Article Published in JQ Magazine

I am so excited to see that my article about Japanfest has finally appeared in JQ magazine.

This September my friend (and fellow JET Program alum), Mellissa, and I were invited to give a presentation about the recovery effort in Japan.

It was a really great experience and very flattering that the Japanese Consulate in Atlanta had noticed the Japan Earthquake Disaster Relief Idea Exchange Facebook page. (Well, Facebook pages…)

Published by Emily Duncan, on December 5th, 2011 at 6:12 pm. Filled under: Current Events,Life in Japan Tags: , , , , No Comments

Artists for Japan


My friend Emiko (the photographer with whom I organized the EMerge show) has started a collection of inspirational works by Japanese artists. [See the collection here]

As is the trend for many young creatives in Japan, she’s made postcard reproductions of the works to sell for charity.

Published by Emily Duncan, on May 25th, 2011 at 9:34 pm. Filled under: Art News,Creativity,Life in Japan,Photography Tags: , , , , 2 Comments

Vigilante Justice: Japanese Old People Style

I had a big Japanese test this weekend. I had been studying a little bit every day, but I was cramming from after work on Friday until very  early on Sunday morning. I didn’t sleep on Saturday, and I didn’t go to bed until late on Sunday so I was dead at work on Monday. I thought maybe I could squeeze in an hour or so for a nap before my English class on Monday night.

I woke up about 20 minutes after when I was supposed to have met the family. In a panic I gathered my coloring sheets and electronic dictionary and ran out the door. I went to open the gate to go out into the street and saw a tumbleweed sitting there. It was carefully placed on the stoop (or whatever you’d call the poured concrete that is 2 inches tall and only extends about 2.5 feet from my gate).

I’m pretty sure that this was a message.

I think someone pulled the old grass/ dead weeds from either a: the crack in the ground under my mailbox where grass comes out or b: the ditch that runs along the side of my house. Then they quickly formed them into a tumbleweed about as big around as a steering wheel.

I was in a hurry and didn’t have time for this, so I ran off for my appointment.

When I came back the tumbleweed had blown perfectly into the center of the small intersection a few feet south of my house. I went inside and left it there.

I got up this morning, in a hurry again, to get to school.

The tumbleweed had been placed back in front of the gate.

Not really thinking I picked it up and threw it beside the gate, on the inside.

It hit me when I got to work what I should do with the tumbleweed.

If this person was OCD enough to do this, then I think it would be the best placed the tumbleweed next to the gate on the inside. If I left it out on the street side eventually someone would begrudgingly pick it up and throw it away (much like the time someone placed a small bag of dog shit that they had apparently poop-n-scooped during their dog’s walk — I took that bag and slung it into the intersection. It was gone the next day). But if I had left it in a spot clearly visible on the inside of the gate that would probably send someone off the deep end.

Published by Emily Duncan, on December 3rd, 2007 at 7:35 pm. Filled under: Life in Japan Tags: , , , No Comments

Rainy Day at Work

Here I am sitting on my empty row again at work. Of course, I have other things I should be doing. My expensive Japanese textbooks came yesterday. I could be studying those, but as I said before, my motivation is still pretty much non-existent. I would have snuck home for a little break, but it has been raining this morning. I think this is happening because I cut my hair so short. I can’t wear it down on days like this, no matter what length it is.

In other news, I came home from work the other day to find that I have been moved from the unwashed masses and have become a Silver Elite member of NWA worldperks program.

I finally have an actual card instead of the paper print out that you usually have to use to get credit for miles. It’s sparkly! Actually, I might have only gotten that card because it came from their Asia-Pacific offices where they still care about customer service.

Anywho, my account says that I have 54,576 miles since enrollment. I’m pretty sure I flew most of that. There are a few bonuses thrown in the mix. Like the time I got stuck in Detroit. They gave me credit for the flight to Atlanta that day even though it was cancelled. And I played the online Spin the Wheel game today and got 60 miles for a trivia game. I still need to figure out where I’m going to go with my free miles. I either want to go to another island in the Okinawa group or Hokkaido again so I can see Asahikawa Zoo. It’s the most famous zoo in Japan.

Other than that, I’ve been trying my best to think about what I’ll be doing when I get back. I don’t want to be one of those people that leaves here without a plan and becomes a temp in perpetuity. Eff that. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to doing some Spanish classes on the side. I want to continue my Japanese studies, but realistically I don’t know what good they’ll do me unless I teach here or some kind of international cultural relations. Spanish would be super useful, at least in the mid-term. I’ve been trying to find distance learning stuff online. UGA has a program. I remembered after I thought about all the distance learning stuff I had to sort as it came in from prisoners all over the US when I worked at the GA Center for Continuing Education. They have Accelerated Elementary Spanish course.

Published by Emily Duncan, on September 27th, 2007 at 7:02 am. Filled under: Life in Japan Tags: , , No Comments

On Motivation and Coloring Books for Adults

I’ve hit a low point in my motivation this week.  I don’t know what it is.  Maybe a third or fourth wave of culture shock.  I feel really cranky and my Japanese speaking skills are still not great.  Which is enhanced by the willingness of around me having no problem commenting on how silly I sound.

I was online today searching for stuff for the English lesson I have to do tonight.  I work with a family for an hour each monday.  Four kids, aged 11, 9, 6, and 4.  They’re  sweet, but the two youngest are manic as hell.  No matter what game I come up with at some point the 6 yr old or the 4 year old (either taking turns or at the same time) start crying.  I then have to refuse to play and just wait for the 11 year old to police the situation. Which is what they seem to want any way.  Still it’s frustrating because I’m planning activities way below the 11 year old’s level and when I do stuff that’s accessible for the younger children it always ends in fighting.

I end up getting paid about 4,000 yen (about $35) for sticking out the hour.  I just wonder what the mother thinks when she hears the screaming and stuff from the other room.  My guess is that she’s in the kitchen, drinking a beer and watching the clock.  Happy for her one hour off a week.

After many weeks of making my best attempt at planning games, I’m going back to one of my favorites: coloring.  The kids love it, I love it.  There’s no bickering – save for who gets which color.

I decided to mix it up today and searched for Japanese webpages with coloring activities.  I’ll write the English names of objects next to the pictures and run off copies.  In searching, I remembered how popular coloring books for adults are in Japan.  My guess is that it’s a good stress reliever.  You can check out the page I found here.  If that’s not enough you can always copy and paste 大人塗り絵 (otona nurie) into Google.

My most favorite page, though, is the colorable lessons for kids. Little slogans.  Like, “Let’s wash our hands,” or “Let’s brush our teeth.”  They also have “Poop in the toilet!”

Published by Emily Duncan, on August 27th, 2007 at 12:15 pm. Filled under: Life in Japan Tags: , , , No Comments

Outer Space

I’m procrastinating.

I agreed to design the Hyogo Times, a magazine for the ALT’s (foreign English teachers in my prefecture/ state).  The thing is that there have been all kinds of problems.  First, I had memory problems on a computer that shouldn’t be having them.  Then I’ve had to teach myself how to use the InDesign software.  It is similar to Photoshop and Illustrator in a lot of ways, but it’s pretty different.  So I’m the reason why this month’s issue is coming out late (it’s my first one).

If you want to see what they looked like last year, you can check them out here.

*sigh*

In other news I thought it was funny that there seemed to be a bunch of space news this week.  First off, I’m not sure if I’ve posted this before, but if you haven’t seen it, this site is pretty cool.  This is the site for Virgin Galactic. These folks are really pushing for commercial space travel.  No, I have no interest in going, but still it’s pretty interesting.  Check out their ‘Let the Journey Begin’ video,  if you have a minute.

That being said, I hadn’t really thought about this stuff for a while until this week when I saw the article about astronauts flying drunk and the one about the explosion out in the desert.

I can barely handle flying in the regular plane, much less think about going to space.  Especially since these are going to be $200,000 flights for about 5 minutes of outerspace/weightlessness time.

Published by Emily Duncan, on July 28th, 2007 at 9:53 pm. Filled under: FYI,Life in Japan Tags: , , , , No Comments

Slow Week

This week has been fairly uneventful.  It was the start of summer vacation.  This being the start of my third summer here,  I know how to pass my time better than when I first came to Japan.  That first summer was a little tough.  I read every single day.  When I finished reading what I had brought to Japan with me and I read what had been left behind by the previous residents of my house.  Oh.my.god.  They had/ have the absolute worst taste.  Who buys one – much less many – book written by Candace Bushnell?

Now I can leave all my things scattered on my desk and take a long lunch.

This weekend is also going to be uneventful, but that’s great.  It’s the first one in over a month where I have nothing planned.  I can sleep in late and just bum around the house.

The Mr. Fixit Team (the Groundskeepers from school) came and cut my grass  and killed the wasps building a nest next to the washing machine.  To be fair, I did tell them (the wasps)  that if they left, they wouldn’t get killed, but they kept building the nest any way.

In other exciting news, I got a new camera today.  It’s IXY Digital 810 IS.

It’s one of the newest cameras on the market over here right now. It’s got 8 megapixels, 4x zoom and I’m pretty sure it steals peoples’ souls. On the display it puts a box around people’s faces, but it seems to understand any and all faces. It will even put a box around people’s faces on posters. It will chase you and the box will get larger and smaller as you move toward/away from the camera. It is a little dangerous, however. Since J-folks get a year end bonus, many places are having sales now where you can get something and don’t have to pay for it until the end of the year. I did that. Even though I don’t get the bonus.

Published by Emily Duncan, on July 28th, 2007 at 1:06 am. Filled under: Life in Japan Tags: , , , , No Comments

I’m Back



The flight back to Japan was OK, and it was almost as if Northwest knew that this would be my last flight with them. I had gotten myself prepared for take off with a drink at the airport bar (boo), and the flight ended up getting delayed for 2 hours. The airport in Detroit knows that people will often be stranded at their airport so the employees are subsequently rude and there are no seats one can stretch out on.

I got to the airport in Osaka just in time to go through customs, change my money and run like crazy for the last bus to Himeji.

I have made up my mind, though. Next time back I will fly on Korean Air. The service is good, the flight attendants are attractive and smart. Most of them can communicate with passengers in Korean, English or Japanese. The price isn’t bad and I can earn miles on the same alliance.

Speaking of which, my NWA account states that I have a total of 41,502 miles since starting with them in 2003. (The circumference of the Earth at the equator is 24,902.4 miles.) I guess I’ll be getting even more miles if I fly with Korean Air in the future because I’ll be flying from Osaka to Incheon (Seoul) and then Seoul to Atlanta. But I think it’ll be worth it. If I can get flights that are fairly close together, the flight time is roughly the same (around 14 to 15 hours all together – depending on the weather/ flight plan).

Did I mention there will be free booze?!

Published by Emily Duncan, on June 18th, 2007 at 2:46 am. Filled under: Life in Japan Tags: , No Comments

Hokkaido (Day 3)


Woke up 10 minutes before my alarm. We needed to get up early because it was going to be a full day. I turned off the alarm before it could go off. Then I heard a voice saying, “May I have your attention, please.” Again and again and again. My sleep-brain thought that the sound was coming from my headboard or the bedside table. After a minute it stopped. Five minutes later it sounded again. As soon as I realized it was The Boy’s phone, I told him that I was going to break it. Got up and got ready. Went to breakfast. J-style buffet. Being Sapporo, they also had “ghengis khan.” The Boy put some on my plate, and it turned out to be mongolian beef. Left the hotel and caught the train out to Otaru. The inside of the train was bright blue and yellow. At one point I could see the sea from the window. It looked pretty rough and that was the first time I’ve ever seen snow next to the water like that. I’m not sure if the city is famous for this or not, but there were old-fashioned looking lanterns all over the station. We walked from the station to some “scenic riverfront” area. I had no idea what was going on. I should have done more research about the town. On the way The Boy wanted to stop for some crab soup.

You could buy it through the window at a shop in town. The snow in Otaru had gotten really high in some places. The sidewalks were well taken care of, but between some buildings it looked like the snow had gotten to be 2 or 3 feet deep.

Even though it was cold, I think a thaw of sorts was starting. The crosswalks were slushy puddles. Along the sidewalks there were boxes, the kind you can buy a newspaper from stateside, from which you can get free bottles of sand to sprinkle on the ground to keep you from slipping.

We popped into a few shops and at one one I bought a sweet that was like manju. It was really good, and apparently the shop only made 50 of them a day. We had lunch in a sushi place. The sushi was fresh and there were heaters under the bar. The sushi was good, but I was a little disappointed because I couldn’t get any eel (unagi or anago), and I had to eat sea urchin (uni) and octopus eggs. Only this time the eggs had been blended into a cream on top of a rice ball with nori (sea weed) wrapped around it. The Boy took my picture as I went to eat it. The chef thought we were married, but, once again The Boy had to tell the locals that we were co-workers. Then the chef started going on about how good I was with chopsticks.

After lunch we went back to Sapporo. We went to Mount Moiwa. As we had gotten free passes for the ropeway, we needed to go. From the subway station, we caught a taxi . The driver drove really fast, and it was scary when he drove up the really steep hill next to the mountain. It was a snow covered and two ruts had been cut into the snow by passing cars. However, the ruts were filled with ice. After taking the ropeway up the mountain we climbed into a snowcat.

It took you to a building at the very top of the mountain. We took a few pictures, and I got a t-shirt for Brody. It had a picture of the mascot of Mount Moiwa, “Morris/ Mauris.”

But it took me until we were on the way back down the mountain, riding a wooden sled being pulled behind a snowcat. も is the first character in the name (Moiwa) and リス (risu) is “squirrel.” Apparently when it’s not covered in snow, the mountain is covered in squirrels. From the pictures on the wall in the building at the top of the mountain, it looked like there were 4 or 5 different kinds. Usually I’m faster at picking these things up.

Back from the mountain, we caught a train for the airport. We were heading to the outlet stores near there. In that place there were at least 3 different surf shops. I wondered why until I saw two different groups of people in wet suits, surfing! I wonder how cold the water was.

At the outlets we ate cake and then has about an hour to shop. The boy was serious about it. He told me about how he and Lauren once spent the whole day there shopping. As for me, in the past few years, I’ve kind of grown to hate clothes shopping. Especially in Japan. I can’t just eyeball things and then buy them The sizes are all over the place. I just bummed around.

I wondered where the military base was. Fighter jets flew over a couple of times creating some impressive sonic booms that the locals were very good at ignoring. I was excited as we walked through the parking lot to the shuttle bus because they were playing Divine Comedy’s “National Express” on the PA system. As we waited for the bus I was a yellow helicopter fly overhead with 2 big, black missles attached to the sides. When I pointed that out, the boy said that it was American. Nope. It had a big Japanese flag decal on the back.

Got to the airport. Picked up some omigage sweets and ate some ramen. Hokkaido is famous for its ramen, so there were so many different types. I think we both ate the soup with the salt-broth. I’m always amazed at how fast some people here can eat. Especially things like that. I can’t eat hot things so fast. Rather, the Japanese say people like me have a mouth like a cat. I think any animal would have a hard time eating really hot food, but I’m not in charge of making J-idioms.

Made the flight just in time. Since the boy was a member of some upper level JAL club, we could upgrade to J-class seats for 1000 yen ($8 or so). The seats were a little bigger with more leg room and as you tilted the seat back, a small leg/foot rest came out of the bottom. While we were still on the runway I shotgunned an Aleve and a chu-hi. I was pretty mellow for the flight back.

Arrived in Kobe and my phone died. Luckily Trish has mailed earlier om the day some options for the station at which I could get off. Took the important things out of my rolly bag and fixed the handle with some packing tape I found under some seats there.
Rode the Portliner train into Sannomiya with the boy and sent my bag back to Himeji with him. Booked it to Osaka as the boy yelled after me not to spend too much money on boys.

Published by Emily Duncan, on March 19th, 2007 at 1:24 am. Filled under: Life in Japan Tags: , , , , , , No Comments

Thailand (Day 2)


Got up at about 7. I guess I slightly overestimated how close we were to the airport. I put on most of my make up, we went to buy some breakfast and then catch the train to meet everyone else at the airport.

Trish and I caught the wrong train and started heading toward the suburbs of Osaka. We had to get off and change trains. We were both a little nervous. Actually I was really nervous and Trish was borderline freaking out. To which I recommended that she wait until we were heading in the right direction, on the right train before she started freaking out. Got on the special line headed directly to the airport. It was the express, so it took 40 min instead of an hour.

I texted Janet and they picked up my suitcase.

Got to the airport just in time. Went through all the hoops and bought a shikwasa flavored chuhai to drink before take off.

The Thai Airways plane was interesting on the inside. All the seats were purple, as were the pillows, blankets, and staff uniforms. Even the tickets were bright purple. The flight itself was great. Very smooth. The food was OK. The beer was free. I got to see the movie Dreamgirls. Before the plane landed they gave us ice cream and all the girls were given orchid boutonnieres.

We got to Bangkok (BKK) and it wasn’t too complicated. We had to get a connecting flight. As we showed our tickets and passports to a lady sitting at the switchover gate, she slapped a “Thai Airlines: International” sticker on my breast. Welcome to Thailand.

We had about 20 minutes until the connecting flight.

The next plane was a little smaller, but all the seats had little tv screens in the back. We were sitting toward the back of the plane and were surrounded by a group of American high school students. I have no idea why they were taking a trip to Phuket together.

The flight was scheduled to take a little over an hour. It was bumpy most of the way. Maybe 20 or 30 minutes before we got there the plane kind of dropped. All the people near us kind of called out in surprise, I guess.

Then it happened again.

I grabbed the back of the seat in front of me. It was really quick, but I had actually floated out of my seat that time. The kids around us were laughing and cheering like they were on a roller coaster.

We got to the airport and headed to immigration. It was funny because the woman just inside the entry way was speaking in a big voice, “What-is-thiis? What-iis-this?…Don’t blame me for your problems.” Then she handed something back to an angry, yelling brown man.

Immigration was a little strange (read: ghetto) because they had used electrical tape to make little feet on the floor to show you where you should stand. On the passport checker’s desk there was a small video camera. The kind that’s a very futuristic-looking ball on a stick. Well, futuristic for the 70′s.

Wynne said that it usually took guys much longer to go through immigration. However, I ended up taking the longest. I wanted to ask what was wrong, but I didn’t want to stand there any longer. Finished, picked up our bags and went into the lobby.

The inside of the airport was fairly small and dirty. We changed money and I was very disappointed that they wouldn’t change coins.
Went outside and it was hot. I think it was about 7pm, but still, there was no indication of the heat dying down. There was a whole wall of sweaty local men waiting along the curb with a handful of tourists. Some hotels had sent “shuttles” to pick up their guests with poorly written signs and dusty taxis. Next to those guys were the taxi drivers. I suspect most of them were from one or 2 companies. Right out of the gate Wynne started haggling. When the taxi driver she would insist, and I would start in too. We were followed from one end of the sidewalk to the other by one of the guys. Janet walked across to get the price for 2 taxis vs. 1 van. We finally talked the driver of one of the vans down to an OK price.

Not great, but OK.

Climbing into the cloud of funk and sandalwood inside his van, I wondered out loud how much of the time, when people slipped into speaking Thai at a business, the locals were trying to get us to pay a price much higher than the local people would pay. That’s when we decided to have secret asides in Japanese. It worked fairly well except for the fact that Stephen doesn’t speak any J-go at all.

The ride from the airport to Patong was scary.

It was night now and our driver was driving as fast as he could. I couldn’t see the speedometer, but the engine was making a high sound. The kind that tends to happen when you drive a car for too long in one gear.

Our driver wove around other cars, and although there were lines painted on the road, they didn’t really seem to serve a purpose. At times the cars would ride 2 abreast in the same lane. At others the cars would overtake one another, but they would continue to drive along the center line. Other roads intersected the main one that we were on, but there were no lights to control the flow of traffic coming from them. So occasionally a truck would just fly out. I was happy that we were making conversation with our driver. I wanted us all to be buddies. I was kind of freaking out. I have seen/ participated in crazy driving before, but this was freaking Mario Kart. Scooters and motorcycles took up the space not filled by cars and trucks on the road. Sometimes you would even see 3 people riding on a bike. It was weird. Finally we got to Patong and drove up the large hill at the end of the main drag, at the top of which was our hotel, the Baan Nern Sai Resort.

We got out and paid what the man originally asked for. That way his tip was whatever you had left once you subtracted what we wanted to pay.

The man quickly left, no doubt driving twice as fast to get back to the airport as he gets paid according to how many customers he ferries about in a day.

In the front office of the hotel we were greeted by a skinny Thai woman in her 30′s. She spoke in short, terse sentences. I ‘m not sure how much of that was a reflection on her English skill level vs. a general distain for tourists. At any rate, we checked in and a girl brought in a tray full of shallow glasses with yellow pineapple juice inside. It was very sweet. I walked out of one of the side doors of the octagon-shaped room with the front desk in it. I went to look at the pool. There was a pool bar complete with some seats in the water, welded to the sides of the pool. Only there were no lights and the “bar” had been converted into a makeshift storage shed with cardboard boxes full of books and magazines. Hardly any of them were in English. A few were in French and German, but the majority was in Swedish, I think. Maybe Dutch. We walked to our rooms. There were 2. One room had 2 queen sized beds while the other had that plus a single trundle bed.

Trish tried to drop hints about who should sleep where, but they were too oblique. I was only interested in throwing my stuff down somewhere and going to get something to eat. In the end, Trish and Wynne shared a room while Me, Janet and Stephen shared the other. This was fine with me. They could take the beginning of their boyfriend/ girlfriend thing somewhere else.

We got ready and stepped back out. Every hour, for interested customers, the hotel offered a shuttle into town for free. This “shuttle” was the back of a truck with “benches” balanced over the wheel basins and a canopy/ tarp suspended over the top.

The breeze was nice. The diesel fumes were not. Getting to the main drag, we let the man know that we’d need a ride back around 11, the last pick up time.

We walked down the main drag, looking for a resturant. There were people everywhere. Tourists and locals.

People called out occasionally. Selling things. One man had a shop where he made suits and stopped Stephen, pushing his business card into his hand, offering him access to all the porn that he had in the backroom.

We went to an Italian restaurant across the way from there. It was ok. It protected us from the sudden storm that happened as soon as we sat down. The
power almost went out, and I had a calzone that was too bready, without enough sauce with a giant beer that I was too tired to finish.

Published by Emily Duncan, on March 19th, 2007 at 12:27 am. Filled under: Life in Japan Tags: , , , , No Comments