I’ve just arrived back in Tokyo after an absolutely incredible week working at an international summer camp called MSTERIO. The camp, which began its thirteenth year last Saturday (8 days ago), brings together a group of about 40 kids (3/4 Japanese and 1/4 international, mostly American) to play games, do sports and arts, and live in cabins. The camp is in Nagano Prefecture, several hours northwest of Tokyo by しんかんせん (shinkansen, high speed train), surrounded on all sides by beautiful green mountains. It is heaven.

I (an assistant counselor) and another college-age guy names たくや (Takuya) lived in a cabin with six boys between 6 and 14 years old. Since many of the kids speak no English at all, the experience contributed a huge amount of my Japanese learning this summer. Despite busy schedules every day and many excitable, crazy kids, the camp was a perfect way to refresh after six rigorous weeks teaching in Tokyo.

I’ll probably post some pictures soon, but in the meantime, here is a link to my performance in the Staff Talent Show a few nights ago! As you can see, the language barrier really didn’t stop us all from becoming quite close 🙂

I hope you like it!


英語の先生になること (Becoming an English Teacher)

Much of my time here in Tokyo this summer has been taken up by teaching 英語 (eigo, English). In total, I have been working what amounts to roughly 30 hour weeks, including lesson-prep, teaching, and commuting time. My weekly lessons consist of both one-on-one and group lessons for children and adults. My adult students work at three companies, which I visit each week in order to give the lessons. The kids’ lessons are given at my host-family’s house. In a given week, I’ve generally been giving about:

5 one-on-one adult lessons with intermediate students (1 hour each)

1 group lesson with 2-3 beginner adult students (1 hour)

1 group lesson with 5-6 advanced adult students (1.5 hours)

4-6 individual or group kids lessons (45 min – 1.5 hours each)

The experience of teaching English here has been both fantastic and exhausting. I’ve found that, to give a good lesson, one really needs to be ON 100% of the time (especially in the conversation-type lessons I’m teaching, which involve little or no downtime during which students are writing, working on their own, etc). This is the exhausting part. On the other hand, my lessons (with adults) have been invaluable opportunities to learn about the Japanese culture and way of life. In my adult lessons, we’ve discussed topics ranging from politics to marriage to Formula 1 racing. ‘Discussion questions’ like “What is the most important thing to accomplish in one’s life?” and “What is the typical family in Japan, and what are the family members’ roles?” have given me insight into priorities, thought processes, and cultural norms here that in many cases set Japan far apart from Western countries. My English lessons have sometimes been more of a lesson for me than for my students. This is the fantastic part.

While my lessons with children tend not to reach the same cultural depths, the lessons have affirmed my love for teaching kids. There is a special kind of joy that I’ve found comes with watching something ‘click’ for a kid before your eyes. Teaching ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’ and then playing the tricky “Touch your head! (I demonstrate by touching my head) Touch your toes! (I touch my toes) Touch your shoulders! (I touch my knees)” game has been a blast.

As of this coming Thursday, my time teaching English here in Japan will be over. Next week, I will travel north of Tokyo to be a councilor for a wonderful American/Japanese camp in the mountains (for one week). Afterward, I will spend a week traveling alone and then one week back in Tokyo visiting with my dad, who is coming to visit!

In celebration of these six weeks of teaching, here are a few teaching-related pictures:


Two of my students (brother and sister) during my stay at the Fukudas.


Sibling students plus books (for the purpose of looking as academic as possible) and Rinta!


Reading a Star Wars picture book to Rinta (the hand-over-mouth helps with the ‘Darth Vader’ voice)

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Teaching a group of four kids, including Rinta, at the Fukudas.

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These last two are from a visit I made with my host mother to Rinta’s school. Once each month (I think), a parent comes to school in the morning and reads a story in Japanese to his/her child’s class. It was my host-mother’s turn while I was staying with the Fukudas, and she turned her spot over to me. I spent about 10 minutes reading a fun picture book called “I Want My Hat Back” and then answering lots of questions about where I’m from, what I like to eat, etc. Such fun.

I’ll miss teaching when it is over!

もっと弟!(More of my little brother)

Although I moved in with my host family about a week ago, I’ve just received from my previous (host) parents a CD of pictures that they took during my time with them. I can’t resist posting a few more here to show off my little brother, Rinta!! Also, one of the major perks of a professional photographer host-father: high quality photos.





From the major gift-giving session on my last night. In case you didn’t notice, he wore the Red Sox jersey I brought him as an おみやげ (omiyage, a gift, usually given after traveling)! 

The following are a few other fun pictures from my time with Rinta and the Fukuda family.


Rinta becomes a story teller upon my arrival home from work.


Singing Rinta’s favorite Michael Jackson tunes during my first Japanese カラオケ (karaoke) experience!


One of many delicious dinners made by Fukuda-san (my most mother). She’s an incredible cook!!! Exhibit B:




Studying together in our ゆかた (yukata, summer kimono). During my last few days, the Fukudas gifted me this beautiful blue yukata. Jeez, what a wonderful host family!!


もういちど引っ越した (I have moved, again)

Two more weeks have flown by, and today I moved in with my third and final home stay family, the Miyadais. I was very sad to say goodbye to the Fukudas, and especially to Rinta, the 8 year old brother to whom I’ve become unimaginably attached.


Goodbye Rinta-kun!! I will miss you dearly!

On my last night, the Fukudas gave me a series of small, incredibly thoughtful gifts. The most touching for me was a handmade photo album with a range of pictures recounting the various little adventures and experiences we’ve had together over the past two weeks. Rinta, a phenomenally smart, studious boy with a deep love for kanji, wrote very cute speech bubble commentary to go along with many of the pictures. Although I consider it out of character for me, I must admit that, sitting at the dinner table looking through the photo booklet, tears welled up in my eyes. In a matter of only 14 days, I have really come to think of the Fukudas as family.

For my part, I made Rinta-kun two mix-CDs with a variety of music. Rinta loves music. We frequently listened together to the Michael Jackson and classical CDs that they have at home (I think I mentioned before, Rinta has a surprising and very entertaining love for MJ). Now, he’s got some of my favorites to listen to, too!

I am really going to miss the whole Fukuda family. As Rinta is an only child, I think I fit really well into the mix as an older brother figure. And as an only child myself, it was so wonderful to have a little bro! So needless to say, it’s tough to move. But, as is the norm here, がんばります!(ganbarimasu, I will do my best!) and hope to make the most of my new home and family.

I certainly have no reason to complain. My new family consists of two parents and two children, a boy named Shuugo of Rinta’s age (8 years old) and a girl named Rio who is 11. They are both sweet kids, and Shuugo has generously (although perhaps not entirely voluntarily) given up his room to me for the course of my stay. 


Here is a blurry version of Shuugo, from our first dinner together tonight!

The Miyadai parents are both supremely generous, kind-seeming people. I’ve met them both before on two occasions, during which I visited their home for dinner parties with friends/Fukuda-san (Mrs. Miyadai is a professional pianist/piano teacher, and Rinta is one of her students). The Miyadai parents are also my first host parents to speak highly proficient English, which means communication is easier. At the same time, though, it does mean I will have to challenge myself a little more to continue practicing Japanese while I am around them! I don’t want to fall into the habit of speaking English too often.

I’m sure the next two weeks have many new and exciting adventures in store. Here at the 1 month mark, I have to keep reminding myself to look around with fresh eyes and appreciate every moment I have here in Japan. It is too easy to stop seeing all the incredible things around me!

 I’ll finish this off with a semi-panorama of my new room. Hope all is well back home with friends and family in the US!


To everyone back home:

To everyone back home:

Happy 4th of July!!!!

From Tadashi and host-family/friends

From left to right: Masumi-san [first host mom], Hisako-san, ME, Junji-san [Masami-san’s husband], Masami-san [one of my best friends here!]

すごく元気です。(I am incredibly happy.)

I have been very busy. This past weekend, I moved from one incredible host family to another — from the Tsudas to the Fukudas. The families are quite different, mostly as a consequence of their children; the Tsudas have two late teen kids, while the Fukudas have one 8 year old son, Rinta-kun (kun is added to young boy’s names for an additional layer of fondness). AND BOY AM I FOND OF HIM!!!

Rinta is a spectacularly smart, funny, friendly, excited boy. He loves loves loves taking pictures (his father is a photographer), but also has a hyper-intellectual passion for studying KANJI (the impossibly difficult Japanese writing system — non-phonetic — imported from China many hundreds of years ago). Each night, he exclaims “日本語を勉強しましょう!” (nihongo o benkyoshimasho, Let’s study Japanese!) and proceeds to methodically teach me Japanese vocabulary. Usually the vocabulary comes out of whatever picture book or Kanji practice notebook is close at hand. I am so happy to have this younger brother for a time — although we have about 10 days left together, I’m already sad to have to leave him!!

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention my new host-mama, Chiharu-san, who is spectacular. We have quickly grown close, and she is very enthusiastic about practicing her English with me too.

On Saturday (having moved in with the Fukudas on Friday), the whole family went on a day trip to Kamakura, an old city about 50 km outside of Tokyo. There are many old, beautiful shrines there, and the city itself is right on the ocean. We had a fantastic day of exploration and picture taking (mostly by Rinta, who took about 250 pictures over the 9 hours we were there). Here are a few pictures from both Kamakura and before, with a theme that I think you’ll be able to deduce…!



Taken shortly after Rinta-kun received his おみやげ (omiyage, gift) from me. Commenced to dance to Michael Jackson, whose music he loves. We can often be found singing ‘Billie Jean’ in the living room, car, or at the dinner table.


Dinner on my first night with the Fukudas.


Little brother, big brother, at a tea ceremony house in Kamakura!! (See the rock garden in the background? So beautiful!)20130629_093811

Father and son, cameras close at hand.


Mid-day snacks!


Beach time pre-dinner.


Rinta has a habit of playing around during meals…:)


The parents! (Chiharu-san and Hideo-san)


Sweets are best eaten in pairs!


I feel so lucky for this experience. I cannot believe how warm, welcoming, generous, kind, supportive, interesting, interested, funny, enthusiastic, sweet, and humble the people are who, by some incredible twist of fate, are my hosts during this summer in Tokyo.

May we all strive to act as such people for the others in our lives!

小さい経験 (LITTLE ADVENTURES) : Part 1

This is the first post in a series of “Little Adventure” posts I’ll put up showing some of the adventures of the past two weeks.


As of today (Monday, June 24th), I’ve been in Japan for about 12 full days. Thanks to an incredible host family and host-extended family/friends, I’ve met a ton of people (about 30 — I’ve been counting) and had a number of really wonderful and exciting adventures.

The picture above is from the Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine built in the early 1900s to commemorate Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, who were important players in the Meiji Restoration (a period in Japanese history that oversaw the emergence of Japan as a modernized nation). The shrine is located in Shibuya, quite close to my current host family’s house; I visited on Wednesday of last week with my host mother. Here she is!


We didn’t stay for too long (I had some more work to do preparing for my English lessons the next day), but it seemed as though there were just a few main things to see. The shrine is placed within a large, dense forest area, with wide paths paved for people to walk along. In order of discovery, here are a few things we saw!


A huge Pi symbol? No! It’s a 鳥居 (torii, traditional Japanese gateway).

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Barrels of wine on the left, sake on the right. For one reason or another (religious, political, commercial — perhaps all three), Meiji Shrine attracts bountiful liquid donations from renowned distillers and winemakers around the world.

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You’ve got to wash your hands using a special bamboo cup (here are a bunch of girls doing it, left) before entering the main shrine (right).

I didn’t grab any great pictures inside the shrine (no pictures were allowed at the main shrine area where people pray), but it’s essentially a large courtyard with a further, closed off area that you can look at / pray toward. There’s also an area to hang prayers cards, for a small donation of course!


I have to admit that the place still feels pretty new — compared many other shrines in the world this one is very young, of course — which made it a bit less exciting to me. But overall, I was glad to go, and to spend some time with my host-ma!

私はサラリーマンです. (I am a salaryman.)


Yesterday I joined the ranks of the Japanese ‘salaryman’. With a suit jacket, tie, and backpack full of lesson plans, I slipped into the stream of similarly attired Japanese men journeying at various lengths to their own 会社 (kaisha, company). My own commute on Mondays and Thursdays, to a company called Oclaro on the outskirts of Tokyo, is about 1.5 hours.

Sitting on the Keio-Sagamihara Line train to Hashimoto station, I was surrounded by other Japanese men wearing similar suits, going to similar places, and making the same tired faces. I have to admit that, in a way, I was charmed. I think I felt a sense of the ‘collectiveness’ that Japan is so well known for — playing my part as one (albiet foreign) cell within Tokyo’s hard-pumping venous system. Of course, it was my first day; such feelings likely go the way of novelty with time. But somehow I think even the seasoned 部長 (buchou, company manager) might occasionally look up and feel at home in the communal rush of his fellow salarymen.

Oclaro is an American-owned company that produces some mysterious products related to optical communication. They’ve got a huge building located in the midst of a corporate park in the very southwestern most part (I think) of the Tokyo area. Although yesterday was my first day of teaching, I’d been to Oclaro once before earlier in the week with the coordinator of my fellowship, to meet my Oclaro bosses and iron out details about my English lessons. Without writing a novel, I’ll comment on a few things I’ve found particularly interesting:

1) At Oclaro, and perhaps all Japanese companies, you trade your shoes for a pair of slippers at the door. This is true for Japanese households in general, but somehow I didn’t imagine that big companies would do the same. In any case, everyone in Oclaro walks around in these white slippers that remind me of a future-age hospital.

2) 名刺 (meishi, business cards) are a huge deal. I am receiving them left and right. And there’s a complex set of customs around properly receiving someone’s card and giving them your own. Although the more subtle points (of which there are many — typical Japan) are over my head, the key elements, which I’ve gathered by observation and some literature, are something like this:

a. take the card with both hands and say thank you while in a slight bow

b. read the card thoroughly, still holding with both hands, and perhaps make an ‘ah’ or ‘oo’ sound

c. (for Japanese people/really good foreigners) comment about the person’s name, specifically the name’s kanji and the meaning of the characters

d. if you’re at a table, put the card on the table in front of you. if you get several at once, try to organize them such that the people’s statuses are properly represented (ie. the boss’s card on top).

The whole process takes about 20 seconds. It’s an adventure every time.

3) In Japanese companies, everyone with a desk job works in the same, massive room. There are partitions between the desks, but they only go up about 4 feet. The result is that, when standing, you can see everyone who is at work simultaneously. Even the upper level staff — managers, etc — simply have a larger dedicated area within the same huge space. It is so different from anything I’ve seen in the US. Perhaps another reflection of the collectivist culture. One way or another, a very different way of doing business, literally.

To finish this up: I ate lunch in the company cafeteria. カレーライス (kareiraisu, curry and rice, duh) — delicious. In case you’re wondering, I’ve put vegetarianism on hold while in Japan for convenience’s sake.



Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

After today, I’ll be at the end of four full days here in Tokyo. The days have been so busy — I already feel as though I’ve been here a month (in a really great way)! My host-family is absolutely incredible; the whole family –consisting of Masumi-san (the mama), Yasuaki-san (the father),  Taisuke (the older brother), and Shuuko-san (the younger daughter) — has been so warm and welcoming. They live in Uehara, Shibuya-ku, a really nice neighborhood southwest of Tokyo’s downtown area. My host-mother, who is a stay-at-home mom, has been staying-at-home with me and facilitating both constant activity and plenty of Japanese practice. Each day so far, she’s taken me along to meet her friends or sent me off with one for some other adventure, the end result always being a handful of new Japanese friends (frequently middle-aged mothers), lots of Japanese practice, and (perhaps best of all) consumption of incredible homemade 和食 (washoku, Japanese cuisine). On my first full day, she brought me to a potluck lunch with five of her friends; yesterday, her older sister took me along to a さど (sado, tea ceremony) lesson! Needless to say, I feel so lucky to have an incredible new family here in Japan.

Here are a few general interest photos; I’ll start posting more topically next time!


My first Japanese meal! Took place on a plane.


An amazing potluck lunch during my first full day.


My host mom, walking down the street in Uehara, the neighborhood I now (for the next two weeks) call home!


A quarter panorama of my tatami floored bedroom. No shoes or slippers allowed!

Before I wrap this up, I will say that Japanese is hard. I knew it before, but I’m definitely discovering just what a challenge it will be, even in an immersive context, to become functionally proficient (which, at this point, is my goal). I’m finding listening comprehension to be especially difficult — the way people talk in real life is so far from what’s set down in textbooks through ‘grammar points’ and ‘practice conversations’. It all flies at you so fast, and there are so many words I don’t know!! けれども、がんばります! (keredomo, ganbarimasu; “however, I will try my best!”)

That’s all for now. Good luck and much love to all. Treasure every day!

PS. Shout out to my dad for Father’s Day (Happy Father’s Day, Dad!). I briefly Skyped with him today and forgot to mention it. Damn.


Goodbye Belfast!

Goodbye Belfast!

Thanks to the miracles of modern travel, today I will be launched 13 hours into the future as I travel from Belfast, Maine to Tokyo, Japan.

The pre-launch is a short flight from Portland, ME to JFK, and a 6 hour layover in JFK. Then, at 6 pm (perhaps I should get used to calling it 18H), I and my All Nippon Airways (ANA) comrades will begin the 14 hour odyssey from JFK to Narita Airport in Tokyo.

As the ‘salaryman’ might say as he heads out to work: “いってきます!” (I’m going!)

Here’s to an summer filled with adventure, new friends, good food, and lots of learning.