Monday, December 10, 2007

Working yourself to death - literally

In the beginning of December there where various news articles on the Japanese news English websites about a wife who finally got her deceased husband's pension after he worked himself to death in 2002. I find this to be very disturbing but unfortunately quite true. I'm lucky to work in an office where people generally go home at 6 pm to 7 pm unless there is a big deadline the next day where no one leaves until it's finished. On the other hand, I have seen the rest of the offices full of people around 9 pm to 10 pm like if nothing where happening (like their lives passing them by). It is actually common for people to schedule meetings at 9 pm. It's so bad that they had to institute a no overtime day once a week in order to MAKE people go home. In the words of Metallica: "Sad but true".

Here is the best article I found on the subject:

Big in Japan: Man works himself to death, company compensates wife
by Matthew Firestone Dec 6th 2007 @ 10:00AM

Ever hear the joke about the Japanese man who worked himself to death?
Guess what? It's not a joke...
According to the Associated Press (AP), last week a court in Japan ordered the Toyota Motor Corporation to pay compensation to a woman who argued that her husband died from overwork.
According to woman's lawyer, Kenichi Uchino (the departed) had been working overtime as a middle manager at a Toyota factory when he suddenly collapsed and died in February of 2002.
He as just 30 years old.
Before dying, Mr. Uchino had logged 80 hours of overtime a month for a sustained period of six months, and had logged 114 extra hours the month he died.
Sadly, Mr. Uchino is anything but an isolated case. In fact, the Japanese even have a word for punching the clock until you drop.
Working yourself to death is known in Japanese as karōshi (過労死), which directly translates to "death from overwork."
Known in medical circles as occupational sudden death, the major medical causes of karōshi are believed to be stress-induced heart attack and stroke.
Depressed yet? Keep reading as the story gets worse.
Sources indicate that the first recorded case of karōshi was in 1969 following the death by stroke of a 29-year-old man in the shipping department of Japan's largest newspaper company.
However, karōshi was not officially recognized until 1987 when a large number of business executives started dropping like flies during the glory days of the famous "Bubble Economy."
Following an intense media campaign, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor began to publish annual statistics on karōshi.
Out of morbid curiosity, would you like to hear the statistics for 2006?
Of course you do!
Last year, an estimated 355 workers fell severely ill or died from overwork. This is the highest recorded figure on record, and is sadly a 7.6 percent increase from 2005.
In 147 of these reported cases, individuals died of either strokes or heart attacks.
It gets worse.
A separate 819 workers reported suffering work-induced mental illness. In 176 of these reported cases, workers killed themselves or attempted to do so.
And now back to the original story...
Not surprisingly, karōshi lawsuits are on the rise throughout Japan, and relatives of the deceased have been increasingly awarded compensation payments.
In fact, the protocol has even been streamlined!
Before compensation can be awarded, a specially designated inspection office must acknowledge that the death was work-related. However, this can take several years, and a precedent has been set for court cases to bounce around various judicial systems.
Here is the clincher:
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour also reports that the leading cause of karōshi is the practice of voluntary undocumented unpaid overtime, which is known as sabisu-zangyo. Just to clarify, that means that Japanese workers are choosing to work longer hours without documenting their time or seeking compensation.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Japanese Treadmill Run TV Show

You have to check this out.
Everyday you can see one of these wacky TV shows. Theres is no possible way of avoiding them, they are on every day at all times!!!

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I apologize for not writing in a while but there has been too much going on and I really have not had the time. If you would like to keep up with everything please join facebook and invite me to be your friend (all the cool people are doing it). Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.
I was surprised to see the following article online:
Basically it's a whole article about how the little princess of Japan does not bow. The public seems to be offended by this horrible act. In terms of the magnitude of this unspeakable offense it would be the equivalent of not shaking some one's hands but multiplied by 1000 in Japan. In this particular case it would be multiplied by 10,000 since it's the Royalty of Japan. Oh did I mention the little princess is only 5 years old!!!! I could barley tie my shoes at this age never the less keep my balance long enough to bow at random people who are always coming over to say hi for no specific reason. This got me thinking about how much bowing I do during the day. I determined that it is A_L_L_O_T. When I come into the office I bow, when I leave the office I bow, if I meet anyone outside of work I bow and it goes on and on. My favorite is if a lady at a store bows, I bow and then we keep bowing and bowing until one person (usually me) gives up and just walks away...usually while bowing. In reality I don't even notice bowing any more, it's part of my normal day.
According to reliable sources: "Bowing is the act of lowering the torso and head as a social gesture in direction to another person or symbol. Different cultures have placed varying degrees of importance on bowing, and have used bowing in a variety of ways. To show the highest degree of politeness, you bend your head and waist about 45 degrees. Common courtesy to most people is shown by bending your head and waist about 15 degrees. In a very casual meeting with a person about your age, nodding your head would be enough. People often bow while shaking hands with one or both hands." I have found this explanation to be 100% true. You have to adjust your bowing angle according to the person that it is directed to. Usually I forget to do this but hey at least I'm not as bad as the 5-year old princess.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Shanghai, China

Orlando and I went to Shanghai, China this weekend to check out the Formula 1 race there. This is our second race in back to back weekends. In all honesty, I figured that we are only in Japan once and should take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves because you don't know what will happen (in my mother's words: "la luz delante es la que alumbra"). We took a flight from Hiroshima to Shanghai and we where there in a measly 2 hours. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever visit China but apparently I was wrong. Once we got there everything seemed pretty normal, the airport was nice, shiny and new. We had booked a package with our travel agent (he is not exclusive but is one of the few ones that speak English around here) that included the flight, the airport transfer and the hotel.
Our adventure began the split second we got into the bus from the airport to our hotel. The Shanghai airport is about 1 hour away from downtown and it was the longest hour of my life. Apparently there are no driving rules in China. The white lines on the road are merely a "suggestion". You don't have to actually stay in your lane because if you do the other guy in the lane next to you will never let you pass, so you drive somewhere in the middle of the "imaginary lanes" on the road. Hence there was a lot of cutting in front of another car and missing their front bumped by 2 inches (in Spanish we call it "corte de pastelillo"). Speed limit? What speed limit? The faster you can get to a place the better, even if you don't know where you are going and have to cross through 4 lanes of traffic to get to your exit. Also traffic lights are just there for decorative purposes only. Did I mention there where no seat belts on the back seat of any of the cars we where in? Safety first always... I was shocked at seeing the basis for the Crazy Taxi video game in front of my eyes every time I got into a motor vehicle so I decided to do some research. It turns out that (according to wikipedia and if it's on wikipedia it must be true off course): "The Road Traffic Safety Law of the People's Republic of China is a law which was passed by the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China on October 28, 2003, and took effect on May 1, 2004 on all parts of mainland China. It is the People's Republic of China's first-ever law on road traffic safety, and was intended to address an alarmingly high traffic fatality rate, which is four or five times greater than other nations." Ahh this explains it. I was visiting a country which has a traffic law that took effect only 3 years ago!!! Hello I have T-shirts that are older than that!!! It's a miracle we did not get into any accidents.
Once we arrived downtown we took a taxi to the race track to see the qualifying session. We where able to see the cars up close and they where loud!!! Here is Orlando with a big smile the dya of the race. I bet this is the first Colegio (our university's nickname) hat to have made it all the way to China, who knows maybe it was made there and it was just a homecoming for it.
At night we took a tour of the city which took us on a river cruise around the Huangpu River. The crazy thing was that one side of the river you had all the old English settlement buildings and on the other side all the modern skyscrapers. Old school buildings:
Star Trek inspired new school buildings:
After the cruise we vivisted Nanjing Road which is one of the world's busiest shopping streets. I really think you could buy ANYTHING there, no joke. Check out all the Pepsi signs, globalization at it's finest.
The last day we where in Chin we visited Yuyuan Garden which is located in the center of the city and is considered one of the four finest Chinese gardens in the world.

Everything was going well until a little old typhoon named Korsa decided to pay a little visit to China while we where there as you can see here:
As a result of the typhoon our flight back to Hiroshima was canceled at the last minute. We where actually on the plane ready to go when the pilot made the announcement. Personally I was glad the flight was canceled since I did not take it as a good sign that the plain was rocking back and fourth just sitting on the runway!!! So we where officially stuck in China with a group of Japanese tourist. Lucky us. So now we had 2 problems:

1. Stuck in a foreign country with a 1 entry only visa. I seriously thought we where going to be stuck in the airport like Tom Hanks in the movie "The Terminal" but without Catherine Zeta-Jones talking to us while we waited. In the end our exit date was canceled in our visa and we where able to go to a hotel where absolutely no one spoke English (paid for by the airline off course) and come back to the airport the next morning.

2. Our only source of information was our Japanese companions. Who needs to take a Japanese language proficiency test in December when you can count on real life to test you for free??? I am seriously proud of Orlando and I because together we where able to make a semi-competent intermediate Japanese speaker and more or less figure out what was happening. If we could take a "cooperative language test" then all our problems would be solved!!!
The next day we went to the airport and got a flight back home in the morning but by then we where so beat from all the chaos in the last 24 hours that we simply stayed home.

Now look where the typhoon is headed...straight for us. Why are we sooooo lucky?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Formula 1 Race in Fuji Speedway

This past weekend (9/30/07) Orlando and I had the opportunity to go to the Japan Formula 1 Grand Prix in Fuji Speedway. I say opportunity because we needed allot of help to get the tickets at face value and to plan the trip from Hiroshima all the way to the outskirts of Mount Fuji where the race track was located. We went with our Japanese friends Yoshi (like the Nintendo character) and Yoko (every girl around here is named either Yoko or Ryoko or Keiko or anything that ends with ko) who basically arranged the whole trip, we basically just tagged along. Sincerely without their help we would have never made it to the race unless we paid a whole lot of money for a tour. Just imagine having to take a plane from Hiroshima to Tokyo, staying one night in Yokohama (a suburb of Tokyo), the next day tacking a train for 1.5 hours, driving 1 hour and then taking a bus to the race track that took another hour!!! We got to the race 20 minutes before it started!!! Lesson learned: Mt. Fuji is really, really far away!!!! And to top it all off it was raining all day non stop!!!! This was our sexy look for the day:
The actual race was pretty cool because the cars kept spinning out and crashing into each other.

As I mentioned we also has a chance to checkout Yokohama which was actually a pretty cool and very modern city. We went to its Chinatown (this proves you can find one anywhere):

We found this super funny Panda store with every panda product you can imagine:
Here is Orlando goofing around with Yoshi.
We actually staying in Yoshi's parents house after the race and his mom and dad where soooooooo nice to us I can't even begin to describe it. Once we arrived at their house around 9 pm his mom had huge dinner ready for us!!! Hello for total strangers!!! Once again we got to sleep in a tatami room on some futons, which is always an adventure by itself.

You never know what you will find in Japan just take a look at what we found in the airport on the way back to Hiroshima:
Yes people this is an actual Pokemon airplane!!! , you have to have your camera ready to go at all times!!! There is never a dull moment around here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

More interesting car names

A few weeks ago we went to a BBQ with some friends. Instead of taking pictures of the actual BBQ I went around the parking lot taking pictures of more interesting car names in Japan. Here is what I found:
What are you waiting for? Let's...
Why don't you get a..

Let's go (Vamos) and quickly.
And the number #1 most interesting car name:

Enough said...this country has officially lost it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How to Eat sushi correctly

Humorous etiquette guide on how to properly order and consume Sushi created by Japanese comedy duo the Rahmens.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

2008 Mazda 6

As you all know the main reason why Orlando and I are in Japan is in order for him to work on the development of the 2008 Mazda 6. Finally pictures of the car have been released to the media. Go to this link in order to check them out:

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Nuria's going away Party

On 8/30/07 we had a going away party for my very good friend Nuria. She will be returning to Cataluña in Spain to begin her career as a teacher. Her husband David will be returning at the end of the month, so we still have time to bother him for a while. We all got together in one of our most frequented restaurant (they have normal food and an English menu!!!) to say see you later (I don't like good byes) to Nuria. I made a little album with a bunch of pictures of our adventures together. In the process I realized that most of our memories of Japan will always be tied to the people that where with us during any given adventure. So 20 years from now when I find an album of Japan while doing some spring cleaning at home, I will look at it and wonder "How is Nuria doing?".
I gave a speech (is anyone shocked?) at the end of the meal and let her know how lucky we all where to have spend the last year or so hanging out around Japan together and how much we would miss her excessive use of the letter Z. It actually took me a while (and vice-versa) to get used to her thick Spanish accent but in the end we both got used to it and I taught each other some slang works (for example: hangeo from hanging around and Vale for OK). Unfortunately my Spanish did not get more proper (like every good Puerto Rican I skip the last syllable of almost every word and Z's sound like S's) in any way.
Here is our diverse group of friends (Filipino, American, Japanese, Catalan and anyone else who shows up is fine too):

Where do you go after dinner in Japan? To sing Karaoke off course!!! Was there ever any doubt? Every time we go (which is allot) it's a ton of fun. At first I had no interest in it but now I already know which songs I'm going to sing and with who, in case of a duet. Orlando and I always sing any song from Oasis, Erin and I always sing "Baby got back" by Sir Mix Allot (great song, don't knock it) and Nuria and I sing anything in Spanish.
In this particular picture I think we did "Camisa Negra" by Juanes. This song works well because even the people who don't understand a words of Spanish get really into it and even sings along (all you have to do is read).
This is my second really good friend (hard to find true friends in any country) that goes back to their home country while I have been in Japan. I realized that one fact about these international assignments is that you know it's for a specific amount of time, but when the time comes to go back to normal life everyone I have met so far does not want it to end. I wonder if the same will happen to us? I guess only time will tell.

Hector and Miriam's visit

The past week our good friends Hector and Miriam flew in from Michigan to explore Japan for 10 days. The stayed with us a few of these days and we all had a great time!!! Here we are in hanging around in Miyajima island. I have been here a few times already with different people and every time it's a completely different experience from the last one.

Miriam and I had been planning this trip for MONTHS!!! It's not easy to decide what places are worth seeing and how to get there, but in the end I think they saw the most important parts of Japan in a very short period of time. They bought the Japan Rail pass tickets in which you can use all the trains for 2 weeks for a fixed rate. They explored the nearby cities (Kyoto and Nara) by their brave little selves. Unfortunately this pass is only available to tourists and Orlando and I can't buy it because we are currently residents of Japan.

Every night Miriam and I would sit down in front of the computer and figure out what trains to take in order to get to Kyoto, Nara, Himeji and Tokyo among others, but after that they where on their own in this very complicated country where you can't read any signs or ask anyone for directions. I have to give them props (compliments) on finding their own way around Japan, that takes true bravery and no shyness what so ever.
Here we are after a tea ceremony near our apartment. If our faces look red in this picture it's because they are!!! It's so hot and humid here (I should not complain but it is worse than in Puerto Rico) that I'm surprised we survived sitting like this for half an hour with no air conditioning what so ever.
There was no way we would let our friends leave without going into one of the 10,000 arcades around town. Here are Hector and Orlando trying their best to keep up with the drum machine (always fun when it's going really fast).
In general my friends did a really good job finding they way around Japan (check out their blog [there is a link on the right hand side] and facebook accounts to see more of their trip) and that is why they deserve this:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Interesting article

'Net cafe refugee' population put at 5,400

Around 5,400 people with no fixed address spend their nights at 24-hour Internet cafes across Japan, of whom 27 percent are in their 20s, the health ministry said Tuesday.
In its first survey on so-called Net cafe refugees, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry also determined that people in their 50s comprise 23 percent of the total, and half of them work low-paying day-hire jobs.
In the survey conducted in June and July, the ministry gave questionnaires to about 1,700 sleepover customers at 87 Net cafes across Japan, while separately interviewing 362 people outside Net cafes in Tokyo and Osaka.
The ministry found that 8 percent of the respondents sleep in Net cafes because they have no home. Based on this figure, the ministry estimated that about 5,400 people in Japan use Net cafes as a home substitute.
In Tokyo, 58 percent are short-term laborers and 17 percent are unemployed.
The monthly income of those in Tokyo averages ¥110,000, compared with ¥80,000 in Osaka, with more than 40 percent of the respondents having experienced sleeping on the streets.
In Tokyo, 33 percent lost their home after quitting work and 20 percent said they left dorms and live-in housing after leaving their jobs.
The survey also found 66 percent of the respondents experience difficulty in saving money to rent an apartment while 38 percent were concerned whether they could continue paying rent.
Many said looking for a job is difficult because they lack a fixed address.
"We are just beginning to understand the underlying dynamics," ministry official Jun Teraoka said. "This survey will help us identify and tackle the many labor and welfare issues involved in this phenomenon."
Takeshi Ikuta, who heads a support group for homeless people in Osaka, said Net cafe refugees should be considered homeless, and the younger ones should be viewed as vulnerable.
"The government should take support measures for people working under unstable labor conditions before they are trapped in a pattern of sleeping in Net cafes," Ikuta said.
Customers at a typical Net cafe can stay overnight for ¥1,000 to ¥2,000 in a small cubicle equipped with a reclining chair, computer and TV. Many cafes offer free soft-drink refills and some even have showers.
The ministry attributes the rise in people making such cafes their home to the ballooning number of young people who hop from one temporary job to the next. Estimates put the figure at 2 million.
The job-hoppers are a byproduct of the economic crisis that hit a decade ago, as well as a shift in values among younger generations less ready to conform to Japan's more traditional corporate work ethic, analysts say.
Many Net cafe inhabitants rely on their cell phones to arrange day jobs that don't require a fixed address. But the casual nature of the work means they often receive low wages and no training, social security or health insurance.
The phenomenon has also raised health concerns. In 2005, 13 people contracted tuberculosis at a Net cafe in Kawasaki that health officials suspect originated from the cafe's homeless population.
Refuge sought by the homeless is not limited to Net cafes. Many also congregate in all-night saunas and 24-hour fast food outlets, according to the study.
A government survey released earlier this year found about 18,500 people — mostly 40 or older — live on the street nationwide, down 27 percent from a similar survey four years ago.
But analysts say the Net cafe refugees signal the existence of hidden forms of homelessness not counted in previous tallies, especially among younger people.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Our favorite vehicles

This is definitely or ichi ban (number one in Japanese) vehicle. La puta literally mean the slut in Spanish. Every time we see one of these "feisty" vehicles we always bust our laughing!!! To make it even better, Yes it's a Mazda vehicle!!!

In second place we have the always entertaining Nissan Moco. Moco means mucus in Spanish... eewwwwww how gross!!! Atleast the car is not green.I know Japan does not have many foreigners but someone should have taken time (and considering the long ours they work ) to investigate the meaning of the names given to actual vehicles!!! Seriously just think of how in the world will a marketing campaign be developed in Spanish speaking countries? The possibilities are endless...

Our First Visitors

As I had mentioned before my family came to visit us in Japan for 2 weeks. They literally saw most of the country!!! The first week I scheduled a series of tours for them. They went to Tokyo first and enjoyed the sights. Here is my little sister Vicky in the hotel.
The next day they were off to Mount Fuji, here is Vicky with my mom.
After that they where off to Nara. They where very excited because they used the shinkansen (bullet train) for the first time.

After checking out the giant Budda (refer to August 2006 posting) they spend the day sightseeing in Kyoto. Here they are in front of the Golden Temple. The girl in the curly hair is my cousin Maritere who also came to hang out.
Finally they made their way down (props to them for figuring out how to use the bullet train) to good old Hiroshima. Here they are in front of the Peace Dome.
Once they where here Orlando and I took them around the sights close by. Here we are in Miyajima on Saturday 7/28/07.
We visited Iwakuni (1 hour away) on Sunday.
We also took time to do some "musts" in Japan like singing karaoke (after that we where humming and singing Mr. Roboto the whole time) and dress up in Yukatas (summer kimonos) as you can see below:

If this seems like a really long blog entry it's because they saw more things in 2 weeks that we have in one whole year!!! Imagine that we have not been to Tokyo yet and hey have!!! Crazy no? In general we all had a good time and survived sharing one bathroom for 5 people. I think my cousin summed it up the best when she said "Japan is very interesting and the people are very cordial, it would be perfect it it where not so freaking far away!!!". Agreed. Our main goal the past two weeks was for my family to feel that the 24 hour journey each way was worth it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


This blog is officially one year old!!! That means we have survived our first year in Japan in one piece. Hurray for us!!! Please join me in bowing deeply in front of the computer to celebrate. (Note: If there is some one else next to you please remember to bow even deeper than them, in order to show respect.) All this time my little blog that could has developed it's own little following. It has received around 3797 hits in one year, that means that about 316 people take the time to check it our each month. Of those 316 people about 160 of them are returning visitors (I have my tricks) from all over the world as you can see below:
Who knew our so-called Japanese life could be so interesting? I mainly write it for myself in order to keep track of everything we have seen and done. Recently I went back to first entries of this blog and laughed my $%# off. I remember how I could not even figure out how to use the appliances around the house, I barely bought anything because all the consumer goods and food around here are extremely expensive and every day I used to go up and down the same street because I was afraid of getting lost!!! It was even a challenge to change the air conditioning to heater and back to air conditioning during the changes of seasons!!! Now I'm getting mentally prepared for my family's visit next week and I'm going to be the one telling them how to work the microwave and giving directions. I think their visit will let me see how much I have really learned in one year. Wish me luck!!!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Natural Disasters

As you all might all ready know (unless your living under a rock) there was a big earthquake in Japan on Monday. The earthquake was in the northwest part of Japan (indicated by the red area in the map below) and did not affect the Hiroshima area at all.
The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.6 in the Richter scale. There where 7 people killed, more than 830 where injured and 500 houses where destroyed. The powerful quake caused transportation to grind to a halt and several blackouts were reported. Expressways were shut down for safety checks after landslides hit several roads.

Orlando and I did not feel the earthquake at all. We did not even know that there was an earthquake. We where golfing with some friends (Monday was a Ocean day, a national holiday in Japan) and had no idea until Orlando saw destroyed houses on the club house's TV. On the way back home he kept saying "I think there was an earthquake". Once we got home I checked the computer I realized what had happened. It's really sad to see all the destruction being reported on the local TV channels all day, non stop. We have no idea what the reporter is saying but a picture speaks a thousand words. My heart really goes out to all the people affected.

I realized we have been very lucky this weekend. A typhoon was supposed to hit the southern part of Japan on Sunday. Luckily it just kept turning toward the east and never actually hit us. We even had a typhoon party at the neighbors house and at one point everyone came outside to see where the typhoon was and guess what there was not even one drop of rain!!! Nothing, Nada Zilch!!! Hey I'm not complaining I've been through many hurricanes back home and I don't wish them upon anyone.
I would really like to thank everyone who worried about us and left messages on facebook, called or e-mailed us to check if we where OK. I'm happy to report that we are both fine.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Girls trip to Kyoto and Osaka

As you can see from the title of this posting a few friends and I left our poor husbands at home with the kids (in Orlando's case with the PlayStation 3) and went off to Kyoto (the historical center of Japan) for a short trip. This was the second time I went to Kyoto (refer to the posts in August of 2006) and I was amazed at all the new places and little corners of the town that we discovered in only one day. My friends and had only one plan - no plan, we would just end up where ever our sense of direction (or lack of) would take us. If there was a side street that looked interesting we would take it and if there was something interesting going on we would just check it out, as simple as that. This strategy turned out to be the absolute best!!! Here are the girls and I in the Shirakara canal which we found by absolute accident.
There where a series of small shrines (Shinto religion) all over Kyoto. Here is one of them:
We wondered around the Gion district which still has many old-style Japanese houses called ochaya, which roughly translated means "teahouses." These are traditional establishments where the geisha have entertained their very exclusive customers (not me) for a long time. Sadly, I have to report that I failed in my second attempt to find a real geisha, but I'm not giving up yet.
There was allot of activity along the Kamogawa river walk. People of all shapes and sizes where walking and hanging out so we spend some time there just people watching and taking in the scenery.
We where very serious about capturing every moment as you can see:
Everyone had huge high tech cameras, all I had was my trusty little Canon:
This proves once again that the size is not the most important thing. I managed to post all the pictures I took in Kytot with my tiny camera, go to the following page to check them out:
We had a chance to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is about twenty-minutes to the south of Kyoto. Dedicated to Inari, the Japanese fox goddess, Fushimi-Inari-taisha is the head shrine (taisha) for 40,000 Inari shrines across Japan. Stretching 230 meters up the hill behind it are hundreds of bright red torii gates. (reference: walked through the torii gates up a one of the hillsides and almost got bitten alive by mosquitoes!!! Note to self: don't go a shrine in the middle of the forest late in the afternoon. This shrine was really beautiful and different from the ones I had previously visited I definitely recommend it. Here are more pictures:
The next day we went to Osaka (the second largest city in Japan) and explored the downtown area for the afternoon. There was literally endless streets of shops and restaurant all over the place. My senses where on overload the whole time we where there, as you can see:
To see more pictures of Osaka go to:

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Cultural Exchange in Japanese Middle School

On 6/23/07 (yes I've been slacking) Orlando and I joined a group of English teachers in a cultural exchange activity in a Japanese Middle School. The English teachers are contracted by the Japanese government to teach English at the public schools for at least one year (some of them were going on their third year here) and in exchange they get cheap housing and a decent salary. Hey sounds like a good deal to me?!?! If your looking for some adventure after college why not come to Japan for a few years? As you can see from the pictures we played a little baseball with the kids (13-15 years old). Here we are in our gear.

The afternoon consisted of trying to relate to the kids by playing sports and trying to talk to them in English so that they would practice what they have been learning. I found that allot of kids once they got over the curiosity of staring at all the foreigners (only 2% of the population in Japan is foreign) they where eager to try to talk to you and ask questions. I tried to answer them back as best I could in Japanese so that they see that learning any language is hard and that making a mistake is OK. The funny part was that a bunch of them would consult what to say and ask each other if anyone knew the word in English and after 5 minutes of group discussion they would come up with a question. This is a very common trait in this culture, to always consult and obtain consensus as a group. Once the chatting was over it was time for...DODGE BALL!!!

As a reminder to everyone who has not played Dodge ball in for ever like myself, it actually hurts more than what you remember!!! I made some friends while playing as you can see in the picture below.

I asked them who was their best friend (BFF) and they said all of them because they are all in the basketball team together... even though none of them was over 4 feet 6 inches tall but that's OK it's the fighting spirit that counts. All the kids where super cute and nice, I really think I learned more from them than they did from me.