began. I had to prepare numerous paperwork about who, what, where, why and when. After a few days I realized this was indeed mission impossible…impossible for one person. However, I did not let this hinder me. I took my vitamins and used my time wisely.

July 22-26 was the date of English Camp affectionately called, “Mission Impossible.” With a total of 27 students registered we started off at1pm as was planned. On day one we had 17 participants- most of which were all members of English Club. They did various activities ranging from a very interactive self-introduction from one Scottish lad name Michael Cowan. The students and I were engrossed in his presentation. He held the attention of the students from the start and he maintained their attention throughout. Of course I could not just assume that they were listening, so afterwards I asked students various questions about Michael’s self-introduction. The students were successful in answering all the questions asked. I must say at that moment I felt like a proud mother. After activity one, we had two more activities before we could conclude the day’s events. We did an activity called “The Hunt” and a challenging board game, which tested the students’ grammar, speaking and listening abilities. We ended at approximately 4pm. To summarize/evaluate day one I will use the words of Michael, “Just had a day teaching at a senior high school for the first time, it was great fun. To be able to converse using my natural speech was just so great. It was one of my most fun teaching days so far.”

Day two started with a little glitch, so we were a little behind on time. However, students would not be dismayed, they were armed with popcorn and other movie treats because Tuesday was Movie Day. The students watched keenly not to miss an important or non-important scene of Ice Age. After all, their keen sense of attention would be crucial in gaining maximum points for their team’s written movie review challenge. The day ended with Lisa Chenier giving some words of wisdom to the students.

Day three started very early, 10:30am to be exact. Lisa started off by giving a well-organized self-introduction. After she finished I allowed the students to ask questions,  and although the questions were many and varied, one student had to ask that one question that all ALTs dread… “Do you have a boyfriend?” With that unanswered question we moved on to the other activities of the day – the Great Interview. Later, the students had to create their own aliens. The day ended a little before 2pm. Lisa said her goodbyes and wished the students well.

Day 4 started with a short self-introduction by Erica Grainger and her typhoon game…which had no typhoon or tornadoes. The students did enjoy not experiencing those natural disasters by the way. The points were neck and neck between most teams since the disasters were still to be revealed. The students enjoyed this activity and Erica’s chirpiness. The students shared their Aliens, which might have scared Erica a bit. The TSC or some form of brain alien from Jupiter proved how creative these students were. We ended by writing a short summary of the life of William Shakespeare. This activity really tested the students reading, writing, speaking and their ability to reword and summarize given content. We ended early in preparation for upcoming day.

Day 5: the day that the students’ culinary awareness would be tested. The menu was prepared and students in their groups were ready to cook beef/chicken soup, curried chicken, white rice and coleslaw. The task was to make enough servings for about 32 persons. Erica was put to the test, she assisted in soups. I was an all-rounder making sure that all stations were carefully managed. The students were schooled in making perfect Jamaican dumplings. Some were ready and demonstrated great knife skills and also showed that they had a passion for cooking. Others were as lost as fish out of water. However, we all helped each other and successfully cooked all dishes. Then we all sat and had a great meal together. Erica had only kind words of encouragement for me and also my students. She really appreciated that I invited her and she enjoyed herself and the interaction with students. In the words of Erica a program such as this must have taken tremendous management skills and also time, effort and dedication.

With that said the week was over…mission impossible: not so impossible!!

Aizu Samurai Festival 2013– A Retrospective

by Ceallach Stevens

Being a first year JET, I am still not exactly sure what sort of high jinks I get myself into when I sign up for things.  Will it be fun?  Will it suck like an empty matter space?  However, Samurai are awesome, festivals are awesome, so both together should just double the awesome, right?

Yeah, it was pretty awesome.

The parade at the Aizu Festival shows off the different warriors who fought for the Aizu clan from the sixteenth century up until the Boshin Civil War, which pitted the collapsing Shogunate against the Reformers who had rallied around Emperor Meiji.  The festival itself dates back to 1953 in order to honour those who had died during the Boshin War.

The parade focused primarily on Boshin War participants.  Among the more famous of the bunch, there was the Shinsengumi, who famously fought for the Shogunate and were nicknamed the Wolves of Mibu, and were clearly visible in their vibrant blue jackets.  The female troops, Joshitai and Naginatatai were also represented, having also fought during the Boshin war.  Many of the Samurai were more than happy to show off their swords and even allow tourists to hold them.  I may or may not have geeked out over being offered a chance to play with a wakizashi.

Not all participants were samurai though.  Some were dressed as the warrior’s attendants.  Others were lords and ladies, as well as a few notable figures.  Teruhime, a princess of the Aizu clan, rode on a cart decked out in a full kimono.  She too had assisted in the defence of Tsuruga castle.  A couple non-combatants marched in the parade as well.  Henry Schnell, a Prussian arms dealer to the Shogun, and the family nanny Okei.  Due to the popularity of the NHK drama, Yae Nijima brought up the rear of the parade, riding in a cart with her family.

After the parade and some fried chicken, we went to Tsuruga castle for a tour.  English tours were offered on the day of the festival, and our guides did their best to explain how the castle was defended and the significance of various artifacts and buildings.  The interior of the castle had been turned into a museum, and displayed portraits of the various lords who lived in the castle, as well as notable figures that defended it.  At the top of the castle was one of the best views of Aizu and the surrounding mountains.

Exiting onto the castle grounds, there was a large stage set up for various shows and demonstrations as part of the festival.  Some of the shows included dances, historic plays put on by local acting troupes, Naginata demonstrations, concerts and poetry recitations.

The festival was full of fun experiences, great street food and was an interesting way to learn about the local history of Aizu, and that of Japan as a whole.  I would definitely recommend this festival, and I would love to experience it again in years to come.

Camping in Aizu: A Chance of Rain

Camping in Aizu: A Chance of Rain

erica_tony_camping

by Erica Grainger&Tony Villa

Through Erica’s eyes:
Good weather, good friends, good food and good wine. What else does one need?  The day began innocently enough, I remember feeling quite cheerful and excited, seeing old faces and new faces and even old faces on new bodies!  Amongst the new faces I met were Cat from San Francisco, Jess from Canberra, Suzy from the UK and Tony from Chicago.  Upon meeting Suzy, I found myself thinking, what a really fascinating background.  Cat and I got along like a house on fire, Jess is a fellow Australian, and then there was Tony…an intriguing chap from Chicago.  If he had been from New York, he could have been a replica of Tony from West Side Story,since they are both JETs, but I digress….

I found myself sitting by the river for most of the evening counting the spooky bats flying past and Caveman insisted that he had seen a wolf! Surely not a werewolf, I mean this isn’t a chapter from Twilight, is it?  Anyway, I was returning from the river with Jeremy, when I felt a few heavy droplets from above.  Without warning, those droplets turned into gigantic bullets of water that hit and stung me.  I felt like I was in a Shakespearean tragic-comedy and I was playing the part of one of those screaming lasses that loses her sanity. I was saying ridiculously mystifying things like, “Where’s our tent?” It had blown away! I panicked a little I admit, but the wind was literally blowing me away!  I felt like a drowned rat wearing a lemon coloured drenched dress! I was soaked to the bone and let’s just say it wasn’t my prettiest moment.  Steven came to my rescue and offered Merran and I a lift home with him and Xan.  Xan had the brilliant idea of visiting an onsen.  So from 10:30 til midnight we relaxed and recovered in the warm waters of Fujima Onsen in Aizu.  Aaah, this is the life I thought!  By 3am, I was safely tucked into my futon, in Iwaki. What a day, what a night, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

Tony’s tale:
The unforgettable evening started as I made my way from thekonbini to the campsite. The night was calm and beautiful as we got closer, little did we know there was a typhoon lurking around the corner.
As we arrived I was let down immediately as there was no camp fire burning, however that was quickly dismissed as we had great company, a nice river, and Cord and Ashley on the grill. There were many new and familiar faces, including a fellow breakfast club member, Suzy. I found myself distracted by a group of people making their way to the river and so I tagged along.
In the distance a distinct voice came tumbling into my ear, it had an interesting accent. Normally I am good with accents, but this one was one of a kind. Sure enough it was Erica Grainger, she then explained about her duality of her accent in a joyful manner. As I made my way back up to the campsite the wind started picking up, but I just brushed it aside. The smell of the food was too strong and my growling stomach was all I could think, hear, and care for.
As I was eating and standing around the grill the typhoon made its way into our camp. “Ouch………….” I felt a SMACK on my head. The wind was so strong it managed to knock off branches from the tree next to us. Yes, that’s right I said branches not twigs. The rain came soon after and it was coming from every direction, even side-ways!

The night ended in a frenzy, as everyone panicked and went home as the typhoon was too much to endure. Yet, there was one good thing about the typhoon: nobody went home alone that night. HECK! We all went home with something that night whether we liked it or not, and for all we know they are still in our cars, apartments, and even on our clothes… If you feel that chill running up your leg say “HI” to Mr. fuzzy wuzzy wittle ugly caterpillar for me.  ;P

FuJET Canyoning Trip 2013– A Retrospective

FuJET Canyoning Trip 2013– A Retrospective

canyoning_bekoby Suzanne Fish

“FUKU-!”… “CANYONING!” Wait, what?!

There was once a time that if someone asked me, “Hey, do you want to jump down waterfalls and use rapids as a genuine mode of transport down a canyoning course this weekend?” quite frankly, I would have thought they were insane. You’re more likely to find me with a book in one hand and a cup of Earl Grey in the other, nice and cosy in the safety of my own little apartment. Even getting water up my nose in the shower turns me into a spluttering, floundering mess, but despite this, I sent my confirmation for the Gunma canyoning trip to FuJET. As soon as I clicked send, I began the odious process of psyching myself up.

Friday 13th September came around quickly and the mixed feelings of dread and excitement mingled in my stomach as I tried not to get all superstitious. Once I’d convinced myself that we weren’t all going to be decapitated by Jason Voorhees at Canyons and had the opportunity to vent nervous spiels to Jess on the train, I felt a lot better. The bus trip down was a mini event in itself, full of drunken frolics, a camera that held the authority on who was the fairest of them all, Moff dollars and deep conversations about teaching English in Japan.

Once we got to Canyons, we laid out our futons and made a little bed of blankets in the closet just in case for Emi. Then it was time to catch as many Zs as humanly possible in a short space of time. In the morning, the nerves set in over breakfast and I barely stomached half a croissant and a cup of tea before heading out to get suited up to face those darn rapids and waterfalls of Fox Canyon. After we’d all hopped around the changing room, trying to get the ridiculously tight wetsuits on, it was time to be doused with sprays of cold water and get on the bus. I was amused by the contradiction our guide Ogi made on the bus, “Only do what you feel comfortable doing and if there’s something that you feel is beyond your limits, just don’t do it. But the only way out of the canyon, is to do the canyon.” Oh thanks, really reassuring.

Pre-20 metre drop
Pre-20 metre drop

Once I’d been dropped down the 20 metre waterfall, all my fears vanished. The rush of adrenaline was beyond incredible as we slid and jumped off whatever the gorge had to offer. I had a little fright during a canyoning fail of being swept the wrong way by the current at one waterfall. It felt like I was under the water for a decade until I felt the relieving tug of one of the guides, who then proceeded to push me back under the waterfall. At the end of the course, I had got over my fear of being submerged into water and I felt like I could conquer the world.

After a hearty lunch of burgers and all the trimmings it was time for take two of outdoorsy, adrenaline filled activity as a group of us headed out to paraglide. We spent the bus trip singing renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody and other classics, which at one point could have left us stranded at a konbini by an annoyed bus driver (just kidding, he totally loved it).  Compared to canyoning, paragliding was a peaceful and calming experience, overlooking the beautiful view of Gunma below which looked like a model railway town from 400 metres up. Thanks to Paul, we also got some great footage. I also heard some great stories from the bungee jumpers and rafters too.

After all that, it was time to get our BBQ on back at canyons and I probably got a little bit too excited that the bar was selling cider. It was a fantastic evening of food, booze, chatting and dancing well into the night with the guides and Gunma JETs. The next morning we all headed down for a well-earned soak at Takaragawa onsen. Again, I probably got a little bit too excited over my dam curry, destroying the dam with my mighty spoon and devouring the village of pickles below.

I am unbelievably glad that I faced my fears and was all ‘genki’ about this trip. Since moving to Japan, there has been a host of challenges and canyoning left me with a can-do attitude. A massive thank you goes to the organisers, all you FuJets for being great company and Canyons.