Only in Japan 3

Well, this weekend, starting on Sunday, I and six of my co-workers will be participating in an English camp for a couple dozen of the area’s junior high school students. That means this week’s post will be short – another segment of the “Only in Japan” series. But boy, have I got a post for you!

This weekend’s topic is about everybody’s favorite subject…bugs!

If you’re a Japanese child, that is.

Apparently, collecting bugs is a thing here. In the summer, my first and second graders occasionally come in with plastic cases containing various living creatures that they’ve collected. Last year, it was crickets, which made for a somewhat disruptive class when some of them started chirping. This year, one of my students had a lizard.

And the beetles. Always the beetles.

I suppose in other parts of the United States, they probably have giant bugs, but in the cold-winter climate where I come from, our bugs and living creatures stay a reasonable size. Here, though, some of the spiders and beetles are much bigger than what I’m used to, and some of these large creatures are what the students like to tote around in their carrying cases.

Take a few weeks ago, for instance. Before classes had started, I heard some shrieking coming from one of my classrooms. I went in to investigate, and saw that several of my second-grade boys had taken their beetles out of their carrying cases. One of the boys, who was either afraid of the beetles or was pretending to be, was a few feet away, ducking behind a desk and making loud noises. I started a conversation with the boys, reminding them to use quiet voices, and trying to show interest in their bug escapade. One of my boys said something to me, and I looked down to see that he had placed one of the beetles on my sleeve! Luckily, I’m not terrified of bugs, but it did startle me to have one perched on my arm!

I thought those beetles (probably stag or rhinoceros beetles) were big – until I saw the ones my students brought in the week after. I think they were the same kind, but they were like the granddaddy version! Fortunately, I thought to grab my phone so I could take a few pictures!

Here’s a pair of beetles peering out the sides of their plastic bug case:

Below, one of my second grade girls holding a bug. I trimmed the photo to protect her privacy, but you can still see her slightly-weirded-out smile!

And, in case you want to learn about raising your own pet beetle, here’s a link for your reading pleasure: “How to Care for Your Beetle”. (Note to those with weak stomachs; there are a couple pictures of “baby beetles,” which are, yes, grubs.)

Well, that’s all for this week’s “Only in Japan.” If today’s topic grossed you out and you want to read about something different – or if you liked it and want more posts about strange and disgusting topics – leave me a comment with your thoughts and suggestions below! 🙂

Caves, Stars, and Pizza – Part 2

Summer is here in Japan, which means humid weather, street festivals, summer vacation, and – homework. Wait, what?

Friday was the last day of school for my elementary and kindergarten students. (Unfortunately, the after-school English program at which I work continues for a couple more weeks!) The students were, as to be expected, a little wound up at the prospect of having time off and doing special things with their families. However, I noticed several of them equipped with cases which apparently contain their summer homework. One sixth grader told me that he was “happy and sad.” Happy, because summer break was here, but sad because he had so much homework! Apparently, the strong work ethic starts early here…

Anyway, on to the continuation of my previous post. Last week, I wrote about our cave adventure, but I didn’t get to the last part of the day. Of course, the caves was the most exciting part, but we also got to see some stars and planets and have dinner at a surprisingly unique pizza place.

First, the stars. I’ve always had a fascination with the night sky; I took basic astronomy at my university and got to visit their observatory and planetarium. This was pretty much the same experience, minus the planetarium. We spent an hour and a half or so on the roof of the observatory, looking through various telescopes and listening to a guide as he pointed out different stars with his super-strong laser pointer. It was interesting, but nothing I hadn’t done before. However, I can say that I’ve never heard the planets’ names in Japanese before!

This was the biggest telescope:

We were able to see about four different planets; if I remember right, they were Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. Some of them were bright enough to see with the naked eye. I learned that Venus is called the “gold” planet in Japanese. Jupiter is the wood planet, Mars is the fire planet, and Saturn is the dirt planet, according to my trusty electronic dictionary. Not sure why they’re named after these things, though!

The observatory from afar:

Sandwiched in between the cave exploration and the star viewing was dinner. I’d been excited when our guides had told us that we were going to eat at a pizza place, but when we drove up to it, I was rather confused.

This is it?

It turns out, it was. Apparently it’s a former barn that has been converted into a pizza shop. It was small inside, with our group of thirteen maxing out the capacity. A wood fire, with which the pizzas were baked, was burning brightly, which made for a great ambiance but a rather toasty room.

We ordered a variety of different pizzas, most of which I’d never had before. First up was a margarita-style, but after that we delved into more unknown territory. Burdock? Check. Shiitake mushroom? Check. Nattou and kimchi? Why, of course.

We were also served some side dishes as appetizers – potato salad (which has a more mashed consistency here) and fried/glazed soybeans. About halfway through the meal, out came a delightful-looking bowl of jelly. Knowing that jelly is a popular dessert item here, I was pleased that we were being served something so cool and refreshing on such a hot day – until I heard the warning, “It’s not sweet!”

My friends, who agreed to be the subjects of my video, let me record their jelly-tasting adventure:

Trying the nattou and kimchi pizza was also an adventure for us Americans, who have a “difficult” time with nattou (that’s fermented beans). I’ve decided, after several tries, that I really don’t like it that well; it has a rather nasty smell, and a bit of a slimy texture. However, on the pizza, masked by the strong kimchi flavor, it was edible.

We finished off our meal with a couple of dessert pizzas. Some of the group ordered a honey pizza, while our table ordered sweet potato and anko (sweetened red bean paste). Even though it seemed like an unlikely combination, it turned out to be my favorite!

Between the caves, the stars, and the pizza adventure, it turned out to be an experience-filled day, and we were all tired when we got driven back to our apartments at about 9:30. I’m so grateful that I had the chance to visit these places, and explore more of the attractions in our area, especially since the caves was something I had been looking forward to for quite awhile! I can now cross that off my bucket list, and start planning for my next adventure – visiting my family in the wilds of Maine! See you soon, fam!

Only in Japan 2

Hello everyone!

It’s been a busy week! Last weekend was full, with the local elementary school’s annual Sports Day during the day on Sunday, and a get-together with my teammate’s adult English class in the evening. Three of my coworkers and I attended the Sports Day to cheer on the students, many of whom come to our after-school program. More on that in a later post! For today’s post, I present you with…

…only in Japan, part 2!

As I explained a couple of weeks ago, I’ll be sharing little tidbits of Japanese culture here and there between my lengthier posts. Today’s “Only in  Japan” snapshot is a photo that I took quite awhile ago at my local grocery store, and have not yet had the opportunity to share it.

Until now!

Octopus samples, anyone?

At least that’s what I think it is! When I looked at the picture again before posting it, I started second-guessing myself, not being enough of an octopus expert to readily identify it unless I can see its rather alarming-looking suction cups. If any of my readers are more knowledgeable than I, feel free to correct me!

And no… I didn’t try one! Although I have eaten octopus in the occasional takoyaki ball (see my past Thanksgiving post if you want to see what takoyaki is and how it’s made!), I can’t say that I’m a huge fan. As far as I can tell from my limited tasting experiences with it, it’s basically just a chewy, rubber-like thing to – well, chew.

There are more appetizing food samples here, though. There will often be a sample case of bite-sized pieces of fruit in the produce section, and just today, I tried a cheesecake sample from the dairy section. On the weekends, there are often store employees manning sample booths, cooking up samples just as they do in America. Last week I was accosted by an employee who was very passionate about distributing her samples of milk, so I took the milk she thrust at me, chugged it down, and tried not to get in her line of fire again. Although I do like milk, I find the taste to be a bit different here in Japan, so I usually disguise it with hot cocoa mix or something of the sort. Which of course I couldn’t do in the middle of the grocery store.

Well, it’s evening here and time to say goodbye to another Saturday. The weekends have been full lately, but hopefully sometime in the near future I’ll have time to post about Sports Day #2 (number two for me that is, since it’s my second year here!). Stay tuned for more upcoming posts about cultural experiences and travels, and of course the exclusive photos and videos you get in the “Only in Japan” series! Thanks for reading!


Only in Japan!

So as summer begins and things get busier around here, I’m starting a new blog post series called “Only in Japan.” My plan for this series, in comparison to my usual lengthy posts about travel or some cultural aspect of Japan, is to post a short snippet or photo/video about a random thing I’ve noticed here in Japan. My purpose for this is twofold: it will give me a chance to post things that otherwise wouldn’t fit in one of my normal blog post topics, and it will allow me to post something short even on the weeks that I’m pressed for time or need a break from writing an ordinary blog post. So with that introduction out of the way, please enjoy the first installment of “Only in Japan!”

Only in Japan: Colonel Sanders dressed up as a samurai!