I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


February 3rd,

The last day of spring, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, and what is more natural than throwing out last season's garbage. So all over Japan people gather at neighborhood temples. "Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi ({鬼は外、福は内} Out with the demons, In with fortune)," people chant and chase their devil-masked family members, friends, and monks––anyone up for a good pelting––with good luck beans. The Chinese, and now Japanese as well, have long believed that evil creatures haunt the cusps between different seasons ("Setsu" = season + "bun" = division), and in order to cleanse their homes for the upcoming year they participate in "Mamemaki" (roasted soybean-throwing). They even eat the beans afterward for good health and luck (although I don't see how throwing food on the ground and then eating it is supposed to purify the body, it seems to work in spirit). If you are up for stench, you can also decorate your home with sardines, a smell even demons despise. And don't forget the holly bough––if the smell and the bean smattering hasn't driven those spirits back to hell yet, there's also some old-fashioned poison to do the trick.

Despite the comical tone, the Setsubun experience was quite amazing. Later in the same day that Katie, Winston, and I went to Iga-Ueno, we took a train to Nara where a special event was taking place. Once in Nara we took a long stroll up above the city to a shrine called Kasuga Taisha (春日大社). The path was lined with around 3000 paper and stone lanterns. A low golden moon hung just over the top of the mountain, peaking through the trees as we walked uphill to the shrines, and casting shadows ahead of us as we descended back down. I tried to takes pictures of our experience, but given the lighting it was a bit difficult. Maybe I can draw of picture of it and add it to my Nara picture collection. The place is so inspiring! The parks and temples are endless, the deer are abundant (hence, why I am learning archery), and there is one of the world's largest Buddhas at Todaiji (東大寺). If you ever go to Japan, Nara. For a nature, history, culture lover, you could spend years in Nara and learn something new every hour of being there. Tokyo is a meth lab with enough toxic fumes and chemicals to melt your retinas and leave your tongue bleeding. Nara is a smooth palm and a glass of water.

February 4th,

We celebrated Setsubun in a modern setting today. The Kusatsu International Friendship Association (KIFA = 国際交流協会) invited Katie, Winston, and I to join them and play a few songs at their spring welcoming party. I'm not much a party-goer, but I really enjoyed getting together with many people I knew through KIFA and Kusats, and meeting new people. Plus my Japanese teacher, Fujiwara Sensei, came and took many pictures! Thank you! Without her I would not be able to share these photos from the event. Not to mention speak Japanese, that's pretty helpful too.

This is Winston, Katie, and I doing "mochi-tsuki", or mochi making. Mochi is sticky rice used to make semi-sweet cakes, and they are really big here in Japan, especially in Shiga. (If you want a better explanation ask Katie or Winston; they love mochi. Unfortunately I don't care for the taste, it's a little too doughy, and the sweet-bean fillings aren't exactly what I look for in a dessert.) If you've never seen "mochi-tsuki" before, you can watch some awesome videos on You Tube taken in !NARA! of some pros at work. You have to pound rice with the giant mallets we're holding in the pictures, and the realy guys are fast! Search for "mochi-tsuki" in Nara (or Japan).

Fujiwara Sensei! She lives in a nearby city, Yasu, and I visit her once a week with a lot of questions. She always tries to help me, and has been invaluable to helping me feel more comfortable speaking Japanese with other people. THANK YOU!


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