Thursday, March 31, 2011

278 days to go...

Day 81: The Hokuyo Chorus Club Spring Concert.

Day 82: Nate and Ethan learning how to play shogi.

Day 83: Helping Ethan paint his model airplane.

Day 84: These boys were very sad that I was leaving Hokuyo.

Day 85: Love this patch on a student's jacket: "Gramorous woman too drunk to run" Haha!

Day 86: Wall of bowling champions at Sugai Dinos Bowling Alley. This guy looks serious.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Goodbye Hokuyo JHS

Last Friday was my last day at Hokuyo Junior High School, and like Higashi Yonesato, it was a hard departure for me. It seems like I was just starting to get some of the kids to really open up and be comfortable to me, and the teachers as well. Last week I made it a goal to see and talk to as many of the kids as possible, and to eat lunch with some students who I knew had always wanted to, but were too shy to ever ask. And - surprise, surprise - I discovered students who are great at English, but who'd never talked to me before. All on the last week!! It made leaving that much harder...

The boys of homeroom 2-4

The other boys were pushing the one in the white shirt closer to me. You can tell he's a baseball player because of his short hair.

Friday was also the last day of the school year, with a new term beginning in April after Spring Break. It was also closing ceremony day. I think the Japanese love definite beginnings and ending of things - there seems to always be an opening and closing ceremony for everything - and for someone who loves routine, this is right up my alley. There were several other teachers whose last day at Hokuyo was Friday, whether retiring or moving on to another school. On Friday at the morning teacher meeting, we were marched in front of the staff and teachers, and each of us gave a goodbye speech. I was ready for this, and had even prepared to speak some of it in Japanese (I had practiced very hard the night before). Then the Closing Ceremony started, and we were again asked to come to the front, this time in front of all the student body. The Principal spoke about each of us, and then we were again asked to give a speech. I did my speech to the students in English, telling them how great they were and how much I was going to miss them. Then we were each given a huge bouquet and exited the gym through the students as they were clapping and waving to us. A large number of third graders had returned to the school for the closing ceremony, and I was told by one of my JTE's that it was to see me off, though I don't know if that's true. It was good to see them again, as it'll probably be the last time. After that, I visited as many of the homerooms to say goodbye, write notes, and take pictures.

Homeroom 2-1, the loudest second grade class. And my favorite!

Me and Rino, a second grader. She cried when I hugged her on the last day. So sweet!

I called these boys my body guards.

Me and the "Banana Bunch". Long story.

Mizuki and Serina, my biggest fans

That Friday night was also the teacher's end-of-year party, which was a new experience for me. Two hours of food and speeches (yes, I had to make another speech). I told them that I had already used all my Japanese in my last speech (they laughed), and asked Shimada sensei to translate for me as I told them what great teachers they were and how honored I was to work with them and at this school. And I meant every word. They gave me another bouquet of flowers and a framed letter:

Being at Hokuyo was an absolute joy and I looked forward to going there every day. I loved listening to the music classes, and recently found out that their music teacher, Ms. Abe, is a well-known teacher throughout Japan. After attending their end-of-year chorus club concert, I can see why. I mean, do you know any other junior high school students that can sing like this:

I'll miss this school so much, but I promised to come back and visit, especially to hear them sing!!

Monday, March 21, 2011

285 days to go...

I'm putting two weeks together for this photo blog post. Last week was just a little crazy.

Day 67: Clash guitar chord book Ethan got for his birthday. He wants to learn to play, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Day 68: Ethan in the morning.

Day 69: I swear by this stuff! It's great for dry skin.

Day 70: Ethan took this picture for me of a poster in his room.

Day 71: The day when things got crazy.

Day 72: In this picture, I was trying to capture the enormity of the alcohol bottles on the bottom shelf. Take my word for it, they're huge!

Day 73: I remember buying cigarette candy when I was thinking I was so cool. But these look a little too real.

Day 74: The third grade's last day of school before graduation. My crazy girls!

Day 75: Taiga on graduation day. It was a surprise for his class, who told me that the make up was "Japanese old culture". He washed it off before the ceremony.

Day 76: Bet you didn't know James Dean had a yarn line.

Day 77: I made makezushi and miso soup for dinner. Oishii!

Day 78: Good luck lion puppet given to us by some friends.

Day 79: Maggie's birthday party. Fun times!!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hokuyo Graduation, Pt. 2

So, before the earthquake hit last Friday, the third-graders had a "goodbye party" as they called it, to mark their last day of junior high school. There were a few speeches, of course, a slideshow of the third-graders throughout their years at the school, but being as this is Hokuyo JHS, there was lots of singing.

First, the first grade sang a song to the third grade...

...then the second grade...

...and finally the third grade sang their goodbye song to the whole school.

And just when I thought it was wrapping up, I heard my name amidst lots of other Japanese words I didn't know. Suddenly, all the students were looking at me and I was told to please come on the stage. So I slowly make my way, looking like a deer in the headlights, and not knowing what's going on. Then one of the third graders tells me - in English - that they've enjoyed working with me these three months and would like to give me a present for me to remember them. Then she gave me a booklet that said , "Dear Sarah" on the front - every third grader had written me a goodbye message. It was the sweetest thing, and I didn't know what to say......and then I was asked to make a speech. It went something like, "Wow, this is a surprise! Thank you so much, I've enjoyed meeting everyone of you, and I wish I had more time with you. You are all great students ......"We're crazy!", said my favorite group of girls I called the Crazy Girls......"Yes, and you're crazy too, and that's OK. I hope I see you all again!"

"We love you!!", yelled my Crazy Girls.

When I got home, amidst all the craziness happening, I opened the book they gave me and read every single page - all 120. Here's just a few of my favorites:

I'm very powerful, I'm sure you knew that.

See you next someday...

Wait, my eyes were enhaled?

It's good to be boosted

Those l's and r's are difficult for the Japanese

Short and sweet

I think it's pretty obvious how I feel about these kids. In such a short time, they made such a difference in my life, and I hope they feel the same way about me! I gave a few of them my e-mail, and they've already been keeping in contact with me - telling me what they ate for dinner, if they were accepted into the high school they wanted to go to. It makes me so happy to see them trying to use the best English they can. Actually, the connection I made with these kids convinced me to accept a high school teaching position in August. I'm hoping to see some of them at Keihoku Commercial High School!!

My crazy girls - Miku, Maayu, and Runa

Cute girls, Aoi and Honoka

And some cute boys. Man, they loved taking pictures!!

This is Shohei. He asked me to eat lunch with him a few times. Sometimes when I'd walk by, he'd quietly say, "I love you".

Friday, March 18, 2011

An update

Hello everybody,

This blog postl is long overdue, mainly because it's been business-as-usual here in Sapporo, and Nathan and I have been quite busy with our jobs. In fact, I found it quite eerie on Monday how everyone at work was carrying on as usual, but I guess that's best - routine can bring comfort during these trying times.

That's not to say that we haven't been keeping up with all the latest news and updates on what's going on in the Fukushima prefecture. On the contrary, it's all that we actually ever talk about, and Nathan and I are constantly inundated with news not only from Japan, but from around the world (NHK, New York Times, BBC: that's the advantage of having ALT friends from all the Western world, you hear about the news from every viewpoint). I'm also on a mailing list that includes ex-pats living and raising families in Japan, and we are in constant contact with each other about what is going on, especially in the Tokyo area, since many of the families live around there. Everything may be normal around here, but we are VERY aware of what is happening and what can happen. In fact, I've never read so many articles and writings from nuclear scientists and experts in my entire life!

As of today (March 18), Nathan, Ethan, and I have decided that we are not leaving Sapporo. Here's why:

  • Sapporo is over 500 kM from the power plant, and we feel this is more than a safe distance from any serious radiation.
  • We've read the travel warning from the State Dept., and believe that the evacuations are being advised for the Fukushima area and Tokyo, on the main island of Honshu. This would be consistent with the travel warning from the UK, in which they state that they don't believe Hokkaido (the island we live on) is in any danger. You can check that statement out here:
  • News that we've been reading has been positive today, and seems that the reactors are being cooled down.
  • Although we do think that the Japanese Gov't is not being totally forthcoming with the situation at the plant, we do think that foreign media has been sensationalizing some of the situation a bit, and we are trying to take a rational approach and read, "beyond the headlines", by trying to stay informed as much as possible through several means.
However, this doesn't mean that we are completely against the possibility of leaving. If the US Embassy in Tokyo or the State Dept. tell us that ALL U.S. residents need to leave Japan, then of course, we're outta here. But leaving for an extended period of time brings up many other things. How long would be OK to stay out? Since I'm an employee of the City of Sapporo, what means do I take to leave? We've (ALT's of Sapporo) asked these questions to our Supervisor at the Sapporo Board of Education, and are awaiting his answer regarding these procedures.

We know that you are all worrying about us, and I know it can be frustrating to understand all that is going on when Japan is so far away. But I can assure you, we are totally fine: there are no food shortages, no power outages, and no panic. If anything, this has made me realize that we as a family are not really prepared for an emergency situation such as an earthquake. Now I find myself researching what things I should have in an emergency kit. It's good to be prepared!

I'm going to include an e-mail I received from my JET Program Coordinator in Denver. She received this info from the JET Prefectural Advisors in Akita, and as Akita is much closer to the devastation than we are, I found it quite comforting. I hope you will too.

We love you all and hope you understand our decision,
Sarah, Nathan, and Ethan :)

*Please feel free to forward this to other family and friends!!

**attachment below

Good morning everyone,  I know that many of you have expressed concern about the levels of radiation and how it will effect us here in Akita. Although it would be irresponsible to say with absolute certainty that we will not/will never be exposed to danger, I personally believe that the facts point towards Akita being one of the safest places to be right now.  Regular radiation level readings are being taken all across the country and as of yet there has been absolutely no sign of danger from radiation outside the 20km area surrounding the power plant in Fukushima. This includes Akita. These readings can be found here: Just click on: A diagram "Radiation in daily-life" on radiation doses: (March 16th, 2011)  And before anyone starts to talk about the possibility of the Japanese government being less than truthful I think it is important to remember, the sole job of the foreign media is to make things seem worse than they are to sell papers/increase ratings and justify the costs of sending reporters over here.  Danny, one of the Miyagi PAs, just finished a conference call with the British Embassy and decided to share the contents of the call with us.  I have just returned from a conference call held at the British Embassy in Tokyo. The call was concerning the nuclear issue in Japan. The chief spokesman was Sir. John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, and he was joined by a number of qualified nuclear experts based in the UK. Their assessment of the current situation in Japan is as follows:  * In case of a 'reasonable worst case scenario' (defined as total meltdown of one reactor with subsequent radioactive explosion) an exclusion zone of 30 miles (50km) would be the maximum required to avoid affecting peoples' health. Even in a worse situation (loss of two or more reactors) it is unlikely that the damage would be significantly more than that caused by the loss of a single reactor.  * The current 20km exclusion zone is appropriate for the levels of radiation/risk currently experienced, and if the pouring of sea water can be maintained to cool the reactors, the likelihood of a major incident should be avoided. A further large quake with tsunami could lead to the suspension of the current cooling operations, leading to the above scenario.  * The bottom line is that these experts do not see there being a possibility of a health problem for residents in Tokyo. The radiation levels would need to be hundreds of times higher than current to cause the possibility for health issues, and that, in their opinion, is not going to happen (they were talking minimum levels affecting pregnant women and children - for normal adults the levels would need to be much higher still).  * The experts do not consider the wind direction to be material. They say Tokyo is too far away to be materially affected.  * If the pouring of water can be maintained the situation should be much improved after ten days, as the reactors' cores cool down.  * Information being provided by Japanese authorities is being independently monitored by a number of organizations and is deemed to be accurate, as far as measures of radioactivity levels are concerned.  * This is a very different situation from Chernobyl, where the reactor went into meltdown and the encasement, which exploded, was left to burn for weeks without any control. Even with Chernobyl, an exclusion zone of 30 miles would have been adequate to protect human health. The problem was that most people became sick from eating contaminated food, crops, milk and water in the region for years afterward, as no attempt was made to measure radioactivity levels in the food supply at that time or warn people of the dangers. The secrecy over the Chernobyl explosion is in contrast to the very public coverage of the Fukushima crisis.  *The Head of the British School asked if the school should remain closed. The answer was there is no need to close the school due to fears of radiation. There may well be other reasons - structural damage or possible new quakes - but the radiation fear is not supported by scientific measures, even for children.  * Regarding Iodine supplementation, the experts said this was only necessary for those who had inhaled quantities of radiation (those in the exclusion zone or workers on the site) or through consumption of contaminated food/water supplies. Long term consumption of iodine is, in any case, not healthy.  The discussion was surprisingly frank and to the point. The conclusion of the experts is that the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami, as well as the subsequent aftershocks, was much more of an issue than the fear of radiation sickness from the nuclear plants.  As you can see right now the most pressing issue for Japan is still that of the damage done by the earthquakes and especially the tsunamis. If you haven't already consider giving blood. Information on donating blood can be found on the wiki at If anyone needs an interpreter to go with them I would be more than happy to come along.  Lastly, I also posted this link on my facebook page, but Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one-time candidate for surgeon general of the United States, says that, "As things stand now though, it is tough to conceive that anyone outside the 20-kilometer evacuation zone would have any long- term health problems." He has evacuated TO AKITA because it is one of the safest areas in eastern Japan.  Of course the situation is changing by the minute, but I just would like everyone to base their decisions on fact rather than sensationalized assumptions by "experts" without credentials.  As always if you need to talk about anything, related to this disaster or not, you can contact the PAs anytime. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Akita PAs seem to be doing a great job of sharing good and clear information. Glad to share this with you as you all try and sift through all the news/ info that is floating around out there. Stay safe!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hokuyo graduation, Pt. 1

Yesterday, was graduation day for all the junior high schoolers of Sapporo (and probably all of Japan). This was my first Japanese JHS graduation, so I was excited to see how different they would be from American graduation.

First of all, Japanese graduation is extremely orderly. Everything is timed down to the second, and everything is very precise.

Here's one of the homerooms walking in to the ceremony. Notice their homeroom teacher's wearing kimono.

Next was the handing out of the diplomas. This was also a very precise method, and the students had to accept the diploma, bow, and turn all in a certain way.

First the boys,

...then the girls.

Then the principal made a speech (who, by the way, was looking very sharp in a suit with coattails), then the PTA president made a speech, then the student council president made a sppech. I had no idea what any of them were about, but I'm sure they were your run-of-the-mill graduation speech.

And did I mention there was lots of synchronized bowing? When over 500 people bow at the same time, it makes the coolest whooshing sound.

Next, it was time for the 1st and 2nd grade to sing a song to the 3rd grade. Beautiful, as always. And afterwards, the 3rd grade sang their farewell song. I taped some of it:

Then the whole school sang together and the third grade left, class by class, many of them crying. Boy, did I find out later that it was just the tip of the crying iceberg.

After the third grade left the gym, they went back to their homerooms to say goodbye to their class and teacher with whom they'd been with for three years. It was very emotional, both happy and sad.

Tamayama sensei, playing two recorders for her class.

Then it was time for them to leave, and the cameras and yearbooks came out. I must've signed hundreds of yearbooks, and taken hundreds of pictures. And I loved it!

Excited boys. They were yelling "I love you Sarah!" at the top of their lungs right before this moment.

Love these girls: Misa, Saki, and Miyuki. Miyuki is the one I helped with for her English interview.

On the right is Go, one of my favorite students. He spoke great English.

Keita's in the front. I had lots of good conversations with him.

Taiga came along and then we just started getting silly.

What a special group of kids, and I really wish that I'd had more time with them. Now they're all going off to their high schools, wherever that may be.

Man, I'm gonna miss them!!!

*For part two, I'll talk about the third grade goodbye party that was last Friday. It was a little overshadowed by other, uh, events that happened that day. Until next time!