December 31, 2016: Happy New Year['s Eve], and Post-Christmas Update with Photos of Christmas and Other Festivities, Pokémon Go, Walking Around Outside, and the U.S. Embassy

This is my first major update since November, and my last one of the year (I'm going to define "major update" here as 10+ pictures and 1,000+ words). It spans a time from late November until 12/31.

Despite this year's reputation as "the worst year," I did relatively well this year. I received my notification that I passed the JLPT N2, completed and graduated with my BS in Computer & Information Science degree from UMUC (with a 4.0 GPA), completed my contract with Windmill English Centre successfully, moved to Tokyo, and got a job as a System Engineer. Not that this is really an accomplishment, but I also entered my 30s. There were some significant setbacks this year, some of which I'm still sorting out, but this year was far from "the worst year" for me, personally. To be honest, one of the main reasons people call it "the worst year" bothers me considerably less than it does lots of other people—as far as I'm concerned, it could have been an "even worse year" if it'd turned out the other way.

In other news, yesterday, I finished reading 1984, a book I'd never read before, but one that people are constantly making references to—at first, I loved it—many of the author's predictions basically came true in North Korea, and, to a lesser extent, China, after he wrote the book, and his analysis of the apathy of the proles and the blind obedience of most of the Outer Party despite heaps of evidence that Big Brother was wrong was spot-on. However, the ending really, really disappointed me. That is, until I read the Appendix, which appears to be a very boring treatise on Newspeak written by someone with a decent knowledge of linguistics. Then I realized what the true ending of the story was, and was slightly less disappointed. I guess forcing the reader to wade through a boring linguistics treatise to get to the real ending of the story was George Orwell's way of punishing unintellectual readers and rewarding intellectual ones, readers who are similar in personality to Winston Smith, the main character who finds himself in trouble with The Party. I'm proud to say I figured out all of this/thought of all this without Googling it (though Googling it confirmed that a secret ending is possibly contained in the Appendix—though people debate this to this day).


Christmas, Other Festivities, and Pokémon Go

Christmas Pikachu Weekly Special: Mutton Curry with Cheese Coconut Naan Bread
Sometime earlier in December, in Pokémon Go, I noticed that the in-app Pokémon tracker was showing a Christmas Pikachu, or a Pikachu with a Santa hat. I asked one of my students, a man who plays Pokémon Go, about it, and he said he had caught one in Noga Park. Until Christmas Eve, I still hadn't caught one, and was considering going to Noga Park or at least somewhere else with reported Christmas Pikachu sightings, because, well, who's to say Christmas Pikachu will be available next holiday season, and not, for example, Christmas Bulbasaur? Fortunately, as I sat in Itō Yokado on Christmas Eve, I caught one. My first Pokéball failed to catch it, but when I was down to my last ball (a Master Ball, no less), I was able to catch one. :-) (click to zoom)

On Christmas, I had Indian food. For some reason, the guys at the Indian restaurant (who I believe are actually Nepalese) call me "Big Boss" and always give me a free cola whenever I go there. I'm really not sure why they seem to like me so much, but thanks! I had mutton curry, the week's special, with cheese coconut naan bread.

Takoyaki
This is actually from a while ago, not Christmas, but it's "festivities-related," so I'm uploading it. These are octopus balls, Osaka-style. I helped turn them as they cooked; the woman whose octopus ball set it was noticed that I was pretty good at turning them (some of the other people at the table kept mangling them). Is this my new vocation?

Pokémon Go: 100 Pokémon Caught Pokémon Go: Level 23
In the left picture, I'm getting a gold medal for finally having caught 100 Pokémon. Just 51 more to go! Though I'm really not sure how I'm going to get some of the rare ones, such as Mew. (click to zoom) I'm now Level 23. (click to zoom)

On Christmas, I ended up teaching six lessons through Live English! Whew, 4½+ hours of teaching not counting prep, (electronic) paperwork, and other administrative stuff, of which there was also plenty! Christmas was a full workday! At least I made some money.


Kamakura with Joshua and Angeline

I went to middle school with Joshua from 1998-2001 (we both went all the way through HKIS, or Hong Kong International [Middle] School). In fact, we were in the same Wow Macau group in October and November of 1998 and were both writing about East Asia (specifically, Macau, which we reached by hydrofoil) over 18 years ago. Joshua is now a programmer at an advertising company. He has visited Japan with Angeline at least three times now, which is also how many times we've hung out together in this country (see previous posts). Angeline works in New York City, in the government, especially with statistics related to mental health. It was great to see them again. We hiked the dark yellow trail (the "Daibutsu Hiking Trail") from Japan Guide, and ended up at the Great Buddha....

Me Holding the Daibutsu in the Palm of My Hand
...which wasn't so "Great," as I was able to hold it in the palm of my hand. How I've grown!

The Wise Man
Going back in time to a few hours earlier, I noticed this ad campaign on the train. It's for ramen by a company called "The Wise Man's Dining Table." As a white guy, I find it funny and uplifting that they used a white guy as the "wise man." I guess he's supposed to be an ancient Greek philosopher or something. Honestly, I don't feel like people think I'm wise after all the asinine comments/questions I get, such as praising my chopstick ability, my ability to speak intermediate Japanese after 5½ years here, or my all-time favorite, when a former (Japanese) English Department head praised my ability to play Pokémon after a simple comment "Oh, Pokémon, I remember that game, I used to play that when I was a kid." I constantly get English schools telling the kids "Teacher Charles can't speak any Japanese" (of course the people saying this are lying and know I actually can, but that the kids actually believe it just goes to show how low the opinion is of white people's ability to learn Japanese and understand Japanese culture). Add to this the U.S.'s low rankings on international tests, and I often feel like like the stereotype of people like me isn't particularly "wise." After such things that make me feel like I'm being perceived as an idiot, it's nice to know that, at least according to the "Wise Man's Dining Table" company, a white guy can still be their poster boy, err, man for "wisdom." I'm not saying this in a tongue-in-cheek way. If I'm still here when I'm 70, maybe I should grow a beard and wear a toga everywhere, the same way that aristocratic Japanese women do their hair and wear kimono around town. I'm not joking, if I'm still here at that point, I might actually do the beard and toga thing. (click to zoom)

Camellia
This pink and yellow flower is called a "camellia." It is somewhat common in Japan.

The View from the Dark Yellow Trail
The View from the Dark Yellow Trail

Lunch: Nanban Chicken
Joshua, Angeline, and I sat down and had lunch at a restaurant. I ordered nanban chicken (literally: Southern barbarian chicken). Why is it called "Southern barbarian" chicken? Well, the answer is that Europeans introduced it. Wait a second, Europeans are "Southern barbarians?" Huh? Well, in the primitive geographical understanding of 1500s Japanese, Europeans came from the South (through the Strait of Malacca between modern-day Singapore/Malaysia and Indonesia, for example).

Me, Angeline, and Joshua in Front of the Daibutsu
Photograph of Joshua, Angeline, and I in Front of the Daibutsu (click to zoom)


Walking Around Outside

Black Rower

En route to work, I encountered this graffiti gem—"Black Rower." I took this picture and when "grafitti" came up as a vocabulary word in one of my English classes, I showed them this picture, explaining that some delinquent teenager had probably copied it from a hip hop video, but due to not having paid attention sufficiently in junior high school English class, had written "Rower" instead of "Power." I drew a picture of a man sitting in a rowboat on the whiteboard and told them "This is a rower."

Crows
Here we have a pair of crows with very little fear of humans. I think they're romantically involved because one of them was sharing food with the other. (click to zoom)

Spider Egg Case
Japanese Gold Orb-Web Spider with Big Egg Sac (taken in Akishima) (click to zoom)

Caterpillar
Caterpillar (taken in Akishima) (click to zoom)


U.S. Embassy Trip and Funny Signs

I went to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on December 15, then again on December 29, to apply for my passport renewal, and then to pick up my new passport. This went fairly smoothly; I had all the necessary documents, and I got it precisely two weeks later by visiting them again (I don't trust the mail with one of my most important documents). The bad news: I'm no longer 007. Yes, my old passport had the middle three digits as "007," a random occurrence which will probably never happen for me again. The good news: I'm good for another ten years of international travel.

Me in Front of the U.S. Embassy
Me in Front of the U.S. Embassy
Why was the flag at half-mast? A Google search revealed that this was because of the death of John Glenn, first American in space. The flags flew at half mast from the time of the announcement of his death until he was buried.

Toranomon
Toranomon Near the U.S. Embassy

Shōgayaki
Shōgayaki I Had with Someone Special at a Restaurant on the Day I Applied for My Renewal

Pokémon Go U.S. Embassy
The U.S. Embassy Pokéstop on Pokémon Go on the Day I Went to Pick Up the New Passport

U.S. Embassy Meal 2
Lunch on the Day I Went to Pick Up My Passport, Again with Someone Special

Coffee Embassy
Very near the U.S. Embassy, there are several businesses. One of them calls itself "Koohii Taishikan"—The Coffee Embassy. The translation of the text above "The Coffee Embassy" is "We are the specialty coffee shop that sells you spirit."

JSDF
Translation of this sign back in Akishima:
Recruiting for the Japanese Self Defense Force
Tokyo Region Cooperative Headquarters, Tachikawa Branch Office
Tachikawa-shi, Midori-chō, 4-2, Tachikawa Regional Combination Government Office Building, 2nd Floor
TEL 042-524-0538
Army · Navy · Air Force

Wait a second—DO YOU WANT TO BE DEFENDED BY A MILITARY THAT WAS SWAYED TO JOIN BY THREE CUTESY BIRDS DRESSED IN UNIFORMS?! Who are they trying to recruit?! 10-year-old girls?!

Human Eye-sama
Here, we have another odd sign, a label for a parking space. In katakana, it says: "hyuuman'ai" followed by "-sama" in hiragana. Huh? Mr. Human Eye? I'm not joking, I think this really says "Mr. Human Eye." An optometrist, perhaps?


December 19, 2016: My Best Civilization Game Ever, Score: 583 on Emperor, 7 Civilizations Mode

I love to play Civ. I've already beaten it before, including on the highest difficulty level, so the game is basically a waste of time, but at least while I'm doing it, I'm not engaging in other more harmful bad habits, and I spend very little money, so it's all good. People who know me well know that I like to write about especially epic Civ games as if they were real history. I just had an epic Civ game.

I just finished my best game of Civilization (original) ever, in a game stretching from Saturday night (12/17) to the early hours of Monday (12/19). I beat it on Emperor and 7 Civilizations mode, with a score of 583. I played as "Charles of the Redheads."

The game started me off on (as I eventually found out through exploration) the second largest continent, in the middle of the world. I was dejected when the Russians (on the larger continent to the west) built the Colossus first, and thought about resetting the game (this was my sixth try in a row trying to get an Emperor game off the ground—the first couple thousand years are critical, things are much more stable after that). Even without the Colossus, I proceeded, setting up several cities. I thought "Well, I may not have the Colossus, but maybe I can still win because I've been pretty good at spreading out and building a large civilization early on."

One of my many settler units entered a hut and found—EIGHT BARBARIAN CAVALRY UNITS. These guys were no joke. I mustered pretty much every phalanx I could to the front lines using my network of roads between the cities to get them there in time. The barbarians took out two or three of my cities, and my civilization really lost steam, but after pouring tons of phalanxes, militia, etc. onto the front lines, I finally defeated the last barbarian cavalry unit.

Not long after defeating the eight barbarian cavalry units, I made contact with the English to the northeast on my home continent. I still had all the units I had produced, and was able to overwhelm them and bribe their cities or conquer them militarily, because they had been weakened by the Japanese, who were in the north of the continent. Finally, I got to the Japanese, having absorbed the English cities into my empire, and managed to overcome the Japanese, as well. The continent was now all mine!

I knew at that point that I had a very good chance of winning the game, because in Civilization, it is quite hard for one civilization to launch an amphibious invasion of another one unless the former has significantly higher technology than the latter. The Mongols (on the northeastern continent) did not appear to have anything superior to my own military hardware. The Russians (on the largest continent, to the west) seemed to have a slight technological edge, but it was not night and day, and I knew that now that I was alone on my continent, able to spread out to every corner of it, I could focus on science and establish technological superiority to the Russians.

At first, the Russians repeatedly invaded my southwestern region and I had to fight very, very hard with many, many units, especially catapults and later, cannons, to keep them at bay. Eventually, I developed veteran ironclad units that patrolled around the continent, destroying enemy transports before they could land. I did the same thing in the northeast of my continent to fend off the Mongols, who, despite their backwards technology, managed to capture more than one of my cities.

Eventually, by the 20th century, I had a fleet of battleships and ironclads patrolling and had totally secured my own continent and was now showing up in the game's occasional rankings as the happiest, the largest, and the most powerful civilization. I built the SETI program in Akishima (my capital was originally in Den Haag, but I built a palace in Akishima and moved the capital there) and made technological discoveries every few turns. My capital had a number of "20" by the end of the game.

There was no space race—it was just me. The other civilizations were too far behind, and could not catch up without invading my cities and stealing technology (which I did not allow them to do—my battleships, veteran ironclads, and cannons on a network of railroads joining every city with every other, meaning instant transportation from any city to any other, ensured that).

I built the biggest spaceship I've ever built. It had six modules instead of three like every single previous game, and three fuel and three propulsion units instead of one each like I normally do, or two each in exceptional circumstances. The probability of success was 100% and it reached Alpha Centauri in 12 years (the voyage lasted from 1981-1993). In spite of this, however, it claimed in the score that it only had 10,000 inhabitants and only gave me 50 points for the spaceship, which seemed a little bit odd.

While the spaceship was on its voyage, I made a Blitzkrieg on the Mongols' home continent; I flew bombing runs using several bombers and devastated their largest city, then landed armor and cannon units and took it over, with battleships and ironclads for support. This war lasted from the mid '80s until 1991. It turned out the Mongols only had four cities—how they managed to cause me such a headache for much of the game when they only had four cities and a low level of technology is truly a mystery.

I purposely held off on building the Manhattan Project (to increase my score) until 1992 (the year before the estimated time of arrival on Alpha Centauri), because I didn't want a desperate civilization (for example, the Mongols in their death throes as I took their capital, or the Russians) to launch a nuclear strike, which would kill people and cause pollution, significantly lowering my civilization score. However, just in case another civilization built the Manhattan Project first, I built an SDI defense in Akishima.

In 1993, I completed work on the Manhattan Project. Starting in 1992, I had set luxuries to 100% and taxes and science to 0%, so my citizens were extremely happy and held "We Love the President" days in cities all over the empire. At the end of 1993, the R.S.S. Charles reached Alpha Centauri and colonized it, ending the game.

November 24, 2016: I'm Dreaming of a White...Thanksgiving?!

Today in Tokyo, it snowed in November for the first time in 54 years. I figured "This might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to photograph kōyō (autumn leaves) and snow side-by-side, in Tokyo," so on lunch break, I went and took lots of pictures.

Snow in November in Tokyo Image 1
View from the 4th Floor of My Share House in the Morning

Snow in November in Tokyo Image 2
The Trains Were Running Late and Were Packed Like Sardines

Snow in November in Tokyo Image 3
A Note from JR Stating That My Train Had Run 30 Minutes Late (my boss accepted this note, fortunately)

Snow in November in Tokyo Image 4
View from the Left Side of i-hearts

Snow in November in Tokyo Image 5
View from the Right Side of i-hearts

Snow in November in Tokyo Image 6
Snow-Covered Shintō Shrine Main Building in Kichijōji

Snow in November in Tokyo Image 7
Small Snow-Covered Building and Torii in Kichijōji

Snow in November in Tokyo Image 8
Snow-Covered Temple

Snow in November in Tokyo Image 9
The Same Temple Complex, Covered in Snow, with Kōyō

Snow in November in Tokyo Image 10
Snowy Urban Graveyard in Kichijōji

November 23, 2016: My First Post in My 30s

Mt. Fuji
The View of Mt. Fuji from My Share House

This is my first website post in my 30s. I've been super busy since the end of September because of job interviews, and now, my new job. I work at i-hearts Corporation in Kichijōji, Tokyo as a system engineer, now. Right now, most of my job consists of learning PHP, PHP's object orientation, and CakePHP (though I've also had to learn some other technologies such as JSON, jQuery, and MongoDB). Next year, I'll transition to teaching programming to kids—without getting into too many specifics of our curriculum, we'll use things like visual programming languages on tablets, robots, adult-level programming languages, etc. to give the kids a good IT head start in life.

I'm uploading 16 images today, not counting thumbnails. Not all of these were taken today.

Dewy Spider Web
A Dewy Spider Web (click to zoom)

Grasshopper Exoskeleton and Potato Bug
Grasshopper Exoskeleton and Potato Bug

Red Larva
Red Larva on a Log

Yokota Air Base 1
I reached Yokota Air Base. Everything from this picture onward, until otherwise noted, is from near the military base, not the park.

Ladybug
Ladybug, Ladybug

Yokota Air Base Sights
Yokota Air Base's Perimeter Sights for Sightseeing and Otherwise (click to zoom)

Yokota Air Base 2
Yokota Air Base Gate 2 with One of Those C-5s That Flies Over My Room Sometimes

Blue Screen of Death
At Work, My Computer Keeps Giving Me the Blue Screen of Death, and That's the Top of Mr. Akiyama's Head

Toothpick Case
Some Anonymous Person Gave Everyone at Work Nice Toothpick Cases, Not Sure Why

Giant Fungus
Giant Fungus from the Park (taken today)—About a Foot Long

On Sunday, I took a walk. I walked in the park, then I ended up near Yokota Air Base.

During my walk to the perimeter of Yokota Air Base, I spotted some pokeweed. I'd just been talking with Evan about pokeweed at work (Evan is from Georgia)—he eats the stuff. Pokeweed is endemic to North America (especially the South—Virginia, Georgia, etc.) and is an introduced species to Japan (probably by accident, maybe in the treads of someone's shoes). It grows all over the place, here, especially along roads. I made ink and wrote a blog post in that ink with pokeberries back when I lived in Utsunomiya, a couple of years ago. Pokeweed is a poisonous plant. The berries can be used to make ink (it is said that the Declaration of Independence's and the Constitution's drafts were written in pokeberry ink). Civil War soldiers also wrote letters home in its ink. The berries can also be taken for arthritis—an ancient Indian remedy—the poison is apparently not so great in a single berry as to significantly endanger the person taking it.

Another use for pokweed is to eat it! Yes, this highly toxic plant, which can kill someone (usually not healthy adults, usually children who eat its berries, or elderly people with heart problems). However, boiling destroys the toxins (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME—I WAIVE ALL LIABILITY FOR THE STUPID THINGS YOU CHOOSE TO DO—RESEARCH THIS ELSEWHERE BEFORE TRYING IT).

I picked 25 grams of pokeweed and brought it home. I watched/read some tutorials on YouTube and Google about how to cook it safely. Basically it seems like as long as it is green and there is not too much purple (typically in the spring, but my specimen was still green in fall), it is safe to eat as long as it is boiled. I boiled some (several times, pouring off the water each time) and it was delicious, just like spinach!

Today (a national holiday, Labor Thanksgiving Day), I went on a walk for over an hour with the specific goal of getting some pokeberries (so I could plant them in vacant lots/near fences/etc. and harvest them in the spring—kind of a stealthy form of farming so I can get delicious veggies all spring, summer, and fall). I got the jar, below, of pokeberries from near the Indian/Nepalese restaurant.

Pokeberries
Pokeberries

What I ended up cooking was the following, my own original recipe, pokeweed with tofu on barley with kudzu root:
Meishoku
It was delicious, if I do say so myself! It's 772 kilocalories, and costs less than $1 or ¥1,000 to make! Here, here's the recipe:

  • 50 grams of pokeweed (you'll probably have to forage because it's not FDA-approved)—but it grows all over the place in North America and Japan, so your chances of finding it are good if you look in disturbed areas such as vacant lots, along roads, along fences, etc.
  • 100 grams of firm tofu
  • 320 grams of barley, cooked in a rice cooker the same way you would cook rice, with
  • 30 or so little pieces of kudzu root mixed (which I got from the Chinese pharmacist—it has been shown in double-blind trials to reduce alcohol cravings and based on my personal experience, that's true)
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • A dash of salt
  • A dash of pepper
  1. Put enough dry barley to make 320 grams of cooked barley into the rice cooker, with about an inch of water above it; mix in 30 pieces of kudzu root (these will get soft and edible, and are good for reducing alcohol cravings).
  2. Wash the pokeweed, then boil it four times, each time for five minutes, and pour off the water each time; use a colander for this step.
  3. Put 1 tablespoon of oil in a pot or pan and put the drained pokeweed on top of it. Fry on one side for a minute, then flip it and fry it on the other side for a minute. Remove it from the pan and put it on the barley.
  4. Put 1 tablespoon of oil in a pot or pan and seven or so pieces of tofu on top of it; cook on one side for one minute, then on the other side for one minute, then add 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and cook it for about another 3 minutes. The pieces of tofu should be brown, like in the picture.
  5. Put a dash of salt and a dash of pepper on the poke sallet you just created; put the tofu on the other side, and dribble the soy sauce all over the barley. Bon apetit!

Fresh Pokeweed
Fresh Pokeweed

Boiling Pokeweed
Boiling Pokeweed

Poke Sallet
Poke Sallet

September 21, 2016: Just 50 Full Days Left to Find a Job Before They Kick Me Out of Japan, JavaScript Review, etc.

First of all, I have been reviewing JavaScript for an interview I have on Friday morning. Here is one of the many diverse small programs I have written to review my JavaScript (but hopefully I will have something more impressive to show them by the interview):

Japanese Dice Versus the Computer
Japanese Dice Versus the Computer—at some point, I need to soup up this website with more JavaScript. I have a few scripts for page redirects, countdowns, etc. but I'm capable of more sophisticated stuff, honestly, and my website should show it!

I finished my contract on 8/13 (remember, I had been juggling both full-time work, part-time university, and Japanese classes at the Aizu-Wakamatsu International Association) and spent the following month totally burnt out. I've applied to only ten jobs to date and gotten only three interview offers! However, I will point out that I've developed lots of "infrastructure" (updated long English résumés tailored to each sector, a short English résumé, a full GaijinPot profile, a partial LinkedIn profile, Japanese résumés which I've had proofread by Hello Work [rirekisho and shokumukeirekisho], etc.) and this takes lots of time, but now it's time to start actually applying to more jobs, seeing as how I now have plenty of "infrastructure." Here's my plan for the next 50 days:

  • Start being active on this stuff (and a little bit of studying) eight hours a day, not just five which was my previous target.
  • That eight hours should be divided as follows: 6.5 hours of job hunting or job hunting-related study (such as the JavaScript above), one hour of a misc. task per day, half an hour of Anki per day, and one hour of Japanese passive listening comprehension practice that isn't included in the eight-hour total.
  • 9/21-9/29: Apply the hell out of IT/computer jobs and English teaching jobs that don't interfere with a day job. Try to apply to 50 of them total.
  • 9/30-11/11 (my last day I can be here before the immigration office takes steps to revoke my visa): Apply like hell to any kind of job, including low-level, full-time eikaiwa jobs.

I have plenty of time resources, but they are decreasing. I should be using my resources well, thinking positively instead of wasting my time and getting depressed. I just watched The Martian last night, which was an awesome movie about a guy stranded on Mars who has to survive—grow his own food (in his and his crewmates' feces), create a communications system with Earth, etc. If he can manage things efficiently and do well on Mars, I ought to be able to manage things efficiently and do well on Planet Japan, which is considerably more hospitable than Mars.

September 1, 2016: I Just Got Back from Enoshima Beach

First of all, yesterday, I got a message from University of Maryland University College that my transcript has been updated with my degree "Conferred." And on August 30, I found out that I had succeeded in getting a once-a-week evening English teaching gig, which might help me keep my visa. I accepted this gig yesterday. I celebrated by going to Enoshima Beach. It was so good, I went back today. Today is the start of a new era—may I work harder from September 1 onward! This will be a very short post, just with lots of images (14 total).

Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey
Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey (photo taken from my room in Haijima)

Two different rays washed up on the beach:
Stingray 1

Stringray 2

Enoshima Beach
Enoshima Beach with Enoshima Itself in the Distance with a Lighthouse on It

Red Lobster 1
They have Red Lobster there. I splurged on a small ¥1,080 meal (over $10): cod fish and chips and some French bread.

Red Lobster 2

Red Lobster 3

Red Lobster 4

Enoshima Beach Sunset with Mt. Fuji
Sunset with Mt. Fuji Visible Just to the Left of the Sunset

Drunk Man Passed Out Outside Katase-Enoshima Station
Drunk Man Passed Out Outside Katase-Enoshima Station at the End of the First Day I Spent at Enoshima

Magikarp on the Train
Magikarp on the Train on the Way Back to Enoshima the Next Day

Hermit Crab
Hermit Crab I Caught

Shrine on Enoshima Island
Shrine on Enoshima Island, Which Required Me to Cross a 680-Meter Bridge

Clam
A Clam I Caught

August 25, 2016: Now I'm Really Fully Moved into Tokyo: For Real, This Time—34 PHOTOS! 3,562 WORDS!

Me in Front of the Tachikawa Immigration Office
Me in Front of the Tachikawa Immigration Office Where I Reported My Change of Address and Employment Status Yesterday

I declare this is the start of a new era. As of this afternoon, I have completed several additional steps (that I had not really been thinking about when I wrote the previous post) that mean that now, I have pretty much nothing to do with Fukushima: on 8/22, I got my Tenshutsu Shōmeisho (Certificate of Moving Out) from Aizu-Wakamatsu City Hall. There was a typhoon so all the trains out of Aizu-Wakamatsu were canceled for the rest of the day, but I put up at Takizawa Minshuku that night and had a good time, and came back the following day. Then on 8/24, I rushed around, notifying Akishima City Hall of my move (which has to be done within two weeks—I was cutting it really close because I moved out of Fukushima and into Tokyo on 8/10), and then reported all this to the immigration office in Tachikawa, walking in the door less than a minute before they officially closed! This afternoon, I let the Japan Post [Office] (JP) know about my change in address (something I should have done a long time ago), so now, I think my move has really been finalized. I will post lots of photos from the past week or so. As I wrote previously, I declare this the start of a new era. Not only did I complete all the aforementioned steps, but today starts the 60-day countdown until I turn 30. I'll write more soon, so stay tuned.

And Here We Go: to Start, Military Aircraft of Yokota Air Base

From time to time, military aircraft fly over my room either to or from Yokota Air Base. Here are some photos.

Lockheed C-130 Hercules
This is a Lockheed C-130 Hercules (at least I believe it is). It's a turboprop airplane used in many different roles, can take off and land on unprepared runways, and has been flown since August 23, 1954, making this line of airplanes older than my dad. I tried to photograph it repeatedly using my iPhone, but it's so fast, by the time I find my iPhone, turn on my iPhone, swipe the screen, open the camera software, wait for the camera to focus, etc. the plane is already gone. Finally, I decided to actually put my webcam on my balcony facing the sky with the webcam software constantly on, and within minutes of setting it up that way, got this picture, which is a little bit fuzzy, but discernible.

Unknown Airplane
Unknown Airplane

After reviewing my iPhone photos, I realized some of them were more discernible than I had previously thought. Here are some of the best ones:

HH-53
Possibly an HH-53 (special thanks to Bryan Harris for this)

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
Possibly a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
NASA considered these massive jet transports for carrying the Space Shuttle from one place to another, but ultimately settled on the Boeing 747 instead.

Beechcraft C-12J Huron
Possibly a Beechcraft C-12J Huron
This is just a regular utility aircraft. However, in some cases, it can be modified for surveillance.

Tamagawa River Park

I've discovered an interesting park near Haijima Station. It runs along the Tamagawa River. As I walked along it, I played Pokémon Go, but also spotted lots of "real" Pokémon.

Magikarp
The Tamagawa River is a good place to play Pokémon because of all the Pokéstops and all the Magikarp Pokémon (see picture). Collecting 400 Magikarp Candies will enable a person to evolve a Gyarados from a Magikarp (in other words, one must catch 101 Magikarp total to get a Gyarados). This might just be Pokémon mythology, but it is based on real Japanese mythology; that the carp that swims up a waterfall becomes a dragon (and indeed, in Pokémon, Gyarados does resemble a dragon).

Angel Wing Fungus
Possibly Angel Wing Fungus

Orange Bracket Fungus
Possibly Orange Bracket Fungus

Trametes versicolor
Possibly Trametes versicolor Fungus

Ooh, what's this?
Ooh, what's this? It's about a foot long. Is it a shiny plant stem? A snake?

Ick! A land planarian!
Ick! A land planarian! As I wrote on my website previously (though it was several years ago so people have probably forgotten), these guys come out when it rains, especially near rivers, and feast on earthworms by latching onto them, injecting them with enzymes, and digesting them alive from the inside!

Kuwagata (Stag Beetle)
Kuwagata (Stag Beetle)

Pinsir
Just ten minutes after photographing a real kuwagata, I captured a Pinsir in Pokémon Go very nearby. How intelligent is this game?

Tamagawa Park
A Park at the End of the River

Seibu Heights Haijima Matsuri

An apartment building nearby, the Seibu Heights Haijima, held a matsuri (festival) on 8/20 and 8/21. It was a very small neighborhood festival, but managed to contain most of the essential elements of a matsuri, which is why I've decided to write it up here. I bought something from or participated in every booth that was open, so I thought I'd summarize it here.

Me, Two Random People, and Shōko
Obviously I'm the white guy, and the woman who appears to be about 2' shorter than me is Shōko, a librarian who also lives at Oak House. She's not actually that short in real life (she's 147 centimeters tall, or 30 centimeters shorter than I am). She must have been crouching in the photo. I don't remember who the other two people in the photo are.

Dancing
Dancing

Kuji
This is called "kuji." An elderly man at the matsuri commanded the women in charge of the kuji to let me play once for free. You turn the crank and a ball comes out with a number. Which number determines which prize. I got 5th prize, which was free garbage bags. I left the unopened package in the lounge of Oak House, and in the morning, discovered that a thief had opened the package and stolen the garbage bags.

Pond
A Pond Slightly Off the Matsuri Grounds

Beer and Sausage with Mustard
Traditional Japanese Matsuri Food and Drink

Balloon Superball Game in the Background
Here is the balloon I won. This is an interesting game that I've played at two different matsuri, so I'll write it up here. Basically, there's a kiddie pool filled with balloons, and each balloon has a rubber band attached to it. You try to hook as many balloons as possible on a long strip of paper with an attached metal hook. Of course, the strip of paper becomes wet, and when it does, it breaks, so getting more than one or two balloons is virtually impossible. I was unskilled, and therefore only got one.

What's inside the balloons? I shook my balloon and heard something rattling around inside, so I popped it with a skewer from a sausage and nicked myself in the process. Nothing—whatever I heard rattling around inside must have just been water. I guess the balloon itself is the prize.

In the background, there's a pool filled with superballs. This has a game that works on a very similar principle. Try to get as many superballs as possible using a paper net before the paper net breaks. The superballs are the prizes; they are not exchanged for anything.

Balloon Game
Child Playing the Balloon Game (Yo-Yo Tsuri)

Superballs
Suupaabooru Sukui, Probably a More Humane Version of Kingyo Sukui (which is played with live goldfish)

Old Man Playing Taiko Drum for the Dance
Old Man Playing the Taiko Drum for the Dance

Sōran Bushi
These children are dancing Sōran Bushi (a song I've heard before at the private school at which I taught during their Sports Festival, and also seen junior high school girls singing at a train station). The song is very action-packed, and the word bushi means "warrior" in Japanese, so it is easy to think that this song is about a brave warrior named Sōran—but it isn't.

Japanese, one of the most homophone-filled languages on the planet, fools us again, because bushi can also mean "tune." So what it really means is "The Tune of Sōran." What's "Sōran?" Well, it's actually something that's said to encourage rowers on a boat, along with "Dokkoisho!" which also appears in this song. This song is really about a fisherman off the coast of Hokkaido, not a warrior!

To listen, click the play button below. This is performed by a professional group, I believe, not children:

Anpanman
When not in use, the drummer's taiko drum is covered in an Anpanman-themed cloth cover. Who is Anpanman? Well, he's a superhero from an anime, popular with toddlers and three-year-olds, made from bread filled with anko (sweet red beans). He fights bad guys such as Baikinman. This is probably the most popular anime in Japan, but most of the outside world hasn't heard of it nearly as much as say, Evangelion or Naruto, because it's aimed at two- and three-year-olds.

Click the Flash player below to hear the theme song to Anpanman:

Kakigōri
This is kakigōri, a typical dessert served at matsuri. It's shaved ice, basically. This is strawberry kakigōri. The first time I heard it, I thought it meant "persimmon ice" because "kaki" means persimmon and "gōri" (from kōri) means ice. What did I just tell you about how Japanese has so many homophones? This is a different meaning of kaki—it does not mean persimmon, nor oyster (another meaning of kaki). Jisho.org has 11 different words that are pronounced kaki, and guess what? Kakigōri's kaki isn't one of them! It's actually the noun form/gerund for the verb "to scratch" (kaku), because kakigōri ice is "scratched" from a block of ice. It's literally "scratched ice." Add a 12th entry for kaki to Jisho.org dictionary's database, please.

Prices for things at the matsuri weren't that bad. Beer was ¥200 a can; a sausage on a stick with mustard was ¥100; the games cost ¥50 per play, and in one, I won a cool frying pan/egg eraser with three detachable parts: the frying pan, the yolk, and the egg white. It's about ¥100 to the dollar right now, so divide by 100 to get US dollar prices.

Return to Aizu: Last Errands in Aizu-Wakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture

I returned to Aizu-Wakamatsu on 8/22 to get a Certificate of Moving Out from City Hall. I took the train, sipping a 500 milliliter can of beer my girlfriend had bought for me as I went. I got kind of tipsy and started to levitate the can by creating suction between my hand and the can. This entertained the high school girl in uniform across the aisle from me, who giggled.

I went to City Hall in driving rain. Thankfully, I had my umbrella. While at City Hall, I saw on the TV in the waiting area that the same train line I had been riding on that morning, the Seibu Line near Haijima, had had a train get derailed! No one was injured or killed, however, so it's not as if I dodged that much of a bullet. I watched this on the TV as I sat across from an American girl who didn't look much older than her teens—probably a high school exchange student. I didn't talk with her much, though, besides commenting that that had been the same train line I'd been riding earlier in the day. Then I got called up, got my document, and got out of there.

Unfortunately, due to Typhoon Mindulle (from the Korean word mindeulle, meaning "dandelion"—Typhoon Dandelion), all the trains were canceled after 3:00 PM, stranding me in Aizu-Wakamatsu. Good thing I knew an inn at which to stay!

Room 10 This Year
This is Room 10 of Takizawa Minshuku (traditional Japanese-style inn)—¥3,500 a night (~$35). The price is right. It's the room I stayed in from 8/22 to 8/23, and also the same room I stayed in when I was first moving into Aizu-Wakamatsu in March/April of 2015 (staying at this minshuku has really been the alpha and the omega of me in Aizu—and if I ever visit, I'll probably stay there again). However, it has changed.

Room 10 Last Year
This is what it looked like last year. Same room, very different appearance, but with some similarities.

Receipt for Takizawa Minshuku
Receipt for Takizawa Minshuku

Machiko Murase's Business Card
Machiko Murase's Business Card
Machiko Murase, the elderly woman co-owner of Takizawa Minshuku, was very friendly and when I told her I was American, she told me at length about this American company, ACN (owned by Donald Trump, she made sure to mention), that provides for Takizawa Minshuku's telecommunications needs. She told me it works as a pyramid scheme in which referers earn a profit for recruiting new customers (and this pyramid structure goes up to seven levels deep). I jokingly suggested that maybe Takizawa Minshuku could use a similar pyramid scheme and asked how much I could get by referring customers to Takizawa Minshuku; she didn't realize I was joking and replied "We could probably give you something—let me discuss it with my husband." I was somewhat intrigued that my joke had become a business proposal.

I attempted to extricate myself from this friendly conversation to get some personal time by saying I needed to get walking to Daiso (the ¥100 shop) and HardOff (the thrift store), but friendly Mrs. Murase would not have it! She insisted her husband pick me up and drive me to those locations (while serving me green tea, of course).

Mr. Murase soon arrived, and before I could stop her, Mrs. Murase asked him about what commission I should be given if I find new customers for their inn—he said ¥500 (which is a fairly generous 14% commission) per customer. Wow, I wish I'd known I could make money this easily from tourists back when I actually lived in Aizu and could have taken advantage of this!

Mr. Murase then drove me to Daiso and HardOff. On the way, he asked me what I planned to buy from HardOff, and I replied "video game equipment." Generous Mr. Murase actually turned the car around, went to his shed, pulled out a PlayStation 2, and gave it to me as a gift! I'm not joking! What a nice guy! Now, I should qualify this by saying the DVD-ROM drive on the PS2 is broken (the system boots up, but can't read game discs), but at least I got a free PS2 controller, memory card, and power cable out of it—don't look a gift horse in the mouth!

I slept a good eight hours and in the morning, had barley tea (mugicha), peaches, onigiri (a rice ball) made with brown rice, and cucumber slices soaked in salt water, while making pleasant conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Murase and a Japanese man who had lived in the Philippines for over 10 years, and over 20 years outside of Japan. The conversation topics ranged from Mr. Murase criticizing Hillary Clinton (I can't blame him, I strongly dislike her, too) and saying that Bill Clinton had once said that if she hadn't married him, she'd be married to a gas station worker, to the man who lived in the Philippines and had a Filipina wife/Filipino house talking about the Japanese divorce process and I explained the American concept of "alimony" to them—apparently, according to them, in Japan, there is not alimony, but compensation money only paid if one spouse was actually at fault. That sounds like a breath of fresh air from the point of view of an American man who has gotten burned before (fortunately I've never been married or divorced, but I've experienced the cruelty of American women on many occasions—though I acknowledge that there are plenty of good American women out there, and even know some, the American family court system scares the shit out of me). The Murases and this man were all in favor of rewriting the constitution to get rid of Article 9—they said they wanted Japan to have a real military. Eventually, I had to leave and catch the train.

Mt. Bandai After the Typhoon with a Rice Paddy in the Foreground
Mt. Bandai after the typhoon with a rice paddy in the foreground—taken from a train—I hope to climb that mountain one day, and tried to once, but there was too much mud and snow and my climbing partner wanted to turn back. Click the picture to view an enlarged version—I wanted to preserve the beauty of the scene, so I only shrunk it down to 1280x960 and not 640x480.

Other

Kintarō Ame
These were some freebies from Oak House. At the top is senbei, a type of cracker. At the bottom is some kind of chocolate. In the middle, well, that requires an explanation.

It's called Kintarō Ame. It's candy with the face of Kintarō, a mythological character, on it. The way it's made is by having a long cylinder with the same design running through the whole cylinder; each piece of candy is a section cut from that cylinder. Therefore, every piece of candy looks the same as the other ones from the cylinder. It is said that, these days, with the proliferation of chain stores in Japan, each Japanese city has become like Kintarō Ame—the same as all the others. This anecdote was provided by Atsuo Kida, my former driver at Windmill English Centre in Fukushima.

While we're on the topic of Atsuo Kida, he used to be an engineer at Fujitsu, working on computers as early as the early 1960s. He told me that everyday they used to place an offering of sake (rice wine) on the computer, called an o-miki, and pray "Hatarakemasu yō-ni." This means "We wish that it will be able to work." This is because, in those days, the computers broke down all the time. In those days, they also referenced US military MIL specs to bring their computers up to the standards of the day.

Mr. Kida (69 years old, last time I asked) also ran his own stereo equipment store post-Fujitsu. Most recently, he's a driver at WEC (the best one in my opinion—both a safe driver and very outgoing and conversant), and he hikes in the mountains on weekends and takes photographs, which he uploads to his website that he creates in FrontPage (yes, someone, somewhere still uses FrontPage, even if it is an elderly man living on a mountain in rural Japan).

JLPT N1 Fail
I failed the JLPT N1. I found this out literally the minute scores were released online at midnight, 8/24.

I failed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N1 (the highest level of the test offered). Before you all start throwing me a pity party (which I don't want), I want to think positively and explain why this isn't such a bad thing:

  • I had no expectation of passing it. I expected to fail. This is about gauging my Japanese over a period of years, and eventually, one day (hopefully in the next couple of years) passing it, not passing it immediately (considering I only passed N2 in December).
  • I did absolutely NO JLPT N1-SPECIFIC PREP. I didn't memorize anything from an N1 word list, read about N1 grammar or practice those patterns by writing example sentences, study N1 kanji, or anything like that. I took the test completely cold.
  • My overall score was 66/180. Sounds horrible, right? That's just barely over ⅓. But wait—the pass mark is 100/180, so I was about ⅔ of the way to the pass mark. I have no idea how they calculate the points (it is not simply dividing right answers by wrong answers, but some kind of complex scoring algorithm).
  • My individual subject scores were:
    Language Knowledge (Vocabulary/Grammar): 28/60
    Reading: 17/60
    Listening: 21/60
    Grammar: B
    Vocabulary: B
    Now let's analyze those:
    1. Remember, the minimum threshold for each section is 19/60 (anything lower on any one section, and you fail the whole test regardless of your overall score). And this is a piece of good news: two of my subjects were good enough with absolutely no JLPT N1-specific prep not to cause automatic failure, and Reading was only 2 points away from that threshold.
    2. Listening: I got 21/60 on Listening, which sucks, but isn't failure in and of itself. Theoretically, I could pass the test without improving my listening at all (I want to improve my listening, of course, but in my experience, it is the most difficult thing to improve—but this score essentially says that at least in theory, I don't need to—in future testings, my Listening could stay at 21/60 and I would still pass the test provided that I got good scores on the other sections so the total points added up to 100).
    3. Reading: I need to improve this. 17/60 means automatic failure right now. Fortunately, this score is readily improvable by memorizing more vocabulary and doing more actual reading, preferably with a sympathetic Japanese person to help decipher cryptic sentences.
    4. Vocabulary/Grammar: 28/60—in other words, B in Vocabulary, B in Grammar—pretty good considering I explicitly studied literally zero words from the official 1-kyū vocab list and explicitly studied literally zero of the official 1-kyū kanji. I guess I knew enough words to get a B in these two subjects from osmosis by living in Japan for 5+ years. This is extremely readily improvable simply by studying those lists, too.

I'm very hopeful, now. I have a score, it's not a 0 (nor even close to it—I was much closer to a pass than I was to a 0). I might be able to pass this test within the next year if I really apply myself and immerse myself in Japanese.

August 14, 2016: As of Midnight, I Am Now No Longer Tied to Fukushima in Any Way, Shape, or Form: My Move Is Complete—and Here is a Massive Update with 4,287 Words and 46 Photos

Bye-Bye, Fukushima

It's 18 minutes after midnight, and therefore, as of 18 minutes ago, I'm no longer tied to Fukushima Prefecture in any way, shape, or form. My period of exile from the Kantō Region (the region that includes Tokyo) has come to an end; I am now living in Akishima-shi, Tokyo, a mere 47-minute train ride from Shinjuku. My contract with Windmill English Centre (WEC) was until August 13, 2016, so now I have successfully completed it, and my period of one year and four months working in the Tōhoku Region (Northeastern Japan) has come to an end.

In this news article, I will first post pictures from my last days in Fukushima and reminisce about the roughly one year and four months that I spent there. Then I will post pictures of gifts from students, a topic that deserves its own section. Then I will post pictures of the moving process, and finally, speculate about the future. Please note that the focus of this article is on leaving Fukushima, not living in Tokyo. Therefore, you should not expect any real Tokyo pictures, yet—those will come soon, but not immediately. I might also insert some older images from before the packing/moving process, because, truth be told, I didn't make many updates when I was living in Fukushima because I was so busy. This update is absolutely huge and should help compensate for that. Rest assured that I took pictures and I have pictures, and finally, here are some of them.

The Move 27
This is the view from the front of the Yoshikawa Cooperative, the apartment that I lived in from 5/1/2015-8/10/2016. Last year, this was a rice paddy; now there's some construction going on to build who-knows-what. In the horizon, you can see the mountains that surround Aizu-Wakamatsu, causing Aizu-Wakamatsu to be in a basin, and make it hot in the summer. One day during my last week of work, according to a Japanese co-worker, it was forecasted to go up to 38°C (100.4°F). Though this didn't actually happen, it did reach the upper 30s.

The Move 4
One of the highlights of my workweek when I lived in Fukushima was Fujitsu cafeteria food (when I taught business English at the Aizu Fujitsu Semiconductor Manufacturing plant), always served on either a pink or orange cafeteria tray. It was much more varied than what I cooked at home, and the price was right. Lunch was ¥470 ($4.64) for A Lunch, ¥410 ($4.05) for B Lunch, and dinner was a (probably) subsidized ¥320 ($3.16), probably to give the employees an incentive to stay and work late. This was dinner—a salad of shredded cabbage with mayonnaise, a croquette with cutlet sauce, miso soup, aburaage (some kind of oil-fried tofu skin), and pork with vegetables and fungus on rice.

The Move 9
From July 23, I started to play Pokémon Go, which took me to many interesting real-world locations as Pokéstops. The above picture is of an oniyama, a type of dragonfly with beautiful iridescent green eyes that I photographed in the real world. I noticed it and pointed it out to a woman walking nearby; she told me its Japanese name, and after I was finished taking a picture, she took a picture of it herself, proving to me that this was an especially beautiful specimen (most of the oniyama I've seen on Google Images don't have the beautiful iridescent green eyes). Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to focus my iPhone camera correctly and it focused more on the background than on the oniyama.

Naoko Iimori's Business Card
Pokémon Go has really taken me to so many interesting places. Just last week, it took me to the pagoda Sazae-dō near sunset, near Mt. Iimori. A middle-aged woman came up to me and told me to be careful about walking near Sazae-dō at night, because the mamushi snake comes out then in those parts. She then told me that her ancestors had built Sazae-dō, and also asked me how I found out about Sazae-dō; I told her that I had read about it in Aizu tourist literature (which is true, I read about it in Aoyama Sensei's in-class PowerPoint presentation), though the whole truth (that I did not tell her) is that I wandered into the mountains to go to Pokéstops and get more Pokéballs, Pokémon, and check out the Pokémon gym there). I mentioned that Sazae-dō was hundreds of years old, and she told me that her family has lived in that place for 600 years! She then gave me her business card and her name was, no joke: Naoko Iimori.

Torii Construction
Okay, last Pokémon Go story, I promise! Prior to that, Pokémon Go had taken me to the same area during a break from work. During that walk, I got to see construction workers actually building a torii (a Shintō shrine's gate).

The Move 18
This is Windmill English Centre. I taught English here for one year, four months.

The Move 19 A Nejibana (a type of flower)
This is the local park within sight of Windmill English Centre. We sometimes took students there for various reasons such as Easter egg hunts and the suika-wari—the smashing of a watermelon while blindfolded, either with a wooden sword or a baseball bat. Nejibana, a type of pink flower resembling a screw's threads, also grows here.

The Move 20
This is the alley behind Windmill English Centre. I used to pass through here, with a couple of abandoned, overgrown buildings, between my home and work.

The Move 21
This is the Yoshikawa Cooperative, my apartment building for about a year and three months. There are four apartments; I was in the upper-left-hand one.

The Move 28
This is a rice paddy near the Yoshikawa Cooperative. When the rice stocks' "heads" start to fill with seeds (rice in its brown form) and sag and turn yellow, then it'll be time to harvest.

Heads of Rice Plants
Photo Taken by Me Last Year Illustrating the Above (click to zoom in)

Rice Paddy
Another Photo Taken by Me Last Year of a Ripened Rice Paddy (click to zoom in)

Wara
Wara, or Rice Straw (picture taken by me last year, click to zoom in)

Atlas Moth
Soon, fall will arrive and these moths will appear. This is a dead Atlas moth (a giant type of moth) that I photographed last year. In India, they use Atlas moth caterpillars for their silk (which is more brittle than regular silk, but thought to make more durable silk fabric). Mothra from the Godzilla universe was based on this type of moth.

Gifts from Students

I worked from April 14, 2015-August 13, 2016, so naturally some students wanted to give me gifts when they heard/read I was leaving. Here are all the gifts I received.

Gummy Bentō and Fan
I got a gummy candy bentō box and a little tiny fan with some Sweet Tart-like candies from my Tuesday pre-intermediate adult students. There seems to be an unwritten rule in Japan that when a teacher leaves on good terms, he gets at least one fan. I think I got two fans in Yokkaichi and one or two fans at Windmill English Centre.

The Move 2
Here is the first gift I received at Aizu Fujitsu Semiconductor Manufacturing, a somewhat overripe peach from Ms. Aoki. It was likely grown on a student's family's or relative's orchard, because many of the students have farmers in the family.

The Move 3
In Class G, I got these gifts from Mr. Kuwashima ("Tony") and his classmates. I'm really proud of Mr. Kuwashima, who has raised his TOEIC score and English communication ability considerably thanks to following my advice to install and use the Spaced Repetition System program Anki. Therefore, I accepted this gift gratefully and drank the shōchū with some Koreans about a day ago and used the cap for a drinking game (which I won)—this is junmai daiginjō, which is pure rice top-quality sake and also some sweets (which were so delicious, I finished them before even leaving Fukushima).

Tony the Tiger Kuwashima
Atsushi Kuwashima (left) and Fumio Watanabe (right)

Mr. Kuwashima and his class and I had a running joke. Mr. Kuwashima's English name was "Tony" and I kept making jokes about him being Atsushi "Tony the Tiger" Kuwashima. One day, Mr. Kuwashima brought in a cardboard standup he'd made by cutting out Tony the Tiger from a box of Frosted Flakes. AND A WHISTLE, WHICH BE PROCEEDED TO BLOW, TONY THE TIGER-STYLE. Here, he's doing a "THEY'RE GREAT!" air punch.

Mr. Kuwashima is the same one who worked on the team that built the first 8-bit Fujitsu FM-8 (Fujitsu's first personal computer) back in 1980. He told me that back then, they were worried about people, especially children, sticking their fingers into the holes in the power supply and burning themselves, so his team fashioned covers for those holes using a convenient and easily-available material—fish nets!

The Move 5
Here we have a deluxe gift from Ms. Aoki, some Aizu lacquerware cups. And they came with the note below:

The Move 6
My translation:

Mr. Charles,

Thank you for teaching us English since last spring, for more than one year. As for your English lessons, of course they were English tutorials, but also thanks to interweaving talk of Korea and China, they became enjoyable things in which we had deep interest. And we were very impressed with your kanji writing which was more correct and methodical than us Japanese. (this is a secret, but we make mistakes with the stroke order)

And, apart from the usual lessons, we attended parties several times and the summer Bandai-san Dance, together, right? Now those are good memories. (Are you still continuing to restrict yourself from drinking beer?)

You are now continuing to study even now, obtaining splendid credentials and a bachelor's degree, and we respect your diligent position. We have watched and learned from you, and from now on, too, we will go and be diligent in learning English. If there is an opportunity to meet after this, we would like to enjoy a conversation with you in fluent English. So last of all, we will pray from our hearts, from the land of Aizu, for your activities in your new world.

All of Us [English] Trainees at Aizu Fujitsu Semiconductor Group

The Move 7
These were gifts from Ryōsuke, one of my pre-intermediate junior high school students who apparently enjoyed my lessons. They included mamadooru sweets (very delicious) and a wooden akabeko (red cow/bull/ox, the symbol of Aizu). Ryōsuke is a smart, kind, and well-mannered kid who unfortunately lost his home, which was near the Daichi Nuclear Reactor that melted down, in 2011, relocating to Aizu. I hope he can achieve his dream of becoming an interpreter; given that he has already raised his English to pre-intermediate level in the mountains of Aizu and he's only in junior high school, I think his dream is actually quite realistic.

Akabeko Halloween Costume
This is me dressed in an Akabeko Halloween costume last year at the Halloween party. The mask, made from cardboard, cups, tape, and paint, was very time-consuming to make, and I bought a red hoody specifically for this costume!

Akabeko Halloween Costume
The Plan for Last Year's Akabeko Costume, While We're on This Topic

Animated Akabeko
Here's an animated Akabeko I created with colored pencils, paper, my HP 4500-series' scanner, and Microsoft GIF Animator. Once again, it was very time-consuming.

The Move 8
From Junko O., a 61-year-old accountant whom I used to teach on Saturday mornings at 9:00 AM, I got this tie and this card. She was one of my students who installed and used Anki, a sign of diligence in my opinion.

Cleaning Up the Apartment in Fukushima and Packing

I was scheduled to move out at 2:00 PM on August 8, but that didn't happen because there was way more to do than I'd anticipated, so I asked Junko for an extension, which she granted. I ended up staying until approximately 8:30 AM on 8/10 when the cleaners came. I'm proud that I left the apartment clean in the end.

Cleaning up the apartment took a massive amount of work, and I was busy almost constantly, getting only six hours of sleep on the second-to-last night and the third-to-last night; on the last night, I got only about four and a half hours of sleep, and that sleep was when my futon and bedding were already packed, so I basically used several pieces of paper spread out on the hard linoleum floor with a work bag for a pillow. The end result was that, on 8/11, I slept more than 13 hours and have been very tired ever since; only now am I starting to recover some of my energy to do productive things.

My packing and cleaning strategy was basically this:

  1. Pack things densely into fairly large boxes. According to an explanation by a very helpful postal worker at the Ikki-machi post office, they charge ¥1,080 per box (about $10.66) up to 100 centimeters of length + width + height and 30 kilograms. There is no discount if the box is less than 100 centimeters or less than 30 kilograms, so it makes no financial sense to send boxes that are smaller than that or less than 30 kilograms (though in practice it is very hard to reach the 30 kilogram threshold for a box of that size unless you're shipping bricks).
  2. Wheel three boxes at a time to the post office and mail them. Three boxes means a discount, which is why I did it in threes. Fortunately, thanks to the kindness of a local woman, I only had to wheel six boxes to the post office on a cart; she helped me with the other 11.
  3. Then I followed a strategy of "sweep, then scrub with a pad and water" for all of my rooms with linoleum floors. With the tatami rooms, I followed a strategy of "sweep and then run my hand over the tatami mat to pick up excess crap." This strategy was extremely time-consuming and felt like it was working my fingers to the bone and left them sore for a day or two afterward, but the results were very good. I worked my way from the outer reaches of the apartment towards the entrance, so as not to re-contaminate previous cleaned areas. I went: living room, balcony, other tatami room (former bedroom), bathroom, left side of the kitchen, shower room/laundry room, right side of the kitchen including the sink and stove, and then hallway, which was why I slept on the hard linoleum of the hallway.
  4. Finally, I returned my key to Junko and also gave her the keys to my bicycle, which she had previously bought from me. Then I consolidated my stuff on my cart, and started my journey towards Tokyo!

The Move 10
This was my living room (with tatami mats) after I cleaned it up. As a single teacher, I used this room very little; I guess some teachers with families would've used this room as an extra bedroom. There was an electric vacuum cleaner, but it was so weak that Junko and I agreed that sweeping was more effective.

The Move 11
Now, there's an interesting story about this food and drink. It was the afternoon of 8/9, and I was pulling a cart with three boxes towards the post office, when a woman (in the building near Yoshikawa Cooperative) asked me "Where are you going?"

I told her "I'm going to the post office to mail these boxes." Then she graciously offered me a ride! This is quite rare in Japan; I'd say I average about one free ride per year from Japanese people. Well, as I soon figured out, she was no ordinary Japanese person...

She was with a woman and a toddler. The toddler was holding a small rock, and suddenly flung it at my cart! However, I don't think he held any ill will against me, because within less than a minute of his rock-flinging (which was much to the chagrin of his mom), he high-fived me.

Anyhow, she started driving me to the post office. She told me about how she had spent two months in Atlanta. I asked her why she'd spent two months in Atlanta, and she said she was a missionary, with the "Tōitsu Kyōkai." Hmmm, that sounded familiar, but from where?

I remembered my Korean. "Tōitsu," a Japanese word, was a cognate with "Tong-il" in Korean, or "reunification."

"Kyōkai" was a cognate of "Gyo-hoe," or "church." Then it dawned on me—THE UNIFICATION CHURCH. THE MOONIES. I WAS BEING DRIVEN TO THE POST OFFICE BY A MOONIE!

I then asked her "Oh, the Tōitsu Kyōkai, isn't that the one that had a mass wedding in 1988 in which 1,000 couples got married at the same time? And didn't the founder escape from North Korea, because there's no religious freedom in North Korea?"

She said "Yes, you know well!" She seemed very pleased that I knew about her specific religion. Actually, after researching it just now, I realized my numbers for the 1988 mass wedding were a little bit off, but aside from that, my statements were correct. :-)

Some people would be scared of a Moonie, but not me. I mean, she was elderly and seemed kind and I figured "Well, at least she probably knows something about Korea, which gives us something in common, out here in the mountains of Aizu." She also informed me that the Reverend had died about four years ago, something of which I was previously unaware.

I had noticed that she would sometimes throw Korean words into her speech, such as referring to Reverend Moon Sun Myung as "hakja" (a Korean word) rather than the Japanese equivalent "gakushi," so I asked her if she could speak Korean. Well, it turned out that she could speak a little bit (she recited several phrases to me, some of which were fairly complex) but not at a conversational level. Oh well.

Then, when we got back, she gave me a basket of food. Containing kimchi, kimbap, tomato slices, peaches, and lemonade. And I ate all of it—the Moonie lemonade, the Moonie kimchi, the Moonie kimbap, the Moonie tomato slices, and the Moonie peaches. And enjoyed it. And not once during this whole thing did she try to brainwash or proselytize me. She was just being a helpful neighbor. :-)

The Move 12
My Former Bedroom, with Tatami Mats, After I Cleaned It

The Move 13
My Former Bathroom, After I Cleaned It

The Move 14
Interesting story here—I found this in my computer case box when I was getting ready to box up my computer for shipping. It was a potato which had apparently fallen into the box a long time ago and and then grown into a respectable potato bonsai in the cool darkness of the box, underneath some English teaching materials. I thought about planting it, but forgot it on top of my mailbox; it's probably dead by now. :-(

The Move 15
This is my (fully cleaned) shower and laundry room. I sold the bathroom scale to my boss for ¥100, which is why it's sitting there (I have a far superior bathroom scale now that measures things like body fat and muscle mass quite accurately).

The Move 16
This was my central command center for the latter part of my stay in Aizu-Wakamatsu. My futon (for sleeping), my TV/computer, etc. were all in this kitchen. This way, I was able to watch TV or YouTube while cooking, watch TV or YouTube from bed, etc. The distance between everything was so small, it was ultra-efficient, and the cooking of the stove and the running computer heated the room in winter, meaning I never needed to run the heater, even when temperatures went below freezing.

The Move 22
The Sink and Stove, Cleaned

The Move 23
The Hallway, Cleaned

The Move 24
The Last Part of the Hallway That I Cleaned the Morning I Moved Out

The Move 25
My Front Door and the Bathroom Window

The Move 26
Close to the end of my tenure at Windmill English Centre, a bird created a nest right next to my kitchen window right under the overhang of the roof and laid eggs in this nest. They hatched into many chicks, which then proceeded to poop constantly and encrust the stairs below in massive quantities of bird shit. I just let this accumulate for a month or so, but before moving out, figured it was so disgusting, I should probably do something about it. So I took a snow shovel (which I hadn't used at all during the winter because the winter was so mild) and shoveled that bird shit away. I couldn't get all of it, but I got the most disgusting parts of it, and this is the result.

Bird's Nest Closeup
This isn't the bird's nest that they built; this is actually another similar bird's nest from nearby that I photographed last year. I couldn't get a good picture of the bird's nest under the overhang because of lighting problems (the bright sky contrasting with the dark part under the overhang meant the bird's nest barely showed up in photos).

The Move 17
Junko (my Japanese boss) gave me a bonus in an envelope. Thanks!

The Cart and the Journey from Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture to Haijima Station, Tokyo

This journey was a true ordeal. I had to carry a massive amount of stuff on the train, starting at 11:58 AM and traveling until close to 8:00 PM. I had to make five transfers with a very heavy cart, which was a real balancing act and test of my patience.

When I moved, I had a dilemma—what to do with my futon and large flatscreen HDTV. My boss had given me my futon (she was glad I was saving her the trouble of disposing of it). The large flatscreen HDTV, I had gotten for the bargain price of ¥10,080 (less than $100 at the time) because it had issues with receiving broadcast TV and with the remote; however, it made a wonderful computer monitor. Both of these items were too big to mail at the post office, and buying them again in Tokyo would probably cost upwards of ¥30,000, so I decided to attempt to transport them to Tokyo on a cart.

The Move 29
As you can see in the photo, taken on a train by a high school girl, this was quite a balancing act. The futon was on the bottom, providing shock absorption and protection for the HDTV's screen. A box with my diplomas and a few other miscellaneous things in it held the HDTV in place, along with two bags. I know I exceeded this cart's 30-kilogram weight limit, but it didn't break, fortunately.

The Move 33
In order to get the cart to actually hold the futon, I had to modify the cart, because the base was just too small. Here's the cart with the modified base.

The Move 31
Here's the underside of the cart with the modified base. Note the U-shaped pieces of hardware, from Daiyū Eight (kind of like Home Depot) holding the plywood to the base of the cart.

The Move 32
I performed this modification using a screwdriver, six 0.9-centimeter screws, and three U-shaped pieces of hardware from Daiyū Eight. It was amazingly sturdy and could easily hold the weight of a futon, an HDTV, a box with lots of things in it, and two bags, without requiring any repairs along the way.

The Move 30
See those ridged yellow things? Those are what I like to call "Satan's cart and bike derailers from the depths of Hell." Though allegedly to help blind people navigate, they stretch across large stretches of sidewalks, train stations, platforms, etc. and are almost unavoidable; when going over them, there is a high likelihood that the cart will become unbalanced or even topple (which happened more than once). In the past, I have had similar problems riding my bike on these things—lots of suddenly losing control of the bike and nearly crashing when the bicycle tire follows the groove.

Finally, I arrived in Akishima-shi, Tokyo, just in time to receive six boxes from the mailman that I'd mailed to myself the previous day and the day before that. The train was delayed because there had been a jinshin jiko (basically a euphemism for "someone committed suicide by jumping in front of a train"). The last time I was in Tokyo, my trip back to Aizu was delayed because of a jinshin jiko, as well, and the weekend before that, my meeting with Aiko from Oak House was delayed because of, you guessed it, another jinshin jiko. Can you see the pattern here? It's an epidemic.

Oak House: Social Residence Haijima, Tokyo, and the Future

The Move 1
Above is a lizard on the window of Oak House's Social Residence Haijima. I will not blog much about my experiences in Tokyo; that will come in the future. As of today, I'm now officially unemployed, but at least I have a roof over my head and I am moved in. It's time to get serious about hunting for jobs.

July 26, 2016: I Should Soon Have a Room and an Official Address in Tokyo

On July 24, in the morning, I left Aizu-Wakamatsu to come to Tokyo. My triple missions were to visit Lake Inawashiro in mountainous Fukushima Prefecture, meet my girlfriend, and to secure a room in Tokyo. I believe I have succeeded in all three.

Lake Inawashiro
In the early afternoon of 7/24, I reached Lake Inawashiro. The lake's beach was almost like the beach by an ocean. Lots of people were camping; I even saw surfboards. However, for some reason, the women were mostly in jackets and long sleeves (bikinis not particularly visible), which made no sense because it was quite a hot late July day. I got sunburned. I played lots of Pokémon Go en route and returning; I caught a Kurabu (crab).

Toyoko Inn Breakfast
I stayed at the Toyoko Inn. In this morning, I had this breakfast, which is really a pretty standard Japanese hotel continental breakfast. It included miso soup with friend tofu skins floating in it, with onions, fried rice, regular white rice with salmon flakes, salad with a type of a Japanese sesame dressing, potato salad, a raisin roll, weiners, hijikini (konbu seaweed with beans), tsukemono (Japanese pickled radish), and Oolong tea.

McDonald's: World War II Edition
Honestly, I can't understand how some Japanese people don't find this ad somewhat offensive. Sure, it's just celebrating 45 years of McDonald's in Japan, but read into it carefully—45 is emphasized (1945 is the year Japan lost World War II), the American flag is prominently displayed, and the phrase "landing in Japan" (the same word as a military landing) is present; though this does not make me angry, does it seriously not make any Japanese far-right-wing ultranationalist anywhere angry?

The following are some pictures of Oak House near Yokota Air Base in Tokyo. I have applied for a room in Oak House. Barring some disaster, I should get the room. The room seems like an extraordinarily good deal , at only ¥56,000 per month (a little bit more than $500 a month including utilities)—located in West Tokyo only 20 minutes' bike ride from Yokota Air Base, it has a barbecue area, two buildings with 160+ people and a bridge connecting the two buildings, a grand piano, a small gym, a 14-square-meter room, and even a sound-proof music practice room (maybe I can play DDR in there).

I've already met some interesting people. Leviathan is a Dutchman job-hunting in Tokyo; Ernie is a Californian studying Aikido; Hee-ju is a 23-year-old Korean university student who plays the piano quite well and lived in Germany for a year, and Tsukasa is a Japanese PHP programmer.

Oak House Barbecue Area

Oak House Inter-Building Bridge

Oak House Grand Piano, Which I Watched Hee-Ju Play

Oak House Gym

My Potential Room

My Potential Room: Entranceway

My Potential Room: Bed

The View from My Potential Room

July 21, 2016: I Got My Letter of Completion in the Mail for My UMUC Bachelor of Science in Computer & Information Science Degree

I got my letter of completion in the mail yesterday from UMUC (University of Maryland University College). A large part of the school at which I work is also currently on a plane headed for the UK, so work should be less stressful starting today (except that I have longer hours and more teaching hours because I'm taking some classes for the boss—at least I'm getting paid overtime for them). Today, it is time to get serious about moving and the job hunt.

An envelope arrived in the mail yesterday.
An Envelope Arrived in the Mail Yesterday

Physical Letter of Completion
This is the physical letter of completion (as opposed to the PDF from before). The only major difference I can notice is that the signature here is in black, not bright blue.

July 18, 2016: I Beat Civilization for the First Time on Emperor, 7 Civilizations Mode

Whenever I finish a major goal (such as finishing a degree), I tend to burn out and have low productivity for a while afterward. This has certainly been true for the last week (since I finished my CMIS 420 project last Monday). One favorite passtime during times of burnout like this is Civilization, the strategy game that I've been playing since I was in third grade (in other words, since at least 1996). This burnout period was no exception—I may still have no idea where I'm going to stay or what I'm going to do job-wise 20 days from now, but hey, at least I played through and won two full games of Sid Meier's Civilization this weekend on my Sony PSone.

High Scores
Here are my high scores for Civilization. Typically, I play as CHWetz of the 圚日西掋人 (Zainichi Seiyōjin—the Westerners in Japan—my own custom civilization that is basically a renamed version of the Germans). The first game I played this weekend, on King difficulty level (second-from-the-most-difficult) is the 428 at the bottom. This was a fairly routine game, for the most part (I've beaten this game many times on King difficulty level).

The game on King difficulty level was not easy, but not especially remarkable. I had a very good score going, and could have gotten much more than 428 had I not decided to invade the Japanese. I invaded Sendai, Ōsaka, Kyōto, and finally, Tōkyō in an effort to get more Wonders of the World before reaching Alpha Centauri, to push my score up. Unfortunately, this had the opposite of the desired effect—although I succeeded in taking all these cities, the Japanese counter-attacked with nuclear missiles against both Ōsaka and Kyōto, and then, in my desperation, I used a nuclear missile on Tōkyō. This nuclear war led to so much radiological pollution that it resulted in a 410-point score penalty! The score penalty was far more than the added points I got for getting more Wonders of the World or increasing my population by a little bit. Nevertheless, the game ranked me as a comparable leader to Vladimir Lenin. That game lasted two days, from Saturday to Sunday.

Then, on Sunday evening, I started another game of Civilization, which I thought would be a short one, because it was on Emperor mode with 7 civilizations—I had never, in my roughly 20 years of playing this game, beaten it on Emperor mode with 7 civilizations before (I had only beaten it on Emperor once, and even then, only with 3 civilizations and re-loading previous saves to make use of knowledge gained from later parts of the game, which is borderline cheating), so I figured "this game will probably only last an hour until some enemy completely destroys me." Boy, was I wrong! I ended up winning without using any cheap tricks such as re-loading saves. I'm so proud, I decided to write a history of the Zainichi Seiyōjin (Z.S.) people and post screenshots, so that their 5,976-Year Reich can live on as long as my website does!

Unfortunately the score (223) was not enough to get into the high scores section, but for 5,976 years on my PlayStation, or two days in the real world, it was as if the good people of Zainichi Seiyōjin-koku were real—let them be immortalized here!

The History of the Glorious Zainichi Seiyōjin People

The Beginning: Classical Antiquity (4,000 B.C.-1310 A.D.)

Zainichi Seiyōjin Territory—Sometime Between 3,000 and 4,000 B.C.

The Zainichi Seiyōjin (Z.S.) started as a tribe of wandering settlers in the eastern equatorial region in 4,000 B.C. under the wise and eternal leadership of their despot, CHWetz. Sometime before 3,900 B.C., they built their capital, Den Haag, on the western seaboard of their continent. Their civilization was lucky; it had its own continent with no other competing civilizations, and was quickly able to build cities across the entire continent and consolidate power over the entire continent. There was one minor setback—barbarians destroying Fairfax, but Fairfax was barely missed and its destruction at the hands of barbarians almost comical. Anyhow, a new Fairfax was soon constructed in the site of the original. Trade was aided by the Colossus, and science was aided by Copernicus' Observatory, which the Z.S. had built after discovering astronomy relatively early on. Large-scale civil disorder was prevented by J.S. Bach's Cathedral. The Z.S. people also sent two corvette (sail) units abroad, one carrying three settler units, in the hopes of finding an uninhabited continent to further the expansion of their civilization; unfortunately, this failed, because both nearby continents were occupied by the Mongols and Chinese. Therefore, for their first 5,000 years, the Z.S. never built a permanent settlement outside their home continent.

The Zainichi Seiyōjin Republic and Invasions by the Chinese (1310 A.D.-the 20th century)

By the 1300s, the Z.S. despotism was beginning to become a little bit dated. Science output in the capital was only 12, and the yearly profit of the entire nation was only 10 coins. In 1310, there was a revolution, and the citizens of the Z.S. state demanded a better government; CHWetz granted their wish, and the Z.S. state became a republic. A period of civil disorder followed, but the Z.S. state soon stabilized, and in its first year of stability, science output in the capital increased 50% to 18; the yearly profit of the entire nation nearly tripled to 27.

Unfortunately, around this time, incursions by the Mongols and Chinese increased. The Z.S. first attempted to thwart these by using steam engine and metallurgical technology to build ironclad warships, but this failed, because the Chinese soon started deploying modern battleships. Many Z.S. cities had all of their military units destroyed, and the Chinese, especially, would frequently capture these cities, only to be beaten back the next turn by Z.S. military units such as catapults and cannons making use of topographical features such as forests to gain a slight tactical advantage.

Eventually, the Z.S. people discovered steel, the requisite technology to build battleships of their own, but CHWetz made a controversial decision—to hold off on building battleships and instead lay the groundwork for veteran battleships produced in large numbers by building barracks and factories. The invasions continued, and the future of the Z.S. people looked grim—many cities had absolutely no defenses, and an increasingly small number of primitive, medieval-period ground units were fighting off Chinese invasions, in some cases to the last man, woman, and child.

However, CHWetz's decision paid off, because when the barracks and factories were more or less complete, Z.S. was able to crank out large numbers of veteran battleships and send the Chinese out of the Z.S. continent and back to China. Many powerful Z.S. battleships eventually patrolled the southern waters (and to a lesser extent, the northern waters, where the less technologically-advanced Mongols threatened northern cities).

In time, these barracks and factories also created tanks, fighter planes, etc. The fighter planes often took out Chinese transport units carrying up to eight ground units in further attempts to invade Z.S. territory. These factories were of course militarily useful, but equally importantly, they created a strong infrastructure base that would eventually help the Z.S. in the space race and beyond.

The Space Race: 20th Century to 1964 (when all seemed lost)

The Zainichi Seiyōjin's Spaceship
The Zainichi Seiyōjin's Spaceship

Then, in the 20th century, the Z.S. discovered spaceflight. They built the Apollo Project, which brought back pictures of the earth from space (including knowledge of every city on the planet) and started the space race.

The Z.S. interstellar spaceship, which Z.S. scientists had designed to go to Alpha Centauri and colonize it, was a speedy ship; although it only had one habitation module, it had three engines and all the necessary fuel. According to one credible estimate by Z.S. scientists, it would be fast enough to reach Alpha Centauri in 11.9 years. Chinese construction of their own indigenous spaceship began, but there was seemingly little progress on that.

However, in 1963, in a surprise launch, the Chinese launched their spaceship. Its estimated arrived time on Alpha Centauri would be 1972.

The following year (1964), the Z.S. launched their spaceship. Its estimated arrival time on Alpha Centauri was 1976. It had all been lost at this point—the Chinese would win the race to Alpha Centauri... Unless...

If someone could capture the Chinese capital (Beijing), then their spaceship would return to earth. However, this would be impossible, seeing as how their capital was heavily fortified with a population level classified as "25," across an ocean. Or would it be impossible? Certainly there was no harm in trying—except for a few million Z.S. and Chinese lives and massive amounts of money, military units, and human progress, of course.

The Z.S. sold huge amounts of city improvements for cash, then used the cash to get a total of five bomber squadrons (the majority of which were veteran units), over a dozen ground units to deploy, two transport units to carry the ground units over the ocean, and a nuclear missile—if all else failed. They also began to deploy some battleship units in the ocean between Z.S. territory and Chinese territory.

Until 1965, the Z.S. and the Chinese had never been at peace, but there had been, especially since the 20th century when both nations concentrated on their space programs, many periods of cold war with few or no shots fired. With their spaceships launched, the Z.S. people shifted their focus back to aggression (though this aggression was perfectly reasonable given the number of times China had attempted to invade), and this cold war heated up in 1965, when the Z.S. landed over a dozen ground units (especially tanks and self-propelled infantry) near Beijing, and also transferred five bomber units and two fighter units to Kadena, their city closest to Beijing, within striking distance of Beijing. They moved several battleships into position off the shore of Beijing, as well—although neither nation had fired a shot against the other since both nations had launched spacecraft, the war was just about to begin.

The Great Sino-Z.S. War (1966-1967)

In 1966, the cold war turned hot. First, there were five air strikes by the bomber units, wiping out many of Beijing's military units. Then the two fighter units attacked unsuccessfully in what were essentially kamikaze missions. Finally, after continuous bombardment by ground troops, the Chinese were down to just two units—two nuclear missiles in Beijing. The Z.S. destroyed these, too, before they could be used. Finally, the Z.S. forces occupied the city! The Chinese spaceship turned around and returned to its home planet, its mission a failure!

In 1967, the Z.S. knew full well that the Chinese, in an act of desperation, would probably attempt to nuke their own capital and retake it, and possibly nuke the Z.S. capital. Therefore, in 1966, the Z.S. had sold numerous city improvements and paid full sticker price (800 gold) for an SDI defense in occupied Beijing (and also built one in Den Haag), to prevent a nuclear attack. Unfortunately, the SDI defense in Beijing was not quite ready in time—the Chinese immediately launched a nuclear counter-strike. However, their military was heavily disorganized and even though they could have theoretically reoccupied the city (seeing as how there were railroads leading from their cities into Beijing that were still operational, which they could have used to recapture it), they did not. Z.S. forces on the periphery of the blast zone (somewhat far from Beijing in anticipation of a nuclear counter-strike) made use of the road and railroad networks, some of which still existed, to quickly re-occupy the city. Then the SDI defense became operational, preventing any future nuclear strikes.

At this point, Mao Zedong of the Chinese realized he had been beaten—his capital had been occupied by multiple strong Z.S. units that had a city wall and an SDI defense. A Chinese envoy brought the Z.S. to the negotiating table and offered a peace treaty as long as the Z.S. taught them the secret of the superconductor. The Z.S., knowing that Chinese space ambitions had been thwarted and no Chinese spaceship would be able to catch up with the Z.S. spaceship, considered this a reasonable concession, and signed the Sino-Z.S. peace treaty.

An Uneasy Peace and Arrival at Alpha Centauri (1967-1976)

What Zainichi Seiyōjin-koku Looked Like in the '70s
What Zainichi Seiyōjin-koku Looked Like in the '70s—Note the Mongol Musketeers to the Northwest and the Chinese Battleship in the Bay Beneath Utsunomiya

It immediately became clear that the massive amount of fallout from the nuclear strike would result in 210 lost points in the Civilization Score, so Z.S. settlers flocked to the area around Beijing to clean up pollution. Out of 21 polluted squares, settlers cleaned up eight of them by 1976. An army of 13 settlers (with 14 more in production) accomplished this amazing postwar feat, crossing the ocean on transports. These settlers served two functions: they would clean up pollution and raise the Civilization Score, and also serve as meat shields to slow down the Chinese in the event of a sneak attack.

It was clear that the Chinese were posturing for a Sino-Z.S. War II. They sent bombers on reconnaissance missions over Z.S. territory and sent a battleship into the bay near Utsunomiya (which a Z.S. battleship blocked from leaving). However, the peace held until 1976.

One of the final acts of the munificent CHWetz was to create one final city, called "Final" on the Chinese continent, and cut taxes and scientific research to 0, setting luxuries to 100%. The people were, of course, absolutely thrilled, and CHWetzel's 5,976-year reign ended on a high note.

In 1976, the Z.S. spaceship reached Alpha Centauri and colonized it with 10,000 settlers. The 5,976-year reign of their leader, CHWetz, had come to a glorious end, with the Zainichi Seiyōjin now inhabiting two different worlds! The civilization score was 223â€�150 for its population, 180 points for Wonders of the World, 33 points for the spaceship, but -140 points for pollution (mostly nuclear fallout around Beijing, with a little bit of population-related pollution outside Den Haag).

The Geopolitical Situation from 1975-1976
The Geopolitical Situation from 1975-1976: The Zainichi Seiyōjin Are Purple, the Mongols Are Brown, and the Chinese Are Red

Score Calculation
Score Calculation

Rating
CHWetz Achieved a Rating on Par with Otto von Bismarck

July 15, 2016: Today I Received My Letter of Completion from UMUC for My Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer and Information Science

Letter of Completion for the Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Science Program

Tonight, I will compile a list of things I still need to do over the next three or so weeks to find a job in the field in which I graduated, to move, to do some sightseeing (possibly), and also some other time-limited things. I am now clear to job hunt, but it might be a better idea to wait until I have an official address in Tokyo before job hunting (so they take my application more seriously). I should probably research gaijin houses in Tokyo or Kanagawa, such as Sakura House, tonight or this afternoon, tour some places this weekend, and get a place. Then I can really start job hunting in Tokyo.

Okay, here is the update:

  • Things I need to do to find a job, move, get the most out of Aizu-Wakamatsu before I leave, and other time-limited things (such as getting refunds for some things), complete with the (in some cases self-imposed) deadlines:
    • Getting a gift for my girlfriend and wishing her a happy birthday: 7/16
    • Making a list of appliances and other things: for Junko, my Japanese boss, that she or the new teacher might want to buy from me: 7/16
    • Finding a new place to stay:—I have made a reservation at Sakura House (Hatagaya, in Shibuya) for a room that is slightly less than 5 square meters (54 square feet) for ¥62,000 a month (making it the most expensive real estate per square foot I have ever rented, but shōganai [しょぁEŒãªã„]—it can't be helped—but at least utilities are included). However, this reservation is not yet secured with a ¥20,000 deposit, so this is not certain, yet.
    • Getting my resume up-to-date: 7/17
    • Getting my Gaijinpot resume up-to-date: 7/17
    • Create a good LinkedIn account: 7/17
    • Starting to make applications: 7/17
    • Haircut: 7/17
    • Buying a new suit: 7/17
    • Theoretical earliest time I could attend a job interview: 7/18
    • Selling whatever Junko/the new teacher doesn't want to buy to a thrift shop or elsewhere: 8/7
    • Final laundry (for example, my futon and quilt)—it needs time to dry: 8/7
    • Packing and mailing boxes: 8/8
    • Checking Out at City Hall: 8/8
    • Sightseeing Without Having to Buy a Train Ticket Back to Aizu-Wakamatsu: 8/8
    • Various social things I will not go into detail about here: 8/8
    • Checking In at Tokyo Immigration: 8/22 (but preferably slightly earlier)
    • Getting refunds on my gas deposit from Maruei, my hard drive from Yodobashi Camera (broke while under warranty), and my graduation regalia (which never arrived): variable, but relatively soon
    • Studying and Reviewing Things Specifically Related to the Job Hunt (computers, IT, and Japanese): Ongoing
  • My post-degree-completion plans (a rough version—not too detailed).
    • Start focusing on saving money as a first priority with education as a second priority (the reverse of my priorities from most of my 20s, my first ten years in Asia as an independent adult). I hope to have ¥10,000,000 or $100,000, whichever is less, saved by age 35. I expect that I will go into my 30s with a little bit more than $20,000/¥2,000,000, so in order to meet this goal, I will need to save $16,000/¥1,600,000 per year, unless I get lucky with investments. This comes out to ¥133,333 saved per month, which is realistically out-of-range of a lower-middle-class salary (such as the standard ¥3,000,000-per-year English teacher salary), so I will probably have to work more than one job to make that kind of money. With one full-time job, one part-time job, and reasonable budgeting, that goal is perfectly doable.
    • Adopt a policy that I call 「二叀䞀新ã€� (nikoisshin). This is a Japanese word that I coined myself; you will find it in no dictionary. The meaning is "two olds, one new"—for every two things that I catch up on, I can try one new thing, until I am caught up on all significant things. The exception to this is things required specifically for work. This applies to both study (my backlog of things I was supposed to read/study for my various courses/study programs but didn't finish) and leisure (such as my video game backlog)
    • Start focusing on well-roundedness rather than striving all-out towards one goal at the expense of others.
    • I have no concrete plans for any major academic endeavors right now. I have three ideas that I've toyed with, but am not committing to any of them, yet. The first one is to do a degree in East Asia Area Studies from UMUC, because after living in Asia for 15+ years, it'd be really cool (and fun) to have a degree in the field, and I could also graduate with Latin honors (which I couldn't get with the degree in Computer and Information Science because I only had 33 credit hours—45 credit hours total through UMUC are required for Latin honors). The cost to do this would be approximately $5,967 (27 credit hours remaining Ã� $221 per credit hour). The second idea I've toyed with is going to a Japanese junior high school. "WHAT?!" you ask. Well, let me explain. They have night school for Japanese people (or resident foreigners) who never finished junior high school (at least in Japan), and it's apparently a great way to get several hours of quality exposure to the Japanese language—with a large academic vocabulary introduced and practiced during the course of that, I would likely end up fluent in Japanese, and far more aware of Japanese culture (since public education is one of the pillars of knowledge that almost all natives possess). The fees are minimal (less than language school) and I could then forever have the bragging rights that I'd "graduated from a Japanese junior high school." The third idea is to go to grad school, but I'm doubting I'll do that because from what I've seen, tuition is extremely expensive and as a result of the huge time commitment, I would have to take 1~2 years out of the workforce, which would make my financial goals almost unattainable; I'd like to attend grad school one day, but maybe not in the near future—unless the payoff is very, very good (which I hear it is for lecturers of English at J-universities).
    • Now, as for the job hunt starting on 7/17, here is my plan. I have until November 22 to find a job in Japan or get booted out of Japan (at least in theory). I really hope I find a job at least a month before that. I will go through three stages: 7/17-8/16 is Stage 1, 8/17-9/16 is Stage 2, and 9/17-11/22 is Stage 3.

      In Stage 1, I only apply for computer/IT jobs, period. I also study very hard to build up my portfolio and pass an IT certification exam like A+. In Stage 2, I continue to apply for only computer/IT jobs, but use my newfound IT certification and enhanced programming portfolio to job hunt with greater effectiveness. I really hope I don't get to Stage 3—that's when I start getting desperate and apply to any and all jobs for which I'm qualified, including English teaching jobs, just to keep my legal status in Japan.
    • However, I will qualify all this by writing this: even during Stages 1 & 2, I am open to English teaching and/or non-computer-or-IT-related work provided that it falls between the hours of 7:00 PM-midnight on Monday-Saturday (or very, very early in the morning), or any time on Sunday. This is because it won't conflict time-wise with a computer/IT day job that I might acquire down the road, which would likely have me working a roughly 9-5 schedule. So, for example, I might start teaching part-time at an eikaiwa school in the evenings right off the bat, or being a private tutor. In the event that I get a part-time computer/IT gig, then it's also okay to fill the remainder of my schedule with non-computer/IT gigs. The point is to get my foot in the door into computers/IT, not to completely leave English teaching and translating, the only significant ($1,000+ income) livelihoods I've known for the past ten years.

July 13, 2016: Today I Requested My Letter of Completion from UMUC Asia

On 7/11 (Monday), I completed all my coursework. On 7/12 (Tuesday) I found out that I had passed the course, gotten 100% on Discussion 8 and the Final Project, and had gotten an A (meaning that for my degree in Computer & Information Science, I have a 4.0 GPA). Today, I applied for my letter of completion. Soon, I can start job-hunting!

July 4, 2016 (VIRGINIA TIME ZONE): Happy 4th of July! The One with the Deepest Personal Meaning to Me, Ever!

4th of July Composite Image

This is the 4th of July with the deepest personal meaning for me, ever. In the past, it was just a holiday with some fireworks. Now, it's literally independence from the British! I've been working under a British boss for over a year now, during which time I have truly come to appreciate what it is to be AMERICAN! In August, I will declare independence from him when I teach my last day at his school!

In the past, I often wondered "Why did America and the various other Anglosphere countries, all formerly part of the British Empire, become independent? Why not just stay part of one great English-speaking empire? Are we not, to put it in Kublai Khan's misappropriated words, 'brothers of the same womb?'" Was it worth it to create borders and more restrictions just because of a bunch of taxes that were quite frankly warranted given the French and Indian War? Well, let's just say, my mind has been changed.

I shot off fireworks, shown in the picture above. And drank American beers such as Budweiser and Coores. And bought (expensive) American beef and fried it up! My dad, formerly at F.A.S. (the Foreign Agriculture Service) of U.S.D.A. (the United States Department of Agriculture) fought so I could eat such beef in Japan! I also ate some sausages with sauerkraut in the tradition of my Midwestern relatives, who are descended from my ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War!

Note the 48-star American flag in the image above (which I rendered using Inkscape). That's how many stars the flag had when my distant relative, Roald Amundsen, made his expeditions to the North and South Pole. Roald Amundsen was scoffed at in Britain, but he loved America and was attempting to gain American citizenship at the time of his death. He even had a cabin in Alaska. Isn't it ironic that while the British were scoffing at Roald Amundsen, he was completing a successful expedition to the South Pole with zero casualties thanks to knowledge he gained from the Inuit, such as wearing reindeer skin clothing and using sled dogs, around the same time that the Brit, Scott, perished on his expedition, which completely ignored the wisdom of the Inuit, instead using ponies to attempt to reach the South Pole?

Anyhow, enough newfound patriotism. I took a trip to Tokyo this weekend!

It was to take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) N1, the highest level! It was a hard test, and I strongly doubt I passed, but you know, it wasn't as hard as I thought. I mean, I'm confident that I knew the answers to at least some of the questions, I could generally read and understand the passages for the most part, etc. It's possible that I might pass this test in the relatively near future (maybe the next three years).

Speaking of Japanese, my Japanese class with Aoyama Sensei and my classmate, Thanh, ended last Friday. Here is a picture of us:
Thanh, Me, and Aoyama Sensei

I went to Tokyo on July 2 because I had the JLPT on July 3. I was originally going to take the train the whole way, but then I found out that Alona, my co-worker, was going to drive to her sister, Minerva's house, so I hitched a ride with her, giving her ¥1,000 in gas money and got to Shirakawa. This saved me some money on a train and was much more fun!

I arrived at Umegaoka Station at 12:40 AM and soon found the test center, but then spent until nearly 4:00 AM trying to find a place to sleep and charge my tablet and iPhone. I stayed at an Internet cafe after a woman at Ghast (very kind woman named Mo-e, who yielded her booth to me so I could sit there and charge my tablet) told me where I could find an Internet cafe.

The next day, I took the JLPT N1, which was easier than I had expected, and then met my girlfriend. We ate kebabs from a Turkish street stall and went to Don Quixote.

Toyoko Inn Breakfast
This was my continental breakfast at the Toyoko Inn. It had rice, a raisin roll, konbu (a type of seaweed) with beans, tsukemono (Japanese pickles), salad, meat dango, and burdock strips in some kind of white sauce. It wasn't a stellar breakfast, but it did the job.

Odaiba Beach Photos:
Futuristic Boat
Odaiba Beach
Odaiba Ticket
Gourmet McDonald's
Yurikamome Line—Approaching Odaiba

June 20, 2016: 100% on Homework 3 in CMIS 420, Chances of Graduating Looking Better

Homework 3 for CMIS 420

My chances of graduating with a degree in Computer & Information Science from UMUC (University of Maryland University College) are increasing greatly. Homework 3 was just graded two hours ago, and I got 100%; I got 100% on Week 5 Discussion, as well, in which I wrote a PL/SQL program that used a fixed iteration loop to display all 34 provinces of Afghanistan.

What all this means is the following:

  • I have 44.4 points out of 100 possible, so far, with a 100% average.
  • There are 55.64 points left to be determined.
  • I need an average of 81.96% on all future assignments to get an A; assuming that I get 100% on all discussion board posts (pretty easy completion credit), that means I need at least 79.92% on all remaining projects to get an A.
  • If my goal is simply to "pass," then I only need a 46.0100647% average on all future assignments. Though I certainly hope I do better than that.

Graduation is looking more and more certain. Soon, I will hold two bachelor's degrees!

June 19, 2016: Today Is My Tenth Anniversary of Moving Back to Asia

It has been an entire decade since I arrived in Incheon Airport, South Korea. I'm working on Homework 3 right now for my CMIS 420 class and don't have much time to post, but will post these photos, which I have never released on my website before. Two of the photos are photos of me from when I was 19 years old, taken 6/17/2016 (the day before I left for Korea) in the local park back in Fairfax. I also took the third picture in the park—a turtle laying its eggs on the same day. The fourth picture is of my C-3 visa, which formed the foundation for my legal residence in Korea from 2006 to 2007 (thanks to having the C-3 visa instead of just a landing permit, I was able to upgrade to a D-4 student visa from within Korea). The fifth picture is of some of my Fairfax County Public School Adult Education Korean textbooks from 2005-2006, taken against a red backdrop (my 7-Eleven uniform—I worked at 7-Eleven from 2004 to 2006). One decade in Asia as an adult is now finished, and I'm now starting my second decade as an adult here; combined with the time from when I was a kid, that's 15 years in Asia (I'm 29 years old, so that's the majority). Expect a fuller update tomorrow.

Me on 6/17/2006 Me on 6/17/2006, II Turtle Laying Eggs on 6/17/2006 My C-3 Visa from 2006 My Korean Study Materials from 2005-2006

May 30, 2016: More Good News in CMIS 420

CMIS 420 Homework 2 vi Editing the Code of Homework 2

I just finished my Homework 2 for CMIS 420 (my last course towards my Computer & Information Science second bachelor's degree) and got the grade back very, very promptly. I have a 100% average in the class (13.76/13.76 points so far). I need an average of 88.36% on future assignments to get an A, and if I can accomplish that, I'll graduate with a 4.0 GPA.

The professor (Professor Florin Catalin Tudose) seems quite good, and is a breath of fresh air after some of the crappy professors I've had at UMUC. He basically tutored me one-on-one early this morning for over an hour—it was supposed to be a group chat open to the whole class, but only this guy named Francois and I showed up, and Francois had barely any questions, so it was basically just a dialog between the professor and I for about an hour. That's what higher education is supposed to be like! He grades assignments freakishly promptly (like, when it isn't even 6:00 AM in the US yet, so either he's an early bird or he's not in the US). His rating on http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ reflects what I have just mentioned; he has 4.1/5. Maybe his class will be a way to end my UMUC Computer & Information Science curriculum on a high note.

May 18, 2016: Small Bit of Good News in CMIS 420

I just got back Homework 1 in CMIS 420, which I submitted less than 24 hours ago (the professor was a fast grader and I submitted the assignment four days early). I got 100%. CMIS 420 is my final course towards my Bachelor of Science in Computer & Information Science degree, so this small victory right at the beginning is great news for me, and puts me in a good mood after having to withdraw from the previous course that was supposed to be the last one. Maybe I really can finish this degree! The assignment was to carry out 55 steps in Oracle SQL*Plus on the RedHat Linux server remotely via SSH and save the results to a SPOOL file. I feel like the study I did before this course officially started, from PHP & MySQL FOR DUMMIES, including feeding the MySQL commands into Anki, has really paid off in helping me adapt to Oracle SQL*Plus, which is very similar, quickly.

Victory in CMIS 420

May 9, 2016: CMIS 420 (Advanced Relational Databases) Opened Today, and I Have 90 Days Left Before I Can Move to Tokyo

My last course at UMUC (University of Maryland University College) Asia for my Computer & Information Science degree opened today. It does not officially start for another week, but I can go ahead and look at it and start doing the readings, discussion board posts, and assignments, I think.

I need to really think hard about the near future, because many things are going to happen soon, notably:

  1. JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) N1: July 3, 2016
  2. Finishing at UMUC: July 11, 2016 at 1:00 PM
  3. Finishing at Windmill English Centre: August 6, 2016 at 5:30 PM
  4. Moving to Tokyo: by August 13, 2016 at latest (preferably earlier)
  5. My self-imposed deadline to find a new job: October 23, 2016 at 11:59 PM
  6. Turning 30: October 24, 2016 at midnight
  7. Time by which I want to be completely physically fit and academically well-rounded: August 24, 2017

Until July 11, aside from work, this is what I'm going to do:

  1. May 9-May 16: Finish Part II: MySQL Database in PHP & MySQL FOR DUMMIES and review as much of my CMIS 320 notes as possible. Get a start on CMIS 420. Keep up on Anki and try to reduce the backlog a little bit. Listen to an hour or more of Japanese radio or watch an hour or more of Japanese TV per day for my listening comprehension and keep up with my Japanese class at AWIA (Aizu-Wakamatsu International Association).
  2. May 16-July 11: CMIS 420, keeping up with Anki, an hour a day of listening comprehension practice, and keeping up with the AWIA lessons courtesy of Aoyama Sensei
  3. July 11~: Worry about that, then. I think it might be impossible to meet all my goals that I had wanted to accomplish before the job hunt starts. On July 11, when this course finishes, I'll just do the best I can.

April 24, 2016: My Sixth Visa Renewal Is Tomorrow

I just got a postcard from the immigration office on April 19. My renewal, which I applied for 20 days ago, is ready.

Immigration Documents
Here's the postcard and revenue stamp (shūnyū inshi for ¥4,000). I'm not really sure what the verdict will be. Possibilities include non-renewal (a total disaster, I'd have to leave Japan), a three-month extension (a serious disaster), a one-year extension (the minimum that I need to execute my plans for the next year), a three-year extension (this would be cause for celebration and would make my future in Japan much easier and more stable), or a five-year extension (extremely unlikely, but that would be nothing short of awesome). I'd estimate that the probabilities for those are: no extension: 1%, three-month extension: 9%, one-year extension: 70%, three-year extension: 29%, and five-year extension: 1%. In other words, I'm pretty sure they'll stick me with another somewhat insulting-but-good-enough-for-now one-year extension.

Today is the first day of my 16-day vacation from WEC. In order of importance, here are the goals for this break:

  1. Review relational databases so that I can survive in CMIS 420 (Advanced Relational Databases Concepts & Applications). To do this, I plan to finish reading PHP & MySQL FOR DUMMIES, write notes about it, and add all the MySQL commands (within reason) to Anki. Then I plan to re-read all my notes from CMIS 320 (Relational Database Concepts & Applications). Then I plan to go through a tutorial for ORACLE iSQL*Plus. This should make me more or less ready for CMIS 420. My bachelor's degree in Computer & Information Science depends on passing this class, so all of this is the priority.
  2. Eliminate my Anki backlog
  3. Make serious progress on my UMUC backlog.
  4. Continue to attend those Japanese classes at the Keikōdō (I'm in a class with a Vietnamese guy named Tain; this class is for people who have passed N2) and study what we learn in them assiduously.

April 18, 2016: Hanami Party Yesterday

Yesterday, WEC had its Hanami Party (Flower Viewing Party). We went to Monden Exercise Park and had this extremely small party from 10:00~2:00. As in only one student showed up who was not a family member of the boss or the staff. :-)

Hanami Image 5: Pink Sakura
Pink Sakura

Hanami Image 1: Mayan Pyramid
This is the side of a hill with concrete. It looks like a Mesoamerican pyramid, in my opinion.

Hanami Image 2: Koi
It was very difficult to photograph the koi because they surfaced only for a brief amount of time and moved very quickly. We threw them breadcrumbs. The white dots on the water are fallen cherry blossom petals. There were also ducks in the pond, which we also fed, and during all this, I did a lap around the pond.

Hanami Image 3: Wildflowers
Wildflowers

Hanami Image 4: White Sakura
White Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)

Hanami Image 6: Potluck Lunch
We had a potluck lunch. I cooked Norwegian pancakes. Ian cooked Madeleines in his oven. Satoe made ham sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches. Someone brought a cake that resembled a moss-covered brick. And some people just bought things at the convenience store and/or supermarket.

Hanami Image 7: Landscape 1
A Nice Landscape with Some Trees, a Graveyard, and the Mountains in the Background

Hanami Image 8: Landscape 2
Another Nice Landscape

Today is the two-month countdown until the 10th anniversary of me moving back to Asia. It is also the 28-day countdown until CMIS 420 starts. Time to get cracking!

March 11, 2016: Five-Year Retrospective (five years in Japan, five years since the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami)

Five years ago today, Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami that killed over 15,000 people and possibly as many as 18,000+. I was here when it happened, but was safe in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, which was barely hit at all. I didn't have this website back then (only my Korea, Programming, and Taiwan websites) because I'd just arrived in Japan four days before (from Taiwan) and hadn't even found a job yet and wasn't even sure if I was going to live here, yet.

When the earthquake hit, I was taking a nap—and didn't even wake up. When I woke up naturally from my nap, I checked Facebook and my Korean friend in Tokyo, Bona, had sent me a message: "ㄷㄷㄷㄷㄷ"—"D-D-D-D-D" in English, which I guess was the noise she thought the vibrations of the earthquake made. Tokyo soon had a food shortage, and she and her friends Gabi and Nina evacuated to my gaijin house, called "Banana House," in Sakai City. They showed me camera phone pictures of empty supermarket shelves. The night they arrived, Nicole Ross interviewed us for Radio Volta, which played over the Philadelphia airwaves. In Sakai City, there was also a food shortage (especially rice), but it was very minor compared to the food shortages in Tokyo.

The earthquake and tsunami had no major negative impact on me. When I look back, as terrible as it is to say this, it actually helped me—the hyper-competitive Japanese English teaching job market became less competitive as English teachers either fled or decided not to come to Japan.

In 2013, when I arrived in Utsunomiya (in Tochigi Prefecture, which borders Fukushima, a hard-hit prefecture) and toured the school where I would end up being an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) for a year, the man giving me the tour showed me the gym, which had been rebuilt after it had collapsed when the earthquake hit. I asked him "Was anyone hurt?" He just replied with "Yes." The next year, at that same school, we observed a moment of silence on the third anniversary of the natural disaster. While living in Utsunomiya, I also had one adult student who told me he had been pinned down by rubble during the earthquake.

This year, I'm working at an eikaiwa (English conversation) school in Fukushima Prefecture. Fukushima Prefecture, for those of you who've been living under a rock, has a melted down nuclear reactor (its meltdown was caused by it being hit by the tsunami). I live in Aizu-Wakamatsu City. The population of this city has swollen since the 3/11/2011 natural disaster because many people living here are evacuees.

At the start of today, I told myself "I'm not going to bring up the earthquake in class today." However, I ended up bringing it up anyway with my pre-intermediate students (mostly high school with one junior high school student) because it seemed like the elephant in the room. I mean, considering that it's all over the news and there are moments of silence and everything, it's pretty hard to say "March 11" without at least mentioning it, and once I did that, the discussion flowed organically from there. I didn't bring it up in the subsequent class, but one of my students did. Therefore, we ended up discussing it in two of my classes. I'm still not sure whether bringing it up in the first class was a good idea or a bad idea. On one hand, I got lots of firsthand accounts from people, including one boy whose family evacuated Futaba (the town with the nuclear reactor), and none of the students lost any family members. However, on the other hand, that boy whose family had moved looked very sad during the whole conversation and I realized that maybe I shouldn't have even mentioned the earthquake.

I won't disclose any of the students' names, just using first initials instead. R. is an 8th grader who was in 3rd grade (elementary school) back then. He said that he was in school when it hit and that the "roads were broken." His school sent the students home. His family eventually had to evacuate their now-irradiated hometown and resettle here in Aizu-Wakamatsu.

Then there was M., a high school 10th grader, who was in 5th grade of elementary school when the earthquake and tsunami hit. She was far away from the coast and was therefore safe from the tsunami, but the earthquake rocked her classroom and their TV fell on the floor. She told me of various shortages—people bought all the toilet paper, "petrol" (she has been learning British English), etc. When the earthquake hit, her school sent the students home, but there was nobody home at her house, so she went to a friend's house and watched the news on TV.

Then there was M-2, another high school student, this one also in 10th grade. She told me that the "wall [of her house] was a little broke." I corrected her, telling her that "broke" means 「破産」 ("bankrupt") and that she should use "broken" instead.

In the subsequent junior high school class, R-2 brought up the earthquake, not me (I had learned my lesson about bringing it up after R.'s sad reaction—he didn't cry or go silent or anything but I could tell by looking at his face that these weren't pleasant memories). Since R-2 brought it up and not me, I did ask them a few questions. There were water shortages and the cell phone network went down. R-2 and his family evacuated to Niigata for a month to stay with relatives. None of these students were evacuees, unlike the first class. Of course people remembered exactly where they had been; one student had been in math class when it happened; one student had been in homeroom when it happened; another student was changing his clothes.

I hope I didn't cause R. too much pain by asking these questions, and that I don't get in trouble for asking them those questions. I think I treated the subject matter seriously, injecting my own anecdotes about living in Virginia when the Pentagon (which is in Virginia close to my family's house) was hit by a plane during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and how shocked I felt and how I'll always remember where I was when I first heard the announcement (geometry class)—not the same thing, but analogous—a shocking event killing thousands of people happening close to home that ends up all over international news, which is burned into one's memory.

As for other news, on March 7, I reached five years in Japan. This is a major milestone for me. If I wanted to, I could now, at this point, apply to become a Japanese national (the requirement for that is five years' continuous residency [which I have], Japanese language ability [which I have], the ability to support myself [which I have], and a clean criminal record [which I have]). However, I'd have to give up my US citizenship—in other words, forget it, unless Japan suddenly allows dual citizenship or something. I'll just wait another nearly five years until I'm eligible for permanent residence, which doesn't require me to give up my US citizenship. In five years here, I've been an English teacher the whole time (four years as an eikaiwa teacher, one year as an ALT), done translations and proofreading part-time for a year, banked over ¥2,000,000 (my personal net worth was negative when I reached Japan and I've been paying for all my courses, so that's not so bad), knocked out 30 credit hours at UMUC, 16 through NOVA, and 6 through DSST tests, and as a result of these, finished an AS in IT from NOVA and two Career Studies Certificates from there (Business IT and Application Programming), passed JLPT N4, N3, and N2, passed Kanji Kentei 7-kyū, 5-kyū, and 4-kyū, and finished the CTEYL English teaching certification. In other words, I've accomplished approximately seven or eight years' worth of stuff in just five years, so I'm kind of proud.

I hope that my second five-year stint in Japan will be more peaceful and balanced and less of a race to the finish line. I think that various changes will occur slightly before my 30th birthday that will allow this to happen; the biggest two were JLPT N2 (which I got, officially-speaking, in January) and my BS in Computer & Information Science (which I'll probably get officially in May).

January 26, 2016: I'VE PASSED JLPT N2!

Long time no see, blog readers, and my apologies for the long period of time that has passed since my last update. At just after 12:00 AM today, I was able to log into MyJLPT, and saw the following, for the JLPT that I took on 12/6/2015:

JLPT N2 Pass

This means the following:

  • I now have access to more jobs. Many jobs require N2. For example, CIRs (Coordinators of International Relations) with the JET Programme require N2.
  • I can now enter Japanese schools up to a two-year college, as a Japanese student would. JLPT N2 is the level required to enter a Japanese high school or some two-year colleges. Four-year universities and up, though, are still off-limits (unless I take the courses in English or Korean) because they generally require either JLPT N1 or high EJU scores.
  • It's relatively prestigious. I've never worked with any gaijin English teacher who had higher than N2 (I worked with one English teacher back in Mie who had it and one of my co-workers now has it, but I don't know even one with N1).
  • It might have immigration benefits. Cynically-speaking, I doubt it, because this immigration system only seems to care about whether one has Japanese blood, is married to someone with Japanese blood, or the size of one's organization (which is why JETs get three years), but it'll make a stronger application than the time I applied for a three- or five-year extension with only N3 and was turned down. Considering that when I extend my Status of Residence, I'll have been here for over five years, been at the same job for over a year, and have N2 and KanKen 4-kyū now, this will be my strongest case ever for a three- or five-year instead of a one-year one.

Now that N2 is out of the way, there's only one level left before I'm "done"—N1. N1 is a hard, hard test that will require learning approximately 4,000 words beyond what I had to know for the N2. Therefore, this is going to be my new Japanese study plan:

  • Don't worry about studying for N1 for at least another year or two.
  • However, start taking N1 in July and December, just so I can get an objective measure of whether my Japanese has improved or degraded, and by how much. And who knows—one of these times, I might get lucky and pass it.

    This might seem to contradict the above bullet point, but it doesn't. I plan to take it regularly, but not focus on studying for it—at least for now, no memorization from JLPT N1 word lists or kanji lists, for example.
  • From now until my job hunt in August, work on the following:
    • Work on IT/high-tech Japanese (such as programming terms). I can do this, for example, by teaching myself JavaScript from a Japanese JavaScript book. These terms will be invaluable during job interviews and hopefully, my future job.
    • Work on "real Japanese" (Japanese as it is actually spoken and not sanitized test Japanese), especially listening comprehension.

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