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As promised

Jul. 5th, 2011 | 10:50 pm

Here we go,

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

(that's one hell of an embed code by the way...)

I appear in three different shots, but it's never really clear that it's me. I know it's me though! We are just happy for coverage ha ha, even if it's somewhat wrong :P

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Keep an eye out!

Jul. 5th, 2011 | 12:23 am


We ran into an NBC crew way back in Golden Week, just before Bin Laden was killed. They had to run off to cover that story, but they wanted to come back and finish their Japan story. It is airing July 4th (Monday), at 6:30pm as part of NBC nightly news. So watch it and you might see me in some b-roll! Ha ha. I think the segment is called "People helping people" or something like that. They promised to forward us a link for an online version when it is up, but it would be cool to see it live!

This is huge for volunteerAKITA, the Fruit Tree Project, Taylor Anderson Memorial Gift Fund and Smile Kids Japan. Hopefully getting all our names out there.

I'll have a link to it later on. But just wanted to let people know!

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Got in a national newspaper!

Jun. 7th, 2011 | 12:04 pm


My name didn't make it in though. That's ok. Please keep checking us out, over 1,000,000 yen raised, and over 20,000 fruits delivered! www.volunteerakita.org

Concert update later, when we finally are able to upload some videos :P

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what did I sign up for?!?

May. 28th, 2011 | 07:07 am

My first live today...wish me luck!

I'll tell you all about it when it's over :P

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Getting involved

Apr. 19th, 2011 | 12:42 pm

As things slowly get back to normal for us here, some of us have been wondering what we could do to help those whose lives have not returned to normal.

A lot of us here in Akita have been reaching out to see what we can do. Recently an ALT here set up supply delivery run to one of the shelters in the effected areas. When he was there he wanted to know what sort of things the people wanted/needed the most. The overwhelming answer was fresh fruit.

So we have been working for a while now on how to get fruit to these people. Last night, the final piece of the puzzle came into place, and I'm ready to share it with people back home.

If you are looking for a direct way to help out the people in Japan, and find that giving to Red Cross is a little too indirect, I welcome you to check out what we've set up.

We've partnered with an NGO in Japan called Second Harvest Japan, whose main goals are to distribute food to the poor and needy. They have set us up an avenue of collecting international donations through their donation network.

Any money we get would greatly benefit the people we are trying to help. We are also making sure that all money goes directly towards the project. Everything else is being funded by volunteers.

Our website is http://volunteerakita.wordpress.com/about/the-fruit-tree-project/

And a donation link can be found on the donate page.

The rest of the website details the things we have been doing to help.


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A week ago my world stopped

Mar. 19th, 2011 | 08:46 pm
mood: sadsolemn

For 31 hours after the earthquake on March 11, 2011, the clock at my school was frozen at 2:46.

Living in Akita prefecture has been quite fortunate in all of this. For about 20 hours after the disasters hit I was completely out of contact with the outside world though. So the reality of it all didn't really hit me until the next day. Cell phone service died at about 5:30, so while I had initial details about the 7.9 earthquake (which was later upgraded to 8.8 and then 9.0 or 8.9...depending on who you ask) and tsunami warnings, the full destruction and nuclear plant emergency aftermath didn't sink in until the following days.

Earlier in the week we had felt a 3.5 or 4 magnitude earthquake shake the ground for about 10-15 seconds. Facebook statuses flooded the news page commenting about it. I actually played a little game with a few people on gchat at the time. "What is the longest streak of uninterrupted postings about the earthquake on your news page?" Mine halted at 8, a friend of mine in Canada had changed her profile picture. The winning number was 12. On ALT's post read something to the effect of "7.2 is like seismological bacon, it makes everything better". I remember thinking that was incredibly callous at the time, recalling the Christchurch quake coming in at about that magnitude. At the end of the day, one of my friends who I played the game with asked me, "how are you going to entertain me tomorrow"? I told him "we can play the game again tomorrow, just shake the earth harder"...

Many of us were in the gym when the quake hit. We were setting up for graduation the next day. The third years were all down the street in another building having a small party. I was assisting with the red and white banners that we string across the walls. During the first five to ten seconds, many of us weren't quite sure what was going on. There was quite a bit of noise, but it didn't occur to me right away that it was an earthquake. One of the teachers yelled out "Get down! It's an earthquake!" Some of the students still didn't realize what was going on and had to be told to stop walking around.

This was by far the longest and strongest earthquake I had ever felt while in Japan. I had experienced 4 or 5 other ones already during my time here. Some even occurred with hilarious stories attached to them. All of them were slightly unnerving. For typhoons and tsunamis, there are places you can go that are safe from those. You hunker down and wait it out. But with an earthquake, everything around you is moving. There are "safer" areas but nothing removes you from sensation of the ground beneath you moving back and forth. Thankfully, I've never experienced an earthquake at anything higher than the ground floor. Being in a building that sways back and forth 15-20 feet is not something I want to experience.

At about the 30 second mark, the lights in the gym were swaying back and forth tremendously. Perhaps even hitting the support beams a couple of times, I look up at them now and some of them are pretty banged up, but that could just have been from random volleyballs or soccer balls being directed at those lights. All the lights cut out as the power finally died. It took another good 30 seconds or so for the initial quake to subside, and another minute or so after that for everyone to be sure that the earth wasn't moving anymore. We all evacuated the gym at this point and congregated in the front hall. It was at this point I confirmed that we indeed had some criers during the earthquake.

The students were calmly gathered in the hallway, keeping spaces where lights and things overhead hung. Teachers put broom handles into the tracks where shutters were in case they came falling down so that we'd be able to move from the school as aftershocks continued. Many of the teachers were trying to get information out of their cell phones. Most networks were down, by 3G was still up. I managed to pull the first news report about the quake from the yomiuri daily. "7.9 magnitude earthquake has occurred off the coast of Miyagi. Tsunami warnings for all east coast prefectures." Teachers ran down to the building where the third years were to check to see if they were all right. Everyone was fine it seemed, a lot of the students were a little shell-shocked, but no injuries to report. "Graduation preparation is canceled", the vice principal announced. They were going to send the kids home. But they decided that they were going to go ahead with graduation tomorrow anyway. Prep would be finished in the morning. In hindsight, it seems a little incredulous that we would decide to push on with graduation given what happened, but as it was said in a staff meeting after most of the students had gone home, "tomorrow is a special day for the third years, and we are going to do our best to make sure it happens for them".

We still had an emergency phone working in the school, so all the students were told to call home and get parents or grandparents to come and pick them up. There was a lot of relief when students were able to get in touch with their parents and confirm that everyone was alright back home. I was sending mails out to a lot of the other ALTs in the area to make sure they were alright. I had emailed my friend in Sendai earlier in the week after the first earthquake to see if she was alright. So I emailed her again to check in. Thankfully, she responded fairly quickly and confirmed she was alright. I also remembered to send off an email to my parents and sister to let them know I was fine. I had planned to post something on LJ or facebook but didn't get around to it before 5:30.

I realized I didn't have much food back home, at least food I could eat without any prep, so I wandered down to Lawsons after all the kids were sent home to get something to eat. Not surprisingly, they were already out of bread and ramen and whatnot. I picked up what I could, thanks to those employees at my local Lawsons, still plugging along and serving us, and headed home. It was at this point that I realized that my cell phone service was dead. I thought maybe there was some bad reception at my house, so I decided to hop in my car and drive around back to the school since I had gotten reception earlier there. No luck. My cell tower was knocked out. So I ate, and went home. As aftershocks continued to hit, I realized that my stove was gas powered and should still work without electricity. I boiled some water in part to heat my room and to cook the bits of instant ramen I still had in my house. I read a book by flashlight for an hour or so before falling asleep around 8-9 pm.

That night, I was awoken by aftershocks twice, and countless other times from dreaming that the power had come back on or that I had cell service again. Neither of those two things happened that night. It was cold in my house that night, about 4-5 degrees, but I just huddled under my blankets and slept through what I could. When morning came I boiled some water again to try and get some heat into my room and warm up the clothes I was going to wear for graduation.

They had finished the preparation for graduation by the time I got to work.

You will notice the jackets underneath the chairs. Emergency procedure announcements were made before the ceremony began. If a large earthquake happened during the ceremony, the students and staff were to take the jackets and put them over their heads as protection as we evacuated the gym.

Without power, we couldn't use the regular heaters, 4-5 degrees is not comfortable to sit in for an hour and a half, so we had to use something else.

Here you can see a teacher and students huddled around a heater.

And here you can see what they are gathered around. These kerosene heaters are great when used in small rooms. But in a three story gym, even 8 of these couldn't really keep the temperature at anything higher than 10-12 degrees I bet. Two of my students have to play the piano during the ceremony because our music teacher is the head teacher this year. They put a heater right in front of them, I reckon they had the best seats in the house :P Even if they were super nervous playing the piano during the graduation.

I thought were were going to be using a battery powered mic and speaker system, but actually...

We powered the sound system from a teacher's hybrid van.

Graduation went fine, I was a little surprised how smooth it all ran, considering what was going on in the rest of Japan. But I guess, like me, the parents and students here were cut off from news and such so really had no idea what was going on.

The drinking party was canceled, elementary school graduation tomorrow, was going to go on as planned, they told me, so I decided I'd head into Honjo where I heard they had power and cell phone service. I made a few phone calls first to confirm this fact and made arrangements to stay in Honjo that night, and then drove in to town. It was about 24 hours since the quake had hit, and I was just now getting all the concerned emails from you guys. One piece of good news though, my goodbye party for one of my friends was still going to happen, which I was very happy about. We had tried to make plans to hang out before she moved, but couldn't get around to it given the circumstances.

I hung out with a couple of other ALTs that afternoon before the goodbye party, and started getting a grasp of how bad it actually was. The small paper that morning had upgraded the quake to a 8.8 so I knew it was bad already. We watched some of the tsunami footage...it was all starting to sink in. It was quite a relief to hang out with friends at that point, and just be with other people. One of them showed me this.


Seriously, you must watch it. It is hilarious. It's hilarious in it's content, and hilarious that it's news as well. They did 2 other follow up stories with her family too!

I stayed out till about 3 am that night for my friend's going away party. I guess it was the afterschocks and such, but I didn't get much sleep that night either. Around 7 am, I knew I had to head back to my town to get ready for graduation again, but I sat down to read some of the news first. It was then that the full effect of it all hit me. I read a few articles and saw a few pictures, and then I had to stop. It was getting to me. All the destruction and loss of life, which at that point was only at around 500 confirmed dead and 10s of thousands missing, and the building nuclear plant crisis in Fukushima. I ended up leaving my friend's apartment before they woke up.

I, smartly, stopped to fill up for gas on the way out of town, only had to wait about 15 minutes and was able to top up from half a tank. I came back home to power and cell phone service, no internet though, I wouldn't fix that for a few days. And life sort of proceeded on as normal.

All those drinking parties I had listed off earlier? Most of them are canceled. I went to the going away party for my friend, and the graduation on Sunday had a party that night, and the closing of my elementary school will still have their party. But everything else has been canceled. Which I guess is fine by me. Our school's server got knocked out by the quake, not sure what is broken, but apparently they need to bring in a new part, and they have estimated a month for that to come. So without many classes in the last week of school, I spent most of my time tethered to my iphone, scanning headlines every so often trying to keep up to date on the relief efforts and the Fukushima plants.

I have been able to have a steady supply of food, I haven't been driving much, so still at about 80% of a tank. But I've noticed that some food and supply shipments have started to show up at supermarkets, and I heard that in town, the rationing of gas has been relaxed a bit. People are able to buy more than 2000 yen worth of gas at a time. The past two days have also been clear of bad news on the reactor front, with cooling systems having been restarted at reactors 5 and 6, things are slowly returning to normal here.

I am thankful each day that I am not on the east coast, and have run through numerous worst case scenarios in my head for if the tsunami came in from the west. But my time in Japan will from now on, always be defined by this event. For better or worse, this will always be the year to remember in Japan.

Also...MADlove (as someone would put it here) to all the workers still working at Fukushima.

Thanks for reading, if you got through all of this. I hope you are all safe back home.

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Checking in again

Mar. 14th, 2011 | 08:23 am

Just wanted to post again.

Things are returning to normal over here. Shops and stuff are still bare as people stock up on food and shipments probably not coming in yet.

My town got power back at about 10pm on Saturday night. Along with that, cell service has returned here as well. However, my Internet is not working. Not sure if I should just wait it out or call yahoo and try and figure it out.

Graduations are going forth as planned here. Had some entertaining performances last night. And when I have the chance I am going to want to share some hilarious news footage featuring a nearby alt.

But as reports continue to stream in and rescue workers finally making their way to previously unreachable towns, I can't quite feel up for that kind of entertainment right now.

Trying to keep away from the news but I really need to keep up to date.

A friend of mine who goes to school in Sendai is back in Akita now safe and sound so I'm very thankful for that.

Will try to keep people posted as more info comes available.

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Mar. 12th, 2011 | 04:29 pm


I'll have a more detailed post later on. But I wanted to let people know that I'm fine. The west coast is relatively untouched. The east coast, obviously not so much. I haven't had much of a chance to watch the news, but from what I've seen, it's not good over there.

Still no power at home, and no cell phone service either. But I came into town where this is power and am borrowing a computer to make a post.

Hope everything is good back home.

Thanks for the concern.

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enkais (drinking parties) so many of them...

Mar. 9th, 2011 | 01:15 pm

within 20 days, I've got 8 of them coming up. That's a lot! Especially since they cost around 4000 yen and up!

I obviously don't have to go to them, but considering what they are for, I feel better about going and showing up.

So here is a quick rundown, starting with junior high school graduation on Saturday...

March 12 JHS graduation party and a farewell party for a friend (yeah, obviously can't make it to both of those for the whole time)
March 13 elementary graduation party 1
March 16 elementary graduation party 2
March 25 PTA teacher farewell party
March 26 elementary school closing party
March 28 teachers only farewell party
April 1 teacher's welcome party

Oh, the life of an ALT.

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Feb. 26th, 2011 | 09:05 pm


As it turns out, I didn't go to kyudo that night. Not that I didn't have plans to.

After club was done, I stopped at Lawson's to grab some quick food, fully intending to drive and eat at the same time. But I stopped at my place to eat some of it first. Which turns out was a good thing.

As I was eating, I decided not to leave early and get my glasses fixed (I lost a screw the other day, no idea when or where it fell out), and continued eating the rest of my dinner. As I was finishing up, I got a phone call. Didn't have the number listed in my phone, so I just let it ring. I figured if it was important, they would call again.

Sure enough, 10 minutes later, it rang again. This time I answered it.

(the following has been translated and paraphrased)

me: Hello?
VP: Good evening, this is the vice principal.
me: Good evening.
VP: We have a drinking party now, did you know about it?
me: No, I didn't.
(off to someone else)
VP: Oh, he didn't know about it.
(back into the phone)
Well you had signed up for it, did you still want to come?
(a teacher in the background)
We are waiting for you!
me: Oh, yes, I'll be right there.

Turns out the praying enkai (drinking party) was that night, and I had forgotten which day it was, and neither of my main JTEs were going to be there, so they didn't mention it to me at school. The funny thing is, as I was standing with the volleyball coach after practice, waiting for the girls to finish leaving the gym, I was thinking about when that enkai was going to be. I thought, "maybe it's next week, someone probably would have mentioned it"

Now that I think about it, I vaguely remember seeing the date Feb 24 on the sheet I looked at, but didn't write the date down. Probably should have.

Still made it to the party, and prayed for those kids! Food was all "pass"/"win" themed. They even gave out five sided chopsticks to us, "five sides" and "pass" sound the same, gokaku. It was neat to see all the themed dishes, but remember I had already eaten what I thought was dinner!


as a bonus anecdote, my place in Japan just got smoke alarms put in today...Akita, catching up with the rest of modern Japan for the last 200 years.

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