Thursday, June 30, 2005

Precipice Protection Division Patrol

Today I went on 'patrol' with the Precipice Protection Division, some representatives from the prefectural government, and some members of a local community group. We actually patrolled a neighborhood adjacent to where I'm living, so I was surprised to see how remote and isolated it seemed. We walked along narrow roads through a valley surrounded by steep, heavily forrested slopes. It was hard to imagine how people managed to sleep at night with their house either dangerously perched on what seemed to be the side of a cliff or situated under a mountain that appeared ready to fall over at any time. It was also hard for me to picture people bringing construction materials up into this area to build some of the rather large houses out there.

The scenery was beautiful, especially after climbing over 330 stairs to the top of a mountain. I was soaked in sweat by the time I got to the top, but the 75 year old leader of the community group managed to make it, so it would be pretty lame of me to try to complain too much. The temperature wasn't too high today (probably 88 or 90) but it was steamy. It rained this morning, and the mountains were covered in mist. Everything was wet, so we had to watch our step, but we made it back safe and sound.

I got to wear a blue city hall uniform today, which they gave me as a souvenier. Sorry I don't have any pictures of me wearing it, but I will get some later. I got all sweaty and oily today, so I don't really want to take one now.

Anyway, just one other snippet before I go. The head of the community group was a really nice old guy. He and another older gentleman (a former junior high school principal) spoke a little English and they enjoyed telling me about things in an interesting mix of broken English and Japanese. The community organization head used to work in the dining hall on the U.S. Navy base and he seemed pretty friendly toward Americans in general.

I gotta go. I am starting Chinese lessons today and I need to change!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Garbage Cranes

I can't get enough of the garbage cranes. I have loaded several pictures of them on flickr, so check them out.

Anyway, I went to the Minami Garbage Processing Plant today, where they take 'burnable garbage' to be burned. Japan has very little space for landfills, so everyone has to separate their trash. Most of it is recycled. Aicle, which I visited again yesterday, handles cans, PET bottles (plastic drink bottles), glass bottles, plastic packaging, and cardboard. Some other kinds of trash are burried in landfills, but to minimize this, most things that can't be 'recycled' in the normal sense of the word are burned. The plant I visited today, however, has taken certain steps to ensure that even by burning large amounts of trash, minimum environmental damage occurs.

In addition to having a 170 meter tall smoke stack to keep the smoke high enough to avoid bothering residents, the plant is equipped with the latest filters to minimize pollution. The heat generated from the burning trash heats water that turns turbines to generate electricity. Excess electricity is sold back to Tokyo Electric company. The ask from the plant is also mixed with asphalt and is put into roads. Talk about using every part of the buffalo!

Anyway, I visited a 'test plant' yesterday, where they generate clean-burning methane gas using kitchen refuse and other forms of burnable garbage. This is a large part of what is considered 'burnable trash' and the experiment has been largely successful. Right now they are only recycling a small percentage of burnable garbage into fuel, but there are plans to build new facilities and run the city's garbage trucks on this gas. The plant I visited today will then burn less garbage than it does now.

Anyway, going to Aicle again was interesting because I understood everything this time. The last time I was there I got kind of lazy and just nodded my head and pretended to understand sometimes when the explanation involved too much technical vocabulary. Yesterday, however, we were accompanied by a French college student who has been interning in Yokosuka for about 2 months and is leaving soon. Since I was interpreting, I had to pay attention and if I didn't understand, I had to ask the guide to explain in more basic Japanese. I think our guide understands English, because if I made a mistake, she would correct me (again, in Japanese).

Tomorrow I am going on cliff patrol. It was a nice break to get away from emergency management for a few days, but I am ready to get back into the research. If it isn't raining too hard tomorrow, I will try to post some good pictures.

Monday, June 27, 2005


Sorry to post twice in a row with really long messages, but I haven't posted in a couple of days and I have a few other thoughts I want to get out in case I don't have time later.

I am with the Environmental Protection Section (環境部 - I forget the exact English translation at the moment) this week. I had a thorough explanation of what they do today, but it was rough going. Last week with the Fire Bureau was much easier because I have been really studying basic emergency management terminology, so I was able to understand most explanations (with the exception of pretty much everything said at Global Nuclear Fuel Japan) with a little help from my handlers. Today was a completely different ballgame. I am starting to realize how much weaker my Japanese is than it should be after 8 years of classes, but I guess I can't blame anyone but myself. I really think it is largely a problem of vocabulary at this point, so I was really proud of myself for being able to handle 'professional' level discussions on emergency management. I still have problems with basic conversation from time to time, but it was really cool to be able to 'work' completely in Japanese. Today, however, taught me that I still have a long way to go if I want to be able to completely work in Japanese. Then again, I am not sure if I would have completely understood today's presentation on emission controls and the monitoring of Nitrogen, Oxygen, CO2, and Ozone levels in the local air if it had been in English.

Anyway, since I didn't have a lot of questions today and they didn't have a very tight schedule for me, they sent me home at four. Tomorrow I am touring another recycling facility and I will be going back to Aicle for a more detailed tour on Wednesday. I am then going on 'Patrol' with the Precipice Protection Division on Thursday. They gave me a uniform and told me to wear dirty, comfortable shoes, so I think we are going to do some hiking on mountains. I will definitely have pictures of this to publish on flickr.

Next week I get to go back to the base because I will be with the Military Base (Countermeasures) Division (基地対策課 - I put 'countermeasures' in parantheses because they don't translate that part on the English part of the sign). Should be fun. They are also giving me a day and a half of 'free study time', which I really need because I have been to so many places and have received so many materials (charts, reports, brouchures, etc.), that I really need to sit down for a while and go through it. I have a research paper to write about Japanese emergency management and I need to summarize what I've done, seen, and learned so far.

Anyway, if you have read all of this, good job (お疲れさま!)! If you feel like it, there's another long, poorly-written ditty on my trip to Gunma this weekend. I'll try to start cutting my posts down at some point, but I really doubt they'll get too much shorter... Gomen!

Back from Gunma

Well, I went to Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture this weekend. This was the town I used to live in and teach English in. This weekend was the first time I had been there and seen a bunch of friends in two years. It was cool to see them and eat at my favorite restaraunt again, but I broiled in high heat and humidity all weekend. It was nice of my friends Kalani and Yukiko to put me and Maiko up for the weekend, but it was tough to make it in a house with no AC. Gunma is basically in the middle of the island, so it gets hotter than most of the rest of the country in the summer. Brutal.

Unfortunately, I accidentally pressed OK to format my camera, so all the pictures I have taken since arriving were erased from my camera. Thankfully I had loaded most of the good ones on flickr before this happened, but I lost a couple that I intended to post, including a picture of Maiko, me, and about four friends from Isesaki at the world's best hole-in-the-wall down-home Peruvian restaraunt in the world, La Bodeguita. There are a ton of South Americans, mostly of Japanese decent (or at least a quarter Japanese), living in Isesaki and working in the many factories. Unfortunately, two of my other favorite restaraunts, Pizza Pub (another Peruvian restaraunt with a bigger selection) and Sawadi (the best Thai restaraunt I have ever eaten at), were both closed when we tried to go.

We also went to London Bus. It's a neat little Pub/'Internet Cafe' that serves the best roast beef in all of Japan. Master (Akira-san, the owner) is a laid back middle-aged Japanese guy who spent some time in the U.S. in his younger years, traveling the South and Midwest playing bluegrass. He bought this double-decker British bus and converted it into a bar/cafe. It was cool hanging out in a nice laid-back atmosphere and getting to catch up with old friends. Thanks to John and Aussie Mike for coming out.

I also got to meet Arisa, a former student of mine, who is the only one to still keep in touch with me for the two years I have been back in the States. We ate at Subhi, one of the best Indian restaraunts I have ever been too. Isesaki may be the sticks, but it has some really great foreign restaraunts.

The train trip was LONG. We took the cheap route, so while it only cost about $22 each way, it took four hours (again, one-way) and involved two transfers. I'm not sure if I'll be up for making this journey again this summer, but if I do, I'll be sure to look up all my friends there.

Friday, June 24, 2005


Well, let's see... What have I done since the last time I posted... Did I mention the nuclear emergency response center? I went there two days ago, then yesterday I visited GNF-J (Global Nuclear Fuel Japan), the reason they have a response center in Yokosuka. There aren't any nuclear power plants here in Yokosuka. GNF takes Uranium (I think most of it is from spent fuel already used in plants once) and processes it into pellets that are then loaded into rods. I am not sure I would have understood completely if the explanation was in English, but I had a presentation, a video, and a tour of the plant all in Japanese, so I have an extremely vague idea of what they do there. I also signed a confidentiality agreement not to disclose any technical secrets, but I don't think they need to worry about that. I have loaded a few pictures from the visitor room where they allow pictures, including one of a model fuel-rod thingy. I don't think I'm violating any UN or IAEA regulations by loading them on flickr.

Anyway, after that I went to visit a rescue team. These guys are primarily here for responding to domestic disasters, but they are also designated by the national government to be on alert and ready to be at Tokyo/Narita airport within 24 hours for dispatch to disasters abroad. They did not go to the recent tsunami disaster because there are four such groups in Kanagawa and they rotate availability for deployment throughout the month and they were not 'it' when the tsunami hit. They were really nice guys and showed me their NBC (Nuclear Biological and Chemical) response equipment, let me play with the jaws of life, and let me put on part of the suit for responding to a disaster. It was too hot to put the whole thing on.

The director (I don't remember his name right now) was really nice and started out trying to explain things in English. When he didn't know something and realized I knew enough Japanese, he started mixing English and Japanese. He spent most of the time showing me around and explaining things in a combination of broken English and broken Japanese. I think part of this was for my benefit, but for a large part, it just seemed like he wished he could speak English. After showing me all the equipment, they got me a Pepsi and we sat down and chatted for an hour or so. It was a nice break.

So anyway, this morning, I spent the day in the Fire Bureau's 119 headquarters. In Japan 110 is the number for the police and 119 is fire and ambulance. I got a detailed explanation of the updated system (it's only about 3 years old), the city's wireless communication systems, and mutual aid agreements Yokosuka has with the prefecture and other cities. After lunch, two of the guys drove me to the top of the second tallest mountain in the city to show me the antenna they use to coordinate wireless communications between mountains. Great scenery, but today is really hazy, so you really can't see too much.

Anyway, they gave me an hour break because they all think I'm exhausted from running around all week (which is very close to the truth) and they don't have anything for me until 3:45. I then go to talk with the director of the Fire Bureau to say goodbye and thanks for the wonderful week. I never imagined I would see so much in one week! It really has been incredible.

After that, I have to go meet the deputy mayor. There's a new intern that came to Yokosuka last night from Korea. He's a veterinarian, but I'm not sure what he's studying here. We both get to meet the politician, then I'm off to Gunma to see friends and former students I haven't seen since the last time I was in Japan 2 years ago. It's supposed to be hotter there than it is here, and I have to get around on a bicycle, so if I don't sweat to death, I'll be posting again soon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Back from the base...

I just got back from the base and it's lunch break now. I took a tour of the base's fire department and took a few pictures, but before I publish any of those, I am going to get in touch with the PAO (Public Affairs Officer). I hear he's been there a long time and speaks perfect Japanese, so he seems like a good guy to get advice from about this and other topics.

Unfortunately, you have to be in the military to buy stuff at the on base store, so I couldn't get cheap contact lens solution, dryer sheets, and Code Red Mountain Dew. But at least I got to eat Jalapeno poppers and pizza for lunch at Sbarro! Next time, Taco Bell! (The only ones in Japan that I know of are on American military bases.)

It's still raining, but I'm at least halfway dry. I still have to see the earthquake simulator and firefighter museum. Then Yakiniku for dinner!

A few impressions...

Well, I'm leaving for the U.S. Naval Base in about 10 minutes so I don't have time to do anything else, so I thought I'd post a few brief impressions of my trip so far.

Everybody I talk to who works in government here really admires what they call the 'volunteer spirit' in the U.S. Nonprofit organizations, community groups, and NGOs have been growing in Japan in recent years and most are modeled on similar programs in the U.S. While I don't claim to be a representative of these kind of groups (do work for free?), I have come to admire the people who volunteer their time to make even a small part of society better.

The Japanese are excellent hosts. It is a little intimidating that everwhere I go, someone seems to have read a brief summary of my background, but at the same time, every facility I visit involves a greeting and brief discussion of the head of that facility or department. The managers or department heads are always very friendly and are generally interested in finding out what my interests are. They always give me a brief explanation of the history and mission of their organization or section and make sure I understand what they're telling me. If I don't know a word, they will define it before moving on. Someone always comes in the room with green tea or coffee (usually coffee - I guess they figure I like it more since I'm American) and we have a pleasant chat for 20 minutes or so before I get the tour. This always helps me feel at ease before kengaku (observational tours for the purpose of learning).

Well, I had better get ready. It is pouring today and I couldn't find my umbrella this morning. I am now on my 3rd since coming here. My first one broke in the wind, the second (which I couldn't find this morning) was given to me, and seeing my pants soaked, the head of the International Affairs Division gave me another one today. Luckily, I did bring a rain coat with me, so it was only my pants that got wet. I will try to be careful with this third umbrella.

I think I am going to get to eat American pizza for lunch today! A real large pizza with no tuna, corn, potatoes, or mayo on it! Maybe I can find some dryer sheets and contact lens solution that isn't half the size of an American bottle at twice the price. We'll see...

In case I don't get to post tonight, I will also say that after this busy day at work, I am going to dinner tonight at Yakiniku (grill-your-own Korean BBQ) for a reception for foreign students of the Japanese Defense Academy. Should be a good time...

News from Missouri

Well, like I said earlier, I DID remember to call my dad on Father's Day, and it was cool to get some interesting news from home. Apparently, my dad was driving along a seldom-used Missouri back road when he came across a mammoth softshell turtle napping in the road. Now my dad is from Missouri and has spent a good part of his life chasing cold-blooded critters around in the Ozarks, but he said this was by far the largest softshell he had ever seen. My brother e-mailed me the pictures, and I am going to load them on flickr now, so go check this monster out. It looks like an extra from a Godzilla movie!

Anyway, my dad, being the best friend a reptile has ever known, didn't want this slimy behemouth to get run over by an ATV or lashed by a motor boat, so he brought it back home with him and called Bass Pro Shops up. It seems that it took quite a while and several conversations with employees before he could convince them to come take a look (like, 'yeah, a turtle? wow... I've never seen one of those before...' - note: sarcasm implied). When they did, they couldn't believe their eyes. They wound up taking it with them to put in quarantine before giving it a home on display in one of their stores. I'll be sure to post any updates on this story when I get them.

I have finally decided...

...what I want to do with my life. This. I want to work at a job where everyone is really nice, they walk me through things, take me on tours of facilities, give presentations just to me, explain things slowly if I don't understand, get to learn Japanese on the job, get a free place to stay, get to live in Japan, and get living expenses generous enough to survive and get to Tokyo every now and then.

But, unfortunately, this is only a summer program. I have only been here 2 and a half weeks and I've already had several once-in-a-lifetime experiences. On Friday, after my presentation, I went to the Kanagawa Prefectural Disaster Response HQ and got an in-depth explanation of emergency management at the prefectural level. During the presentation, I got to sit in the governor's seat. After this, we went to the Kanagawa prefectural Police HQ (no, I wasn't in trouble) and got a tour. I got to see the regional 110 (police emergency number in Japan) dispatch room and the prefectural traffic monitoring room. Unfortunately, I couldn't take pictures in these facilities, but I have loaded pictures from the visitor museum and the observatory on the 20th floor.

Today I got a presentation from the Guidance Division in the Fire Bureau. They explained how the Fire Bureau is organized, its history, and how it carries out building inspections. I then got to go on a building inspection at Don Quixote (a Japanese version of Wal-Mart), where I will have to return to do some gift shopping. We returned to the Fire Bureau building for lunch, then we went to the Chuo Fire Station for another presentation on what they do there and a demonstration of the equipment, including the jaws of life, a chainsaw, and a cutter.

Then, I got to go up in the 40-meter ladder. Wow. It was scary at first, but I got used to it, and it's amazing how much you can see when you're above the 10-storey apartment buildings nearby. Don't worry, I was safely strapped in and one of the firefighters was there with me. I have loaded pictures on flickr, so be sure to check them out!

I wish I had time to write more, but again, I'm at the Internet cafe. I had a ton of pictures to load and I don't like to spend too much time using the computer at the International Affairs Association because it's a busy office and I feel like I'm in the way.

I'm going on the American Naval Base tomorrow, followed by lunch and a tour of the Fire Bureau's mini-museum, which includes an earthquake simulator! More pics to come soon!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Having a cold sucks...

Well, I still have a cold, but it's a little better. It started out with just a sore throat, but that has cleared up and now I just have massive congestion. I have to take it easy because I have a full week of getting shown around by the fire bureau. I went in this morning for introductions and a brief overview. This afternoon, they are going to give me an introduction into their organization and facilities. I get to tour the building and see this 'earthquake proof foundation' everyone keeps talking about. This is great timing, since there was an earthquake last night at about 1:15 in the morning. It was a 3 here in Yokosuka, but I think it was like a 4 in Chiba prefecture (northeast of Tokyo). It wasn't too strong, but it seemed to last a while. I am normally asleep at that time, but I took a 3 hour nap on Sunday. Since I've been here, I've been running around like crazy, so I haven't had time to take it easy and relax. Sunday was the first day I could 'goro goro' (lay around and do nothing) all day. It was pure bliss.

But I did remember to call my dad on Father's Day! I hope everyone else did, as well!

I will try to make time to post again later this week. I have a ton of pictures from this weekend and I'm sure I will have more later in the week. I still haven't figured out how to get the pictures of the camera I borrowed from the International Affairs Division, but I should be able to get those loaded by the end of the week.

I probably won't be able to answer e-mails for a few days. They are talking about letting me leave like 3o minutes early today, so I will take advantage of that and go straight home for dinner, a bath, and bed.

Ja ne!

The weekend (warning - embarrassing bathroom story included)

Yesterday (Saturday) was a lot of fun, despite a head cold that prevented me from using two of my senses (smell and taste). EJ and her friend Melissa came down for a visit from Tokyo, where they are doing volunteer work for a church for a few weeks. Maiko was still here, so we had a mini-SMSU exchange program tour group wandering the streets of Yokosuka. First, we went to an arcade where we took “puri-kura” (Print Club) to memorialize the day. For those of you who don’t know, puri-kura is a photo booth where you get together with some friends and take pictures in front of different backgrounds. When you’re done with your shoot, you go to the other side of the machine to select the four or five best shots and customize them with cutesy borders, stamps, writing, or other decorations. You then select the size of the prints, which are printed on one small sheet (about the size of a postcard), that is divided into little-bitty pictures that are actually stamps. This one sheet of personalized picture stamps of you and your friends costs about $4, but I’m sure the price varies depending on what kind of machine you use.

Puri-kura was really popular when I was in Japan as a high school student almost 10 years ago, so it’s kind of natsukashii (sentimental…? This word doesn’t translate to well into English) to see them still around and popular. Teenage girls have small puri-kura books with blank pages that they fill with the stamps of pictures of them and their friends, family members, boyfriends, etc. If I can figure out a way to photograph or find a good enough scanner, I’ll try to load our puri-kura images on flickr.

So after puri-kura, we went for a walk. I forgot to bring a map or guide book to Yokosuka, so I had no idea where we should go. We stopped by a touristy gift shop and looked at a map to see if there was anything worth seeing nearby. We saw that we weren’t too far from the Umi no kaze (Sea Breeze) Park, so we headed in that direction. On the way, we passed a Japanese Coast Guard station, so I took a few pictures. Needing to use the little boys’ room, we were lucky to find a group of ‘model homes’ along our route, where I went in to ask if I could use their facilities. I don’t really think they want you using their facilities if you are not looking at buying a home, but it’s easy not to worry about small details like this when you’re a foreigner in Japan and are not expected to have the same level of social restraint. More importantly, however, is the unyielding law of nature – when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. The first house I entered, I didn’t see a restroom, so I asked one of the agents. He told me to go in the house next door. When I went in there, there were a few people sitting around a table, I assume negotiating the terms of a home loan or something of that nature, so I quietly made my way toward the back of the house, where, I was told, I would find a restroom. I found the shower room (which is always in a different room than the toilet in Japan), then opened a closed door next to it and lo and behold, a porcelain receptacle was before me! I shut the door and prepared to relieve myself, when I decided to practice my Japanese by reading the sign above the toilet. It said:


Or “this toilet cannot be used.” I decided to use some restraint and managed to get myself out in time to ask someone in this building where a public restroom might be. They pointed me to the office around the corner, and I managed to relieve myself in great comfort and without causing a minor biological hazard.

After the toilet incident (which I thought was really funny), we walked along a sidewalk set up near the ocean. There were a lot of men out there fishing and you could see Sarujima (Monkey Island) in the distance. I’m not sure what they have on Monkey Island, but I’ll be sure to relate it if I ever make it out there. For some reason, I doubt there are any Monkeys there.

Anyway, we saw some interesting things on the walk. There was a museum dedicated to a Japanese punk rocker from Yokosuka who killed himself a few years ago. His fans build it in his honor after his death. After the museum was a park where kids were riding their BMXs over dirt hills, skaters had a place to thrash, and others were playing basketball or tennis by themselves. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many sports played at the same time in one little area, but that’s what you get when you don’t have much land in your country.

The park that was after all of this was full of people walking their little dogs. I couldn’t believe they were bringing them there, because there were about 8 or 10 hawks, or eagles flying very low overhead, occasionally swooping down and striking something on the ground. It was very surreal. I would have taken a picture, but they looked like they were about to switch from attacking mice to pecking out people eyes, so we moved on.

After wandering around for a while and shopping at a local department store, we went to a little Okonomiyaki restaurant not too far away. It is set off the road in what looks like an old house and is run by two old ladies. On the second floor of the house there are four little tables with grills on them. You order what you like off the menu, they bring it up to you, and you grill it yourself. Okonomiyaki roughly translates as “grill what you like” and some people have called it “Japanese pancakes”. It is really just a doughy batter that you mix in vegetables, seafood, meat, or whatever you like and grill. I believe it was great (that’s what the girls said), but I was sick and had no sense of taste, so all I can attest to is that it had the right texture for Okonomiyaki.

As I write this on Maiko’s laptop, I am just going to spend the day recovering from my cold. I have a busy week this week working with the fire department, so I want to get over this cold before I get started. I am really glad I got to see EJ and Melissa (and of course, Maiko, too!) yesterday, but I wish I hadn’t been sick. I really wish I could have smelled the ocean and tasted the Okonomiyaki, but I’m not going anywhere for a while, so I’m sure I’ll have more opportunities.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Presentation... Done and done!

Well, I just finished my presentation about half an hour ago on American Emergency Management. I want to thank Leo Bosner at FEMA for letting me use his Japanese presentation on FEMA for parts of my presentation. I also really want to thank Maiko for helping me translate the other parts of my presentation. Thank you so much for spending hours helping me translate something I definitely wouldn't have been able to do on my own!

I think it went really well. I had practiced a few times and wrote out what I was going to say in Japanese on Microsoft Word in 20 point type and just had to read the script. The tough part was the questions at the end. I had a hard time answering the questions about FEMA reservists (there are few, if any, reservist-like jobs here in Japan) and disaster declarations, but I was told my answers were comprehensible. Japanese audiences tend to ask few questions, and the few I was asked came from people in the International Affairs Division, who I think realize that we in the West expect to have questions at the end of a presentation. The Public Safety Division listened to me rehearse my presentation yesterday, so they had asked me most of their questions the day before.

There were only about 20 people in the room, which made it seem really empty. That made it a little easier, but I don't think I would have had much of a problem with more people because I got to sit and read into a microphone throughout the presentation. I will post pictures soon, and when I do, you should really see this room. It is a regional 'disaster countermeasures headquarters' and it looks a little like a NASA headquarters. There are flat screen displays at each seat with a web cam and microphone for video conferencing and two large screens at the front of the room. They monitor typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural disasters from this room and coordinate recovery and response activities. It is a new room that has only been used in one disaster, a typhoon, so most of the time it is used as a conferencing and meeting room for the Fire Bureau.

I am going to get a complete tour of this facility later in my internship (I think next week when I'm with the Fire Bureau), so I will write more about it later. I forgot my camera today, so I had some of the employees of the International Affairs Division take pictures. I should get them by Monday. I also borrowed a digital camera from them to take with me this afternoon as I go to Yokohama to the Kanagawa prefectural police headquarters and, I believe, the prefectural disaster response headquarters.

We're leaving in about 20 minutes for Yokohama. I'll try to post some pictures tonight if I get back by 5:00. Maiko's here and we're going to eat at a Korean restaraunt a Korean lady I'm taking Japanese classes with recommended. I'll try to remember to take pictures, because I've been meaning to start a food gallery on flickr. One of these days when I get time, I'm going to organize those photos into categories for easier viewing.

That's all for now. Off to Yokohama!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Sorry, but I used the word 'preparations' in the title of maybe 4 posts before I left the states, so I used the Japanese word here, instead. I have to give a presentation about American emergency management tomorrow in front of members of the Public Safety Division and the Fire Bureau. I have it completely prepared and I think it is a fairly decent presentation, but I have yet to memorize all of the vocabulary and practice my rhthym. I don't really have anything on the schedule for today, so they told me to go ahead and practice while I'm here at work.

Yesterday, as I said in an earlier post, I went to the largest recycling facility in Japan. It's not actually a plant where they melt down old plastic and cans, but simply a giant sorting facility. Residents here in Yokosuka, like pretty much everywhere else in Japan, are required by law to separate their trash into several different categories. 'Aicle' (which combines the Japanese word for love - ai - with the English 'recycle') sorts the plastic packaging, plastic bottles, aluminum and steel cans, paper, and carboard waste that are thrown out in this city everyday. It is a five storey building that can hold up to two days waste (of the specified sorts) at one time. After seeing the storage space, I was amazed at how much trash one city can accumulate in one day. And this is only a mid-sized (about 400,000) city. Wow.

Tokyo was great this weekend. I finally got around to rotating the vertical pictures so they are right-side up and labeling them. Sorry I don't have time to put more detail with the pictures, but this blog/photo gallery stuff is more time-consuming than I imagined. Well, I'll keep at it, though, whenever I have a bit of free time.

The Tokyo pictures have some interesting shots in them. I think Maiko got some better shots of the street scenes, but I got some good pics of goofy costumed kids in Harajuku on Sunday (the best day to go there). I also got a few pictures of Kiddy Land, and 6 storey toy store that has something for almost everybody.

I'm going to take it easy this weekend. Maiko's coming down from Tokyo, so I'm really excited about that. EJ and her roommate in the states are also coming down for one day, so it will be really cool to have some people from Springfield visit me here in Yokosuka!

When I get a day without rain, I promise I'll get some pictures of downtown Yokosuka.

More pictures

Sorry I don't have much time to post now, but I just spent the past hour checking my e-mail and posting pictures to my flickr gallery.

It's rainy and pretty cool today. I think I'm going to go eat, buy an ironing board (I've got way too many wrinkly clothes), and get home before it gets any nastier outside.

I toured the biggest recycling facility in Japan today. I don't have a ton of pictures, but I have a few. I will post those next time.

My presentation is on Friday and I need to rehearse. I have a ton of vocabulary to memorize and I should learn a bit more about American emergency management in case there are any questions. Japanese audiences aren't usually big on asking questions, but the head of my section seems intent on bringing in a big and inquisitive audience for me.

I'll be sure to post more details about this presentation this weekend. I'm thinking of shelling out $10 just so I can get the 3 hour deal at the Internet cafe and get caught up on this blog, my e-mail, my pictures, and not have to hurry.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Back again

This will be brief because I have some work to do. I haven't had time to post much recently because I spent the weekend bouncing all over Tokyo and yesterday was my first day at the Public Safety Division at city hall. The division through me a welcome party last night after work at a really good Chinese restaraunt and I stopped by the Catholic church on before coming home.

It was nice to be in the International Affairs Division last week because it was pretty laid back. I spent most of my time reading about Yokosuka and studying Japanese. Yesterday, I officially began my study of Japanese emergency management. Some of the members of this division (including both of the bosses) sat with me in the morning and gave me a briefing about Japanese emergency management in general and on what local governments are doing to plan and coordinate their response to emergencies. It seems that the impetus for recent reform in emergency management here has been focussed on the possibility of an armed attack (say, by North Korea) or an Al-Qaeda-style terrorist attack. If terrorists or a hostile nation were to attack Japan, it only makes sense that Yokosuka, with its large American military presence, would be a prime target.

Next week I will be at the fire bureau. I have briefly gone through it once or twice, but I am really looking forward to seeing all of their facilities. City Hall is divided into three fairly large buildings, and the fire bureau occupies all of one of those buildings. It is the newest building and is built on a rubber or spring base in order to withstand a powerful earthquake. There are many divisions within the fire bureau (for example for building codes), so it is not just an oversized fire station. I think I will also be going to some local fire stations, too.

I guess I should wait to talk about these facilities until I have already had the full tour. I will be sure to take lots of pictures.

Speaking of pictures, there are some more from Tokyo that I'll put up later today (tomorrow morning U.S. time). I also have some from the battleship Mikasa, which I toured yesterday. The Mikasa fought the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War. We are coming up on the 100th anniversary of a major naval battle that Japan won. The Mikasa was the admiral's ship, but now it is a museum (one of only 3 battleship-museums in the world, I'm told...). It was cool to see, but one thing has me a little worried. The way it's positioned, the front cannons are pointed directly at the U.S. naval base and the dorms of American servicemen's families.

Mr. Ozawa (the division head and my guide on this tour) thought that was pretty funny. I think I did too.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Lunch at 社会観

So, picking up where I left off yesterday, I had a lot of good experiences and conversations yesterday, but I really wanted to talk about my lunch with the old folks. They apparently come to the hall about once or twice a week and do exercises, have lunch, bathe, and socialize.

I sat at a table with Ike-san, the director of the elderly day care program and a few of the older gentlemen. Mr. Tanaka (his picture is on my photo gallery) was very lively and kept talking to me, but unfortunately I had a hard time understanding him. Luckily, Mr. Ike was there to translate. Now Mr. Ike doesn't speak English, but he speaks Japanese with a clear pronunciation and a mouth full of teeth. Apparently Mr. Tanaka, and many of the other elderly men of Yokosuka, came to work in the factories during the war because there was little work in their native parts of Japan.

After we ate, I sat on the couch with a Mr. Suzuki. Mr. Suzuki was born with the last name Miura, but took the name Suzuki when he married his wife. Normally the wife takes her husband's last name, like we do in the West, but Mr. Miura's wife did not have any male relatives to carry on her family name. Mr. Miura therefore became Mr. Suzuki in order to take responsibility for his wife's family's household and family grave.

As we were talking, Mr. Tanaka came over and said the ladies at the table across the room were inquiring into my marital status. Following this invitation, I went over and chatted with a lovely group of ladies (whose pictures are on my photo gallery). We talked for almost an hour, during which time the girls passed the time flirting with and flattering me. We sang songs at the end, but being tone deaf and unable to read some of the kanji, I sat and silently lip-sycnched most of the time.

Well back to work. I'm just studying up on Yokosuka history today, so it should be a pretty easy Friday. Tomorrow is Tokyo!

社会館での見学 Society Hall Orientation

I'll try to make this quick because I've already used up my hour here at the Internet cafe, but I had a long and interesting day, so we'll see how quickly I can sum it up.

Today I found out why they call the building where I'm staying 'Society Hall' (which I will admit is an awkward translation). Shakaikan (as I will call it from here on out) started out as a collection of community based volunteer organizations inspired by the generous actions of the post-war commander of the U.S. Navy in Yokosuka, Captain Benny Decker. Captain Decker insisted on providing food for the local children, the elderly, and giving jobs to women. This was a novel way of thinking in Japan at the time, as throughout the war, the nation's increasingly scant resources were given the the strongest people in the country so they could fight. Captain Decker was moved by the poverty afflicting the local people and worked to help the weakest people first.

Decker's magnanimity impressed the locals so much they built a statue of him here in Yokosuka. Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the U.S. occupation, reprimanded Decker for his social work, telling him he should instead focus on his military responsibilities. Decker, however, continued to promote social well-being in Yokosuka, for which he was relieved of his duty in Japan. MacArthur, incidentally, does not have a statue anywhere in Yokosuka.

The above history was related to me by Dr. Shiro Abe, a highly respected man in the area. I believe he is also the head of a Christian college in the area. Mr. Mori, one of the employees from the International Affairs Division of city hall, came to the first part of my orientation at Shakaikan in order to meet Dr. Abe and listen to his explanation of Yokosuka history to me. Dr. Abe was kind enough to speak to me for about half an hour. It was a real treat to get a history lesson from such a knowledgeable man on a one-on-one basis. He also took care to make sure I understood everything, every once in a while slipping in an English word to clear things up if there was any look of confusion on my face. I get the feeling that he speaks excellent English, but I am grateful that he spoke to me in Japanese.

After meeting with Mr. Abe, Ms. Togui from the head office gave me a tour of all of the facilities at Shakaikan. The apartments at Shakaikan are newer than most of the building and only comprise the 4th through the 8th floors. The first 3 floors consist of day care facilities for very young children (they start taking kids at 8 weeks), part time day care for kids whose parents have things to do (babysitting is not very common here), a rehabilitation center for people with physical handicaps, a classroom and activity center for the mentally challenged, an elderly care center for people with dementia, a day care center for other elderly people, after-school day care facilities, a volunteer support center, and other facilities. I visited all of the facilities and I was very impressed with the care everyone received there. Most of these people seem like they would be otherwise neglected by society, but for the most part, they all seemed cheerful and well-adjusted. One theme that was constantly repeated by the staff was that they thought it was good to have children, handicapped people, and the elderly all under one roof interacting with each other so they would be comfortable dealing with other people they normally wouldn't have contact with. After seeing this philosophy put into action, I find it difficult to disagree.

I met with several other people over the course of the day, and each of them explained to me what they were doing to try to make the world a better place in their own neighborhoods. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, I have to admit I was really touched. This center was founded on Christian ideals (as I was told), and it reminded me of something Dr. Haghayeghi said last semester in my Islamic politics class: religion exists to serve man, not the other way around. Whether any of the staff are particularly 'religious' or not (I don't know that they are or aren't), each one of them is sincerely trying to help their fellow man. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and it was really a great thing seeing good deeds in action.

I have a ton more to write about Shakaikan, but I have been in the cafe for almost 2 hours now, so I think I will get going. I hope I can get around to relating my lunchtime with the elderly group. They were VERY lively for a group of seniors and it was fun talking with them. Don't let me forget! I'll try to get to it tomorrow or the next day, because I'm sure I'll have many new stories to tell if I wait to long.

Ja ne...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Internet Cafe

Well, I finally got a chance to check my e-mail. I check it compulsively in the states, so I was getting a little anxious about going 3 days without looking in my inbox. I must say that I had a mixed reaction to opening it just now and not finding anything but junk mail. It was a little depressing to not have any news from anyone, but it was also relieving that I don't have to spend my time writing replies to people, especially considering I'm paying $4 an hour to write this in an Internet Cafe.

Before I go any further, let me just say that my first impressions of Yokosuka are really good. It's hard at this point to distinguish between my feelings for this particular city and my excitement at being back in Japan. But I'll try anyway...

Yokosuka has some beautiful sights. There are a ton of very steep and heavily forested mountains all over the place. Some of these mountains drop off directly into the sea, which is bustling with military and commercial activity. Considering it's medium size (about 400,000 people), Yokosuka is a very cosmopolitan city, owing its history as a busy port and the site of an American naval base. The people here are much more accustomed to having a foreigner in their midst, but there were still some startled faces when I went jogging in a residential area at 6:30 this morning (believe it or not, I did actually wake up at 6:00 this morning).

The first night I was here, I decided to take a walk around the hotel in the central part of town, but I had a bit of mild culture shock and returned after buying some Aquarius (the tasty sports drink no doubt named so because it is my sign) and Georgia Iced Coffee for the next day). I guess living in the midwest for the past 2 years has made me lazy and a little less attentive to my surroundings. I forgot the pace of life in urban Japan is very fast and highly structured. If you don't walk where you're supposed to when you're supposed to, you quickly become a bumbling nuisance to everyone around you. I don't think I quite got to that point, but I was getting close, so I went back to my room, had a shower, took a bath, called home, and got some well-earned shut-eye.

Since I forced myself to stay up until 10 my first 2 nights and woke up promptly at 6:00 or 6:30, the jet lag hasn't been too bad. I was a little wiped out last night, but I took a walk and had a shower before bed, so I felt fine the next day.

Before I go, I have to mention two things. First of all, I can't believe I have a washer and a dryer in my room. I think this is the first time I have seen a clothes dryer in Japan. For those of you who have never had to hang your clothes out to dry in the rainy season, count your blessings. I know I am. Secondly, Japan is a great country to get clean in. If you hate the hot sticky summers here, at least you can bathe many times a day and nobody will think you're strange for doing so. The best part is that all the bathtubs here are really deep so you can sit up and your whole body is immersed in hot water. Most of the water heaters are run by natural gas, so they don't run out, either.

I know I haven't talked much about work yet, but I will when I have been a few more times and I get used to the way things are done there.]

I'm going to add some captions to the pictures I uploaded to flickr today and post my temporary phone number here in Japan. I'm going to Tokyo this weekend, so I'll be sure to have pictures of that uploaded sometime next week.

So long for now!

First full day at City Hall

Today is the first day I have spent all day at City Hall. I got the Japanese and the English versions of a picture book by a famous Japanese author about the arrival of Matthew Perry and his famous 'black ships' that forced the Tokugawa Shogunate to open Japan up to the world. The black ships landed near Yokosuka and the anniversary of that landing is next month, so they want me to read up on the history of it before the ceremony. I believe the U.S. Ambassador is coming, so it should be an interesting time.

I spent the last half of the day yesterday unpacking and I have realized that I brought way more clothes with me than I actually need. Unfortunately, I have to leave the place where I'm staying ('Society Hall' - 社会館 (しゃかいかん)) sometime in mid-July because they need the room to house visitors for some city-sponsored event (the full explanation was lost in translation). For the time being, however, I have a fully furnished, 2 bedroom apartment to call home. It's on the 7th floor and the front door opens to a view of the main street below and part of the harbor. There is a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Hospital directly opposite my building (behind the post office) and there are plenty of Japanese naval vessels docked in the bay. I have a veranda at the back of my apartment that has an INCREDIBLE view of a little village below surrounded on three sides by steep green mountains that look like they could collapse at any time. I have to take a bus that goes through a tunnel under one of these mountains. I uploaded a few pictures of these scenes on flickr, more to come soon.

I was going to get a pre-paid cell phone today, but the girl who knows about these things is not here to advise me and I forgot to bring my passport with me today. Tomorrow I don't have to come to city hall because they are giving me a full tour of the facilities at Shakaikan (my temporary home).

I apologize for not being very descriptive at the moment, but I will be leaving work in a few minutes and hopefully I can get to an internet cafe tonight to post more of my impressions (assuming they don't need ID).

Be back soon!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Busy, busy, busy...

What a day it has been so far. I have met the directors of the International Affairs Division, the Public Safety Division, the Military Base Division, and the head of the Planning and Coordination Department. I haven't been practicing my formal Japanese recently, so I've been a little choked up when introducing myself, but we've exchanged meishi (business cards), a few words, and smiles, so I think all is going well.

I received my schedule for the summer and it looks like I'll be bouncing around several divisions within City Hall this summer. I will post this schedule when I have more time to write. I am going to my new temporary home in a few minutes, which I hear is VERY nice. Unfortunately, they are using the room I'm staying in later this summer for another visitor, so I will have to move after the first week of July. I guess I can't fully unpack, because I brought all my stuff with me for the next 7 months, so I really don't want to go through the whole packing procedure 3 or 4 times this summer.

While Takahashi-san was explaining something to me earlier today, I went to rest my elbow on the desk and accidentally bumped my scalding-hot cup of coffee and spilled a little on my left elbow. What a great day to wear a white shirt! Good thing I wore a suit today, so I can throw the jacket on to cover it up. It's a little warm in the office, though, so this is not the most comfortable arrangement.

The security settings on the computers in city hall won't let me check my e-mail, so if you try to reach me that way, I may not be able to respond for a few days. I will try to find an internet cafe to go to 3 or 4 times a week so I can put longer posts up, do my banking, and check my e-mail, but please be patient until then. For all my friends in other parts of Japan, I will also post my phone number here in Japan in the next couple of days. Since I'll be moving around, I will get a pre-paid cell phone tomorrow, so I have one number that stays the same. And if you feel like calling me internationally, incoming calls to cell phones are free here, so go right ahead! Just do me one favor: check the time difference first!

Check my photo galleries later this week. I'll try to get something up by the weekend.

Safe and sound

Just to let everyone know, I got in safe and sound yesterday. Due to a lack of strong headwinds, we made it to Narita and hour earlier than we were supposed to.

Takahashi-san and the driver met me at the airport and we drove to Yokosuka. The traffic wasn't bad, so we got in pretty early (around 5:45).

I will post more later, but Takahashi-san just arrived and its time to go to City Hall for the first time! See you soon!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Last post from stateside

Well, my bags are finally packed, I've said my goodbyes (if I missed ya, sorry - and goodbye!), and the first leg of my journey begins in seven hours. I'm too excited to sleep. I suppose that's just as well, because I intend on sleeping on the plane during the early part of my trip to try to force my body to acclimate to Japan time quickly. Hopefully they'll save the good movies (if we even have any) for the last part of the Detroit to Tokyo flight...

I hope everyone here in the states has a great summer and a wonderful fall. I can't wait to see my friends in Japan (old and new) and get to work in Yokosuka! I really don't have much else to say, but you'll be hearing from me soon. I'll try to get some pics posted on my flickr gallery by the end of the week.

I guess I'll try to get a little shut-eye before my flight. Oyasumi!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Preparations for the presentation...

Well, I finally finished my presentation on American emergency management. I really have to thank Leo Bosner at FEMA, who let me use parts of his presentation on FEMA for Japanese visitors, and Maiko for helping me with the translations of slides I wouldn't have been able to do on my own. While I'm thanking people, I also want to thank my mom, Crystal Payton, who also helped me form a rudimentary idea of what emergency management is and how to talk about it.

This is going to be my first "professional" presentation in Japanese, so I am just a wee bit nervous. I'm sure it will go fine, but I have a lot of vocabulary to memorize in the next few days. While I haven't done an exact count, it seems like there are about 100 or so words that appear in my presentation that I do not know. I don't think my Japanese is bad at all, but I am much more comfortable talking about the weather, food, cultural differences, etc. than I am talking about public administration. I also don't seem to recall ever having practice conversations in Japanese class about "mutual aid agreements between jurisdictions or agencies to provide reciprocal services". To be fair to my Japanese teachers, though, it is possible that I was sick that day.

It's hard to believe that one week from now I will be well into my first week of work (OK, so I'll only be on my second day). Looking around at the mess in my bedroom, it makes me dread the ironing, folding, arranging, rearranging, packing, etc., that lays ahead. Well, I think I'll procrastinate one more night and burn a hi-MD disc. It will take me a couple of hours, but it's worth it for a single disc that holds 45 hours of music. It's better than lugging 45 CD's back and forth over the Pacific!

Lastly, I'm going to update my links on the sidebar. I have to add Hanami Sensei's Japanese Resource Page. If anyone has any interest in Japan, this is the place to go for a good collection of Japan-related links. The dictionaries listed on there were an enormous help for this presentation.

I'm also thinking of having a separate place for my friend's personal web pages or blogs. If you know me and don't mind me putting a link to your site up, let me know. Thanks!