Well, it’s all done – the Iwate Summer Program in America for high school students went smoothly enough. There were a few hiccups here and there (including getting a bit lost on the NYC subway and making the governor of Iwate wait for us in the crowded 9.11 memorial) and of course there were things I could have prepared for better – but! I’m pretty proud of myself. I think this trip opened up a whole new world to a fantastic group of young people. I’m so happy I could show them my country and that I could see them as they interacted with a completely new culture to them. And I hope I can continue to help them as they grow into “globally-minded” young adults, just as people helped me along the way.

Now, I’m gonna take a well-deserved rest. After almost a year of planning, I think I can schedule in a breather or two :)



So, this is my August:

August 1st – Sansa Odori. My fifth parade, and my fourth time performing as part of the taiko team! Honestly, this one rushed up too quickly to get too excited about, which is just crazy considering how important it’s been to me. Well, it rained the day we performed too, and I’m not talking about a little bit of pitter patter. Not losing to the rain, indeed.


August 1st and August 7th – New JETs arrive. We have seven altogether this year, but for once I’m not in charge of going to Tokyo to pick them up and run their orientation. Actually, I won’t really have to do it ever again, seeing as my appointment will be up just about the time they arrive next year.

Seems like a pretty normal August, yeah??


Oh, what’s this?

Second Week of AugustJapan-America Student Conference

The members of the JASC 2013 delegation will spend a week in Iwate where they will be having discussions on the reconstruction of the Tohoku region, as well as visiting the local Koiwai Farm, Miyako City, Hiraizumi World Heritage Site, an address by the governor, and a Reconstruction Forum. CIR DUTIES: ON STANDBY FOR INTERPRETING…. everything…


so wait, that’s how many speeches…?

Third and Fourth Weeks of August – Iwate Prefecture High Schoolers Visit to the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

This is that “big” thing that I mentioned before, the thing that I am so busy with. I and two other coworkers are taking ten high schoolers to NYC and Washington DC for sightseeing, official visits, PR events, and exchanges with American high schoolers. While the reservations for hotels and charter buses were left to the tour company, I am in charge of all the sightseeing and reservations for restaurants, as well as the exchanges with the American school. YEAH.



Oh yes, I’m quite terrified of all the things that could go wrong, and I’m already exhausted just thinking about all of it. But it’s August – it’s upon me! Can’t turn back now. This is the reason I got to stay a fifth year, guys – gotta use all the skills that I’ve learned over the past few years to make this project a success, so they can continue doing it in the future. I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting to see how it will turn out.

Annnnd. Blogging should return in September :) Until then!

can you hear it

Photo: Izumi-green.co.jp

Photo: Izumi-green.co.jp

「    聞こえますか

兵庫県西宮市  松浦 末子


買い物してもらっても   ありがとう

電球替えてもらっても   ありがとう

毎日こんなに沢山のありがとうが  あったなんて

二人でいる時は      何もかもが当り前で

お互い言えなかった    ありがとう

今 夜空の星に言います  ありがとう    」


Can You Hear It?

Even when you did the shopping

“Thank you.”

Even when you changed a lightbulb

“Thank you.”

Even though everyday there were so many things I should have thanked you for

When we were together

It just seemed so obvious

And we never said it

“Thank you.”

Now I look at the stars in the midnight sky and say,

“Thank you.”

by Matsuura Sueko (Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture)

the birthplace of buddha and a trip to everest

Here I am with Rt. Hon. Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal, the former Prime Minister of Nepal, and my fellow CIR

I really enjoy when foreign officials visit Iwate, even though I get crazy jitters and feel like at any moment my head will go blank and I’ll forget any and all Japanese (and English too). It’s just fascinating to hear about the situations of other countries, especially the ones I never got the opportunity to study in high school world history. It’s a great workout for my interpretation skills, and while I still tend to give too broad of a translation and things get kind of vague and I start talk all over the place and then at the end I just trail off… I’ve found ways to compensate for all that, and realize now that even professionals get things wrong, have to ask for clarification, and lose their train of thought. Each sentence is like a puzzle that I have to solve on the spot. It’s exhausting, but it’s kind of fun. It’s especially nice when you get the draft of a speech ahead of time so you can just translate it beforehand (and then have your awesome boss check it in the remaining 30 minutes). Heh. The picture above was taken at Iwate Prefectural University, where Mr. Nepal gave a speech on Nepal-Japan relations that I was in charge of interpreting. Ninety minutes! Three years ago, I probably would have hidden in the broom closet.

It’s kind of nice, to know what I can do.

Today’s Iwate Nippo Shimbun

Wishing for the progression of our cooperative ties with Japan

A lecture by the former Prime Minister of Nepal

IWATE PREFECTURAL UNIVERSITY – The former Prime Minister of Nepal, Rt. Hon. Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal, visited Iwate Prefectural University in Takizawa Town on the 4th to give a special lecture to students entitled “Promoting Friendship Between Nepal & Japan.”

Mr. Nepal gave his condolences to all those lost in the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and expressed his respect for the survivors of Iwate who are working towards reconstruction. As he spoke of of the exchange between Nepal and Japan in areas such as Buddhism and mountaineering, he also stressed the need for technological and economic support of Nepal’s emerging hydro-power industry and infrastructure.

“Investing in Nepal will lead to a bridge between neighboring countries China and India,” said Mr. Nepal, wishing for the strengthening of Nepal-Japan cooperative ties.

Mr. Nepal was the Prime Minister of Nepal from May, 2009 to February, 2011. The special lecture was organized by the Nepal Japan Citizen Society. Around 100 students attended the lecture, and asked many questions.

Mr. Nepal also visited the Prefectural Office where he met with Governor Takuya Tasso.


(we interpreted that meeting too!)


Photo credit: Asahi Shimbun

On September 12, 2012, Rikuzentakata City cut down the Lone Pine Tree, the only pine tree that survived the tsunami that devastated a great forest, so that it may be preserved instead of withering in the salty dead soil.

Here’s an article from the Mainichi (translated from Japanese):

The Great East Japan Earthquake and

Tsunami: Come back, Lone Pine Tree!

Symbol felled for preservation


The Mainichi Shimbun, September 12, 2012 – Tokyo Evening Edition

 The “Miraculous Lone Pine Tree,” which survived the Tohoku tsunami but was damaged beyond repair, was prepared to be cut down on the morning of the 12th in Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture. It will be preserved and replanted in the same spot in February of next year as a symbol of hope.

The pine tree was the lone survivor of a forest of around 70,000 trees planted in the Edo Period as a natural tsunami barrier. The Lone Pine Tree gave courage and hope to the survivors of the 2011 disaster but salt damage to the soil proved fatal to its roots. In December of last year, experts confirmed that while the tree was still standing, it had withered and died. The tree was at risk of being knocked down by typhoons or lighting, so the city decided to preserve it as a monument.

The Lone Pine Tree was around 27 meters tall. Around 100 townspeople watched over the tree’s last free-standing moments while laborers began cutting off the limbs and branches at 10:20 am.

A chainsaw was used to cut down the trunk of the tree in the afternoon, and will be transported away on the 13th.

The Lone Pine Tree will be brought to an Aichi Prefecture saw mill where it will be divided into 9 parts.  After the core has been hollowed out, a chemical facility in Kyoto City will treat it with preservatives. The branches will be reproduced to restore the tree to what it looked like while living.

The preservation project will cost 150 million yen (around $2 million). The city has created a fund for charitable donations, which currently has received 654 donations from throughout Japan and the world, totaling around 26,870,000 yen (around $350,000).

Mayor Futoshi Toba said at a Shinto prayer rite for the project, “It is frustrating how slowly the reconstruction has progressed in the one and half years since the disaster. It is our duty to preserve the Lone Pine Tree so that it can continue to be a symbol of hope for all of the affected areas still suffering.” – by Taichi Nemoto

And here’s an English article as well.

I had assumed that the tree was still living, even though I knew it was dying of salt water in the soil, so it really surprised me to turn on the tv and see the tree getting torn apart. It seemed like a wholly Japanese thing to do – killing a tree in order to preserve it forever, with a man-made skeleton in its core, and sat back in its resting place like nothing had happened. Basically, it didn’t matter if it was actually living or not – which in the scheme of things, is pretty much how all humans feel about their symbols. I was just surprised by how … public it was, I guess. I don’t know.

But the tree was already dead, so I guess this was the practical thing to do. And even if it wasn’t, it was going to die anyway. Even if there had been no tsunami, that tree would have died at some point. Maybe it would have been another century (the thing was 270 years old after all), but it would have popped the bucket eventually. Or, uh, popped its, uh, roots? I guess.

It’s kind of interesting. Everyone was so worried about the health of that tree, because it meant something to so many people. But everything dies. Every life is an ephemeral thing. That was something the tsunami reminded us of, after all. And no matter how slow the reconstruction is, it is happening. It would have been poignant, too, if they had taken it down because the people of Rikuzentakata didn’t “need” it anymore. But I’m not a resident, so I suppose I don’t really have the right perspective.

Regardless, not a mile inland, pine saplings sprouted from cones collected before the tsunami are growing like weeds, carefully cultivated by people who loved those trees more than anything. If there’s ever going to be a symbol of the reconstruction of Rikuzentakata, it probably should be those young pine trees.

keep on chasing, boy

The following is an excerpt from “Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke Yo Otome (The Night is Short; Go Forth, Young Woman)” by Morimi Tomihiko.

Have you ever seen the parting between sunny weather and rainy weather?

Imagine yourself standing motionless, drenched by the rain, hearing the large raindrops slap and patter on the ground. If you were to wipe the rain streaming down your face and look ahead, the warm sunrays would be illuminating the ground just a few steps in the distance, and there would be no raindrops staining the road. In front of you is the parting between sunny and rainy weather. I’ve seen that strange scene only once, when I was a child.

That winter, I once again thought of that scene.

There’s a drenched rat scurrying through the cool rain. Of course, that rat is me. I’m trying to get to the sunny weather. But that sunny weather that I can see right in front of me keeps fading into the distance, like a summer mirage. Standing in the sun is a girl with jet black hair, the girl that I love. Warmth surrounds her; she’s peaceful, blessed by the gods’ good favor, and she probably smells good too. And then just look at me. I’m not surrounded by the gods’ good favor – rather, I’m only blessed with immaturity, and the only thing that’s raining on me are my pathetic tears as I struggle clumsily. The only wind blowing against me is a storm of love.

She walks down streets ruled by the god of wind*, and without even trying she became the main character of a town descending into the last month of the year. And she didn’t even notice at all. She still doesn’t notice.

On the other hand, I was blown over by the god of colds*. I was suffering under a high fever, and my lungs were bruised by intense coughs. I lay curled in my unmade futon, and could only indulge in daydreams since I could not chase after her. I settled for being a pebble on the side of road because I could no longer dream of becoming the main character. It seemed like it had been decided: my destiny was to spend the new years holidays all alone.

But, it all was going to happen by that unmade futon.

This is her story, and it’s my story too.

Being an opportunist, that pebble by the side of the road was finally going to rise from his unmade futon.

Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke Yo Otome (The Night is Short; Go Forth, Young Woman)” by Morimi Tomihiko

*Note: In Japanese, the word for “wind” and “cold” are homophones, so the “god of wind” and the “god of colds” are both “kaze no kami.”

I’m about caught up on my Morimi – there’s still a pretty long book about tanuki (I think?) that I haven’t read, but I’ll save that for later. It’s kind of depressing to think that there might be no more to read from him for a while, so I should savor it while I can. I just really like him, even if every single one of his stories is about a young man in love with a short-haired manic pixie dream girl. Oh, and they all take place in Kyoto, during college, at Kyoto University. And they’ve all got varying degrees of weird unexplained fantastical events occurring in them. But at least in this book, you got to read some of it from her perspective. And, according to this kid, it is her story. He’s just a pebble on the sidelines.


“So you’ve read so many more books than I have; who is your favorite author?”

“Besides Morimi? …Hn, that’s a tough one.”

that which will never be returned

The following is an excerpt from “Hisaichi no Hontou no Hanashi wo Shiyou” (Talking About What Really Happened in the Disaster Area) by Toba Futoshi, the current mayor of Rikuzentakata. Mayor Toba lost his wife in the tsunami.

I became the mayor of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, on February 13th, 2011.

And then, less than a month after coming to office, the Tohoku Earthquake struck right as I was beginning my journey as the mayor of the city.

Rikuzentakata is at the southern most point in the prefecture, facing the Sanriku sea, and took the most damage out of any other place in Iwate. As of today, July 5th, there were 1,526 deaths recorded. The only town in Iwate that had more than 1,000 deaths was Rikuzentakata. Even though it has been 4 months since the earthquake and tsunami struck, there are still 543 people missing. Rikuzentakata is already a small town of only 25,000 people, so the scale of loss is just devastating.

I think many people have now seen on television and in newspapers the images of our town now destroyed by the tsunami.  Of course, before the disaster, we had a JR train station, a city hall, a large hospital, hotels, and many other buildings. All of those buildings were swallowed up by the tsunami.

I was born in Kanagawa Prefecture and lived in Machida, Tokyo until I was 28. After that, I moved to Rikuzentakata and started working as a city council member in 1995. I’ve lived half of my life in this city, and I will probably live here for many years and decades to come.

And I saw, with my own two eyes, my homeland, my children’s homeland – our furusato – disappear in an instant.

At that moment, I could only think about protecting the lives of the townspeople, but watching all of the town – things that had been standing since the day before – wash away and then disappear was a chilling, horrifying moment.

One of the things swept away was my house, and my wife who had been staying at home that day. She is no longer with us.

And so on that day I became the mayor of the largest disaster area of Iwate Prefecture, and a survivor.


There are many things that have to be done. First, after we remove all of the debris and wreckage, we have to walk down the path to reconstruction that is the only chance for Rikuzentakata’s future. That’s why, when I was approached to publish a book, I almost refused, thinking, “This is not the time for that.” However, as the days since the disaster pass one by one, I’ve begun to think that it would be worthwhile to write a book, because now is the time to write it; now is the right timing. No matter how shocking the news is about the disaster, as time passes, our story will stop being told. And to the people outside of the Tohoku area, the tv broadcasts are the only news they have about us. They might begin to think that reconstruction is going smoothly and that there is no news to be had.

However, that is not true. There are large mountains of debris piling up just waiting to be disposed of, and the large hollowed-out buildings that will eventually be destroyed are just sitting there, abandoned.

The reason they haven’t been cleaned up yet is because we simply have no way to do it. There may be people shocked by this, but even at this stage in July, we still have areas that don’t have their utilities and lifelines back up running. The station and the tracks are destroyed, so the trains are still down. The roads are still only for emergency vehicles, and the scars of the disaster still remain.

Even if just one person reads this, I want people to know about what’s really happening in the disaster area. That’s why I decided to publish this book. If and when some other large incident happens in Japan, the television stations are going to stop showing the situation in Rikuzentakata. And then the disaster area will start to be forgotten…

What will that mean?

The donations will probably stop being collected; volunteers will stop coming to help. If that happens during this time of reconstruction, it will truly make things difficult. And what’s more frightening is the possibility that people will start thinking that Rikuzentakata has already been rebuilt, even though we have so much ahead of us.

If the survivors who have lost their houses and are now living in shelters and temporary housing are forgotten about, what will happen to them?

The reason we have been able to withstand these long, awful days is because Japan and the rest of the world has been supporting us. We’ve not been forgotten about. We’re not alone. These thoughts and hopes have kept us feeling like we’re alive, and given us the energy to face reconstruction.

Of course money is important, but the most important thing is mental care for survivors. The Rikuzentakata City Government has received letters and words of encouragement from so many different places. One elementary school had an entire class write us letters and send them in a huge envelope. I’m sure the teacher of that class told the children about what was really happening in Rikuzentakata. And if in the act of writing those letters, those children were able to remember those four characters – 陸前高田 (Riku-zen-taka-ta) – then I am truly happy. That heavy stack of letters felt like they represented the sympathy the teacher and students had for us, and my eyes began to water.

I am so grateful for all of the letters and words of encouragement that we received from everyone. They gave us so much courage.

It would not be strange for a disaster like this to happen again at some other place, some other time. But we are continuing to fight for our homeland here in the disaster area.

I hope that you will read this book and feel like the survivors of Rikuzentakata are not strangers, but your friends, your brothers, your sisters, your family.

— “Hisaichi no Hontou no Hanashi wo Shiyou” (Talking About What Really Happened in the Disaster Area) by Toba Futoshi

the night is short

“As the wedding party and the drinking party, and the farewell party and the 60th birthday party all gathered quietly, Rihaku-san and I sat across from each other, a sake set in between us.

A large silver glass sake bottle and two cups were placed on the round table.

The competition would be extremely simple. Rihaku-san and I would both drink one glass, and then turn it upside down in front of the other to show it was empty. Then the next cup would be poured. A winner would only be declared once one of us said they could not drink anymore, or once one of us became too drunk to hold a cup, or once the resident doctor Uchida-san had determined it to be too dangerous to go on.

As it was being poured, the “Imposter Denki Bran” looked as clear as purified water, but with a faint orange glimmer within. I took the cup into my hand and smelled it gently. All of a sudden, it was if large-petaled flowers were blooming before me.

The President and Todo-san and Higuchi-san stood beside me.

“And so: this drinking competition is riding on all of your bets. If this girl is to lose, then your loans will double. I won’t accept less.”

The three men nodded gravely at Rihaku-san’s words.

The large clock on the wall at the far corner of the room struck 3am.

“Please start,” said Uchida-san, acting as our witness.

How should I describe the moment when the first drops of Imposter Denki Bran hit my throat? The Imposter Denki Bran was not sweet, and it was not dry. It wasn’t like I had imagined either, like a lighting striking the top of my tongue. It was just a tasteless liquid with a mellow, full-bodied fragrance. I had always thought that taste and smell were two linked senses, but only with this drink was I wrong. Flowers bloomed with every sip, and there was no aftertaste – the liquid traveled to my stomach where flowers grew like it was a garden. As I drank, happiness bloomed from the pit of my stomach. Even though we were having a drinking competition, Rihaku-san and I were drinking calmly, smiling.

Ah, this is wonderful. I want to drink like this forever.

I sat there like that, enjoying my Imposter Denki Bran. The commotion of all the people around us slowly faded away, and it strangely felt like Rihaku-san and I were alone in a quiet room, drinking together. If you’ll forgive my exaggeration, the Imposter Denki Bran felt like it was warming my entire life from the bottom up.

One more. One more. One more.

As I was focusing on my drink and losing track of time, I started to feel safer and safer. Even though we hadn’t said a word to each other, I felt as if Rihaku-san was like my grandfather. And even without words, it felt like he was talking to me.

“All you have to do is live,” said Rihaku-san, or at least it felt as if he did. “All you have to do is drink delicious sake. One more, one more, and then one more again.”

“Rihaku-san, are you happy?”

“Of course.”

“I’m very glad for you.”

Rihaku-san smiled gently, and said in a tiny whisper:

“The night is short; go forth, young woman.”

I was having so much fun, the Imposter Denki Bran filling my stomach. This is so good. This is so tasty. I could drink this all night.

As soon as I wished that this competition could last forever, I realized that Rihaku-san had put a stop to the proceedings. He placed a wrinkled hand on top of his cup on the table.

“I can drink no more,” he said. “You. Let’s stop with this.”

All of a sudden I returned to my senses, to the bustling commotion.

The ring of partygoers gathered around us tightly, me and old man Rihaku. The President tapped me on the shoulders, and Higuchi-san stood there smiling with his hands in his pockets. And Todo-san, who had started it all, sat on the carpet, his face scrunched up in thought.


I began walking down the stone pavement of the dark Pontocho streets.

I no longer remembered why I had set out upon such a journey that night. But even so, it had been rather fun; a night where I had learned so much. Or rather, perhaps I just felt like I had. But really, that didn’t matter at all anymore. There I was, a small little chickpea, and I would face forward, aim for a beautiful life, and keep on walking forth.

I took a deep breath of the crisp, cold air and looked to the sky above. I remember what Rihaku-san had said as we were drinking. A happy mood came over me, like if I yelled those words they would protect me.

So I whispered them.

The night is short; go forth, young woman.

–“Yoru Ha Mijakashi Aruke Yo Otome (The Night is Short; Go Forth, Young Woman)” by Morimi Tomihiko

What I like about Morimi is that even though his plots seem to star the same characters and take place in the same spots, his command of the written language is so powerful that even I, a non-native speaker, can be moved by it. I hope that someday he stops writing about Kyoto and college and crushing on short-haired pixie girls, but even if he doesn’t, I’ll still read it. It’s only a shame that I can’t convey that beauty in my translations!

if you were just

Well, they have a love of plastic surgery in common...

Lately the Japanese gossip world has been abuzz with news of yet another “dekichatta kekkon,” or shot-gun wedding. Akanishi Jin, a boy band pop star who was trying to make it in the States, has had to make an honest woman out of Kuroki Meisa, an up-and-coming actress/singer/ingenue. Yes, they still do have “shot-gun weddings” in Japan, and yes, Akanishi Jin was at one point my One True Love. I unfortunately had to find out this news through Twitter, and I’m still bitter about it.

Sure, this all seems very 1950’s style and super depressing (who wants to bet that the marriage will be over in three years? and that poor child..), but that’s the way it is here still. Everyone knows it’s a shot-gun wedding, everyone knows exactly what’s going on and that there’s no love here, only obligation. But everyone feels inclined to play along anyway. I did read something interesting though – Japanese talent agencies tend to be ruthless, only giving their stars a minimum of their deserved wages and having ridiculous restrictions on their lifestyles. No dating, drinking, going out with girls – with an exhausting work schedule appearing on talk shows, commercials, music videos, your name plastered in neon lights over Shibuya Crossing. Akanishi’s agency, Johnny’s Entertainment, is one of the worst in the business, because they know that if their prized studs were to get girlfriends, all the high school girls would lose interest fast. Smart business, but it’s no wonder that many pop stars get “accidentally” pregnant just to get out of the rat race.

I do in a way think this is Akanishi yet again giving the finger to the establishment that made him famous to begin with. I don’t think this is something he wanted, seeing as he was trying to break through the American market (though I doubt that would ever happen, no matter how good his English got). Looks like that dream will either be put on hold, or he’ll just follow through on that long tradition of neglectful celebrity fathers. But once again, just as he just up and went to America for six months right after KAT-TUN was established, and just went and quit the band randomly right before they got super huge (and effectively screwed over his bandmates), he had basically said, “screw you guys, I’m going to do what I want to do, and eff the protocol.” There are some people who are very angry that Akanishi isn’t doing what he’s supposed to do, as a Japanese celebrity, and I think that’s interesting.

I think he’s probably a huge dick, but I do kind of admire that he’s continually rebelled against one of the most oppressive talent agencies in the biz. I’ll always have a soft spot for him seeing as how I watched two of his shows religiously to get my Japanese better, but well, I guess we’ll never end up together now.

I’ve translated some (kinda vicious) Japanese entertainment news articles after the fold.

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