Big America [burgers that is]

I was never a big fan of McDonalds back in the states. In fact I didn’t have my first big mac until I moved to Japan. That big mac was the start of a huge downward spiral and my love affair with the golden arches. The food is always hot, the burgers and toppings are nicely centered on the bun, and everything is just a little bit better in Japanese McDonalds. But that’s not what keeps me going back. Its the Big America marketing campaign. Sure its a big gimmick but that’s part of the fun.

The Big American series isn’t an anti obesity campaign, or a commentary on the size of Americans,  its a line of special burgers based on various ares/cities/landmarks of the United States. There was the grand canyon burger with crunchy onions, a fried egg, and BBQ sauce. The Las Vegas, a burger with meat sauce, onions, and cream cheese sauce. The Manhattan with pastrami cheese and sauce. The texas with chili and fritos.  And my favorite the Idaho, burger with crunchy onions, special sauce, and  hashbrowns on top. Yeah, they are kind of a joke, and really really bad for you. But I have to admit they usually taste awesome. So well done McDonalds, you found a way to keep me coming back for more.

One Piece Pirate Mania

I’m pretty sure that the only thing more popular than AKB48 in Japan is One Piece, a manga/anime series. The series is based around pirates looking for the biggest treasure in pirate history. The Straw Hat Pirates crew is lead by Luffy a teenager who has elastic abilities accidentally  gained by eating a special fruit. The rest of the crew includes a swordsman, chef, sniper, navigator, and a witch-doctor / anthropomorphized reindeer named Chopper Man, musician skeleton, and cybernetic shipwright. The series follows the misadventures of the Straw Hat crew as they search for the “ONE PIECE” (huge treasure) and Luffy aspires to become the pirate king.

This was the first bit of Japanese pop culture I really became familiar with. It started when I noticed that almost all of my students has this round, horned, hat wearing character on their pencil cases. Once I noticed the guy he was popping up everywhere. At first I didn’t get it, the character isn’t cute so why would the girls like him, and why would the boys be ok with liking the same character as girls? After further investigation and questioning I found out that he was comedic relief of the One Piece crew. This discovery opened up a world of characters and understanding for me. One Piece merchandise is everywhere. Pencil cases, charms, t-shirts, cell phone covers, croc charms. This isn’t just kids either, I’ve seen adults who are just as crazy about it. When I went wakeboarding, the burly guys I went with had the little One Piece stickers all over their wakeboards.

everybody's favorite tonytony chopper

The popularity of One Piece isn’t based on my observation alone, I found some official numbers to back up my theory. It is the most popular manga (comic book) in Japan, selling 230million (that’s right million) copies since 1997. The anime series started in 1999 and is around episode number 515 or so. The only show older than that I can think of is the Simpsons, and we all know it just isn’t the same as it used to be.

After all this hype I figured I should see what its like. I tried a few episodes on for size and I wasn’t disappointed. It was entertaining, almost funny. I’ve tried watching other Japanese anime  and just couldn’t get into them. This was better than others. That’s all I can tell you. Check it out for yourself and see what you think.

Winter Blues

Old man winter has got me down. My life has slowed down to a snails pace, closely resembling an animal that hibernates for the winter. Sure its not as cold here as winters in Colorado, but there’s something about Japanese winters that just wear people down. I’m pretty sure that most of that is due to the lack of insulation and central heating in buildings. None of my schools are heated except for a small stove in the back of some of my classrooms. Even with the heater the classroom hovers around 40degrees fahrenheit. But they don’t always use the heaters, and sometimes they leave the windows open. It isn’t rare for me to teach a class when I can see my own breath INSIDE the classroom. Being just a little bit cold for that long wears on your body and your soul.

Homes also lack central heating and many rely on kotatsu for their primary heat source. A kotatsu is a heated table with a blanket that you sit under so your lower half can bake and the rest of your house resembles a refrigerator. I love me some kotatsu but its not a legit replacement for heat.

My permafrost body doesn’t work quite as quickly as normal. My temper is just a little bit shorter, I tend to whine a little bit more, and I spend far too much time knitting in my bed. Hopefully the groundhog was wrong because I don’t think I can handle another 6 weeks of winter.

I’m not the only one that can’t handle winter. Its pretty universal for foreigners to hate winters in Japan. There was even an article in the Japan times. I find some relief knowing that I’m not alone in my misery.

This is the start of something good..

A couple weeks ago I expressed my uncertainty about the future. Well lucky for me the loose ends wrapped themselves up pretty quickly. I didn’t wan’t to tell many people my tentative plans in case they didn’t work out. Not only would I have to face disappointment, but telling people my plans failed would be like salt on the wound. Instead, I kept my cards close to my chest until I was fairly certain of my plans. But most of my plane ticket have been purchases and I feel like its safe to share my excitement.

Its safe to say that spring is going to be full of great things. The end of my work contract is just the beginning of my new adventures.

In March after I finish work, my parents will be coming out to Japan. That’s right, Patty and Doug are going to make their way over the Pacific to spend some quality time with yours truly. I’m showing them the ropes of Shikoku island and then we will take a tour of western Honshu and the Kansai region.  I would be down playing it if I were to say I’m excited for them to come. Its going to be great showing them my life for the last 18 months and all the awesome that Japan has to offer. My friends in Japan are pretty excited as well. Some members of my volleyball team have already decided that there will be a welcoming party for them, and have written their arrival on their calendars. They also picked the best time to come, peak season of the cherry blossoms, there’s going to be sakura picnics all over the place. I don’t know if my parents know what they are getting themselves into.

After I say goodbye to the parents, I will have about a month of downtime. What better place to spend free time than on the beach right? What better place to go to the beach than Thailand? I was thinking the same thing. After getting my business taken care and say my sad goodbyes to Japan I will be heading over to Southeast Asia. The details of this trip are yet to be determined. All I know is I will have about 4 weeks to spend on the beach and see the lovely sights. If you happen to have travel advice, places to go/stay, things to eat, things not to do/see/eat, I would be more than happy to hear your thoughts. If you just so happen to have free time and money from mid April to mid May your company would be fantastic!

3 weeks on this beach? I think I can handle that

After beaching it for a month I have my next big step, Europe. I will be an au pair for a wonderful family living in the Netherlands. A few of my friends have also been au pairs, and had great experiences so I decided it sounded like a good plan.  I found the family through a website called, and after about a month of email correspondence we decided that it was a great fit.  It ended up being much simpler than anticipated and we have been able to spend more time getting to know each other than filling out paper work. I was able to talk to them over skype last weekend, and it only made me more excited to become part of their family. The kids are too cute for words and the parents and I seem to get along great. This will be my first time to Europe, and I couldn’t be more excited to see yet another new place, while having an adopted family. The same thing also applies to Europe, I don’t know how much time I will have to travel but if you have must see places, food, people I would love to hear all about it. If you happen to have been an au pair, tips, lessons, dos and don’ts would be great. And if you happen to be in Europe or know someone that I should be friends with, that is even better.

Having post Japan plans has made the end of my time here much easier. I know that there is life after Japan and it lessons the blow of leaving such a wonderful place. However, there’s so much awesome coming up that it would be easy to lose focus on what I’m in the middle of now. I keep meeting more great people, and have almost all my weekends planned until March. I don’t want to take Japan for granted because I am so excited for what is to come. There’s more awesome left in Japan and I don’t want to miss it.

if 5 is good then 48 is great right? (AKB48 that is)

Its safe to say that I do not know very much about Japanese pop culture. I haven’t read a single Manga (comic book) and the only Anime I know are Sailor Moon, Pokemon, and One Piece. So when I know that something is popular, its a pretty big deal. For me to almost know the karaoke version, its huge. There is one such facet of Japanese culture that has seeped  into my consciousness and that’s AKB 48. I always knew that Japan held onto the pop group fad that hit America in the 90’s, but I never knew just how tight their grip is. A majority of Japanese pop music is from highly produced Mega groups. AKB48 is the epitome of this concept. The 48 refers to 48 members, that’s right 48. Well that’s how many were in the band when it started, currently there’s 56. It is officially (according to the Guinness Book of World Records) the World’s largest pop group.

The group is a performance group that also produces huge hits. They have their own theater in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. (that’s the origin of the AKB) AKB48 performs shows in their theater every day. Yes everyday. That’s why there’s so many of them. There are 3 teams (A team, K team, B team) who are rotated for the shows. The entire group rarely performs on stage on the same time. As for who gets featured in music videos and other public appearances, they are voted in by the fans. That’s right, its a popularity contest. Its like project runway, one day your in the next day your out. My students all have their favorite, and have all kinds of erasers, book covers, key chains with AKB faces all over them.

AKB isn’t just a pop group for young girls, their popularity crosses all kinds of social borders. Girls / boys / young / old, everybody. Sure Beiber fever swept across the country, but just think how crazy the epidemic would have been if adults weren’t afraid to admit their love. Everybody I seem to ask likes AKB48. Even people my age who I thought would be too cool, they’re not, they like AKB. I’d say AKB48 fever has reached pandemic proportions.

Personally I can’t say I’m a fan, but their songs definitely have a way of sticking with you good or bad. Watch the videos, and judge for yourself. Keep in mind that although all ages seem to like the AKB, they are targeted towards younger girls. Which is why I am so puzzled by the lingerie party. But that’s probably why they have universal appeal.

the influenza

Its January and that means flu season. I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick. Everyone seems to be catch “the influenza.” Entire classes have been sent home because too many have gotten the flu. But I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick. Those that are still left in school are all wearing surgical masks. There are daily meetings on “the influenza.” I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick. Work means 7 hours of kids with snot running out of their face who love to give high-fives. I take double vitamins everyday, use antibacterial hand gel, and wash my hands like a crazy woman. I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick. Its all mental, right? I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick, I won’t get sick………..