Archive for the ‘living’ Category

Eric Cunningham is a graduate student keeping a fascinating blog of his time in Otaki, a mountain village in Nagano with a population of just under a thousand.   Recent posts include accounts of ice fishing for wakasagi, traditional roof construction in Otaki, and a neighbor’s water wheel, used to grind rice flour. 

Eric’s research, as far as I can tell, focuses on the relationship between modern Japanese forestry practices and the country’s declining upland communities, seeking in part to uncover traditional approaches that might alleviate some of the problems arising from 21st century pressures on local resources.  That by itself would interest some readers, but the blog also offers expansive meditations on hikes to frozen summits, including wonderful photos of alpine shrines wreathed in windblown snow, some drinking stories, and illustrated passages from Dogen’s “Mountain and Water Sutra.”  Especially for readers interested in Japanese folkways, from making soba to twisting shimenawa rope from rice straw, In the Pines is a real winner.  Here or from the sidebar.


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Gaijin Smash

By now, most regular readers of Japan blogs will have wandered across Gaijin Smash.  With fairly frequent entries going back to 2004, Az has been blogging long and well enough to have attracted an audience that extends beyond the gaijin blog ghetto.  It took me a while to warm up to Gaijin Smash.  For one thing, the gaijin vein is played out.  You’re not Japanese.  Neither am I.  Let’s move along.  Add to that a persistent, trilling whining in the background of many of the posts and some readers may begin looking elsewhere.  And yet…

The thing about Az is he’s smart, he has an excellent eye for what’s going on around him, and he’s often very, very funny.  And he’s been here long enough now to have had a broad range of experiences in Japan.  Starting at the first of his archived posts, it’s easy to spend an absorbing afternoon reading his story.  Real characters come and go, and Az himself quickly emerges as a very likeable, self-deprecating man, and because he’s been at it for several years you get a real sense of his developing relationship with the country.  I hope he’ll keep at it.  Visit here or from the sidebar.

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Apparently this blog’s title came about in the aftermath of a failed college romance.  These days, though, the author (calling himself Claytonian) seems to have put those worries behind him and is keeping a very engaging personal blog of his time in Japan.  He’s recently finished the first chapter of his life here, in Kyushu, and has moved to Saitama.  In his writing, he comes through as a personable, intelligent, funny guy with something of substance to say about his daily life here.  That alone would be enough for many readers, but he’s also a dedicated student of Japanese, and fairly frequently offers posts that will be of interest to others studying the language.

Another welcome addition here is an ample Youtube presence, still surprisingly rare on Japan blogs, that gives you another point of access into Claytonian’s experiences.  An all around winner of a blog, and you’ll find it here or from the sidebar.

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Problem: You’ve just arrived in Japan and are standing in the supermarket weeping softly at the price of steak, or you’ve spent all Saturday wandering the blistering streets of Tokyo looking for shoes that will fit your prodigious, paddle-like feet.

Solution: Nihonhacks.com

Thomas Hjelms keeps this blog, which is devoted primarily to offering quick answers to questions that plague some foreign residents for years.  Some of the suggestions here may seem fairly obvious, but it’s alarming how often the obvious can go unnoticed.  From where to buy ingredients for Thai food to using your new keyboard to type Japanese characters, Thomas has your back.  And best of all, he’s constantly looking for further questions or tips, so feel free to jump right in, here or from the sidebar.

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The most common advice bloggers receive, other than to post regularly (ha!), is to find and hold a focus.  Few Japan blogs have managed that better over the past several years than the consistently useful Get Hiroshima Blog.  Kept mostly by a British and American couple living and working in, well, Hiroshima, the blog keeps running tabs on news, events and other developments around town that might be of interest to locals, foreign or otherwise.

The blog focuses on Hiroshima and its environs but manages within that purview to include everything from restaurant and film reviews to glosses of local news stories, interviews, opinion pieces and more.  Part of the larger gethiroshima.com site, both the blog and its parent site are uniquely useful resources for prospective visitors to western Japan.  Check it out here or from the sidebar.

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Despite the title, this is not just another English teacher evincing the early signs of what will shortly become full-blown alcoholism.  Melinda Joe is, according to her profile, “a graduate of the John Gauntner Sake Professional Course and a WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Wine Certificate holder.”  She also writes a bar column for the Tokyo Food Page.  In other words, the lady knows her booze.

Her posts, though appearing irregularly, range from coverage of industry events to late night run-ins with sake sages in smoke-yellowed back alley pubs.  She does it all well, moving fluidly from personal anecdote to succinct and lucid appraisals of wines, sakes and food without a trace of pretension.  If you’re interested in sake, wine, or just finding a good place to eat and drink in Tokyo, this blog is an excellent place to start.  Find it here, or in the sidebar.

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This blog is a potential lifesaver for some hapless young humanities major out there, with fantasies of coming to Japan and teaching English while he (a) dates an endless parade of submissive auto show girls (b) becomes a martial arts legend or (c) gets an apartment in Akihabara and claws his way to the top of the savage otaku food chain.

The blog’s About section puts it this way:

Let’s Japan seeks to debunk the beast known as eikaiwa, or English conversation in Japan…Working in Japan was nothing close to the image presented to us back home. We were salesmen, doing our best to keep students happy enough so that they would gladly keep paying for the privilege of speaking to us a few times a week.

Let’s Japan does an excellent job of tracking news items related to the big chain English schools, and has found ample material in the aftermath of the Nova fiasco.  The writers also pull very few punches in sharing their own anecdotes about life in the eikaiwa ghetto.  So the next time a young relative or friend’s kid brother asks about teaching in one of the McSchools, you have an alternative to the standard, “Sure, or you could just fling yourself in front of a train.”  Send them to Let’s Japan.

Here or from the sidebar.

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