Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011 十和田市春まつり Towada Haru Matsuri (Spring Festival)

Here is a sampling of some events during Towada's Haru Matsuri. For a map as well as a more detailed listing of events (in Japanese only), please see the Yururira Towada website. [Edit: See also the Haru Matsuri Kanchogai Dori PDF Guide Map and the 2011 Haru Matsuri Guide Map on Google]

The 2011 Sakura Yabusame event will be held as originally scheduled, but Yosakoi Yume Matsuri has been canceled. In its place, however, there will be a yosakoi performance in Chuo Park on Sun. Apr. 24th from 14:00.

桜流鏑馬 Sakura Yabusame (Cherry Blossom Horseback Archery) (Sat. Apr. 23-Sun. Apr. 24)
(PDF Flyer)
Location: 十和田市中央公園緑地 Towada Chuo Park Time: 10:00-14:00
Events: Women's yabusame competition; children's horseback performances
Fee: Admission is free, but reserved viewing seats for Sunday can be purchased in advance for 2000 yen (includes lunch, tea, and entry into a yabusame bingo game)

春らんまん!笑顔SunSun!よさこい元気祭り Haruranman! EgaoSunSun! Yosakoi Genki Matsuri (Sun. Apr 24)
Location: 十和田市中央公園緑地 Towada Chuo Park
Time: 14:00~
Admission is free

桜展望台の開放 Sakura viewing platforms:
十和田市役所 新館5F City Hall - 5th Fl
商工会館 5F Towada Chamber of Commerce & Industry - 5th Fl
9:30-20:00 Daily while sakura are in bloom

夜桜ライトアップ Night Sakura Illumination
官庁街通り・中央公園 Kanchogai Dori and Chuo Koen (Park) will be illuminated from 18:00-22:00 while the sakura are in bloom.

LEDライトアップ LED Illumination
十和田市役所階段脇芝生 The stairs in front of City Hall will also be illuminated from 18:00-21:00 between Wed. Apr 20 and Wed. May 5.

ワックスボウル点灯 Wax Bowl Lanterns
官庁街通り水路 Wax bowl (ball?) lanterns will be lit along the Kanchogai Dori aqueducts from 18:00-21:00 between Wed. Apr 20 and Wed. May 5.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Proud to be Canadian

I've been trying to keep up-to-day with news on the upcoming May 2nd Canadian national election. Here are some articles/videos I've seen that make me proud to be a Canadian and give me hope for our country's political future:

RMR: Rick's Rant - Vote
Rick Mercer asks youths (aged 18-24) to vote in Rick's Rant during the March 29th season finale of the Rick Mercer Report:
So there we have it, we are heading into an election or, as Stephen Harper calls it, a dangerous and unnecessary exercise. Because as we all know, Canada is one of the world's greatest democracies and the greatest threat to that democracy is that we get to vote. But vote we will.
See the full text on RickMercer.com or watch the video on YouTube.

Vote Mobs
University students respond to Rick's Rant by creating "Vote Mob" videos declaring their intentions to vote and challenging party leaders/candidates to impress them. Read more about the Vote Mob movement at the Leadnow.ca and Toronto Star websites.

Go Ethnics Go?!?!
In response to the battle for the so-called "ethnic" vote--and, in particular, an email request for "up to 20 people in national folklore costumes which represent their ethnic backgrounds" for a photo-op with Stephen Harper--The Colour of Poverty, an Ontario-based anti-poverty group created a music video to the tune of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" to "reject the tactics of certain politicians in their targeting." As one line from the song states: "Don’t wanna be an ethnic, be Canadian." Read the Toronto Star article or watch the video on YouTube (English subtitled).

S#*T Harper Did
A website with pithy comments about some of the...less impressive...things Harper has done in politics and as Prime Minister. Obviously it's completely biased against Harper (and by extension the Conservative Party), but I recommend reading the links to fuller online articles accompanying each statement as some of the stuff that has gone on under the leadership of Harper is really deplorable, for example: closing the Canadian embassies in Malawi and 6 other countries and cutting aid to Africa by 50% before freezing foreign aid increases in  2010. Personally I've thought that Harper has very little to no respect for democracy since he prorogued parliament--and not just once, but twice--so I LOVE this site! (Read more about the prorogation(s) on The Economist, Toronto Star, and Globe and Mail websites.)

Omar Alghabra: The Right Way to Run for Parliament
Found this blog post about a YouTube cartoon self-introduction made by the Liberal Candidate for my home riding, Omar Alghabra. I love that it's a statement of who he is and what he stands for rather than an attack ad (which I despise). I was disappointed that he didn't win during the 2008 election, but am hopeful that he will win this time around. (I only recently learned that the reason was most likely because the NDP also had a strong candidate so the leftist votes got split between the Liberals and NDP allowing the Conservatives to win. ARGH!) Incidentally, my special ballot should be delivered tomorrow (Monday, April 18)! I am definitely planning to vote for Alghabra again this year.

So, on a related note...

How Canadians Overseas Can Vote:
It's getting down to the wire, but if you need to register for the International Registrar of Electors to vote by mail by special ballot, you can get the application form from the Elections Canada website here: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=reg/svr&document=index&lang=e

Completed applications for special ballots must be received at Elections Canada by 6pm on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 to be eligible for the May 2, 2011 election. And (obviously) completed special ballots must be received at Elections Canada by May 2, 2011.

If you want to save yourself some postage/international faxing costs, I'd recommend scanning and emailing the application and copies of the supporting documents to a family member/friend in Canada to fax (so it won't matter that it's a scan and not an original signature) to Elections Canada.

It really doesn't take all that much effort, so I really hope any fellow overseas Canadians reading this will take the very little time needed to register for the vote. With everything that's been going on in the Middle East and North Africa, I feel it's more important than ever to exercise our democratic rights by voting. As Rick Mercer so aptly put it in his Vote rant, it's something "people all around the world are dying to do."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Towada is all right

Life is pretty much back to usual here in Towada.

Of course there are still aftershocks, but thanks to a luck of geography, Towada hasn't been hit very hard. The worst aftershock we've felt was last Thursday, April 7 around 11:30pm. Power was out (and some parts of Towada--closer to the lake area--had the water cut off) until around 5:00pm the next day but that was it.

There are minor inconveniences--many stores are closing earlier; low-fat milk and yogurt are hard to come by; and I have yet to see size C or D batteries in stores... But for the most part, work, school, and community/extra-curricular activities are going on as normal.

If I didn't read the Japan Times news every day, it'd almost be easy to forget that we're still living with the effects of the March 11th disaster.

Well, the email I got the other day from the Embassy of Canada was also a pretty big reminder. In light of all the panic and media "fear mongering" about the nuclear situation in Fukushima, I'm glad that the email's content and tone is basically one of "keep calm and carry on." You can read the message in full below (emphases are mine):

Dear Canadian,

We all recognize the enormous impact the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and corresponding dangerous situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has had on Japan and the Canadian citizens residing in Japan. The Embassy of Canada in Tokyo is working to provide the best possible guidance to Canadian citizens in Japan. To this end, we are updating Canadian citizens in Japan on current advice and information.

The travel warnings for Japan were updated on April 8, 2011:

Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and surrounding areas:
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) advises against all travel within 80 km of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.
Following damage to the Fukushima nuclear power station in Okumacho, Canadians are strongly advised to follow the advice issued by the Japanese authorities. An evacuation order is in effect for the zone within 20 km of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Japanese authorities recommend that people between 20 km and 30 km from the plant remain indoors with windows and doors closed and refrain from using ventilation systems.
Given the evolving situation, Canadians located within 80 km of the plant are advised that they should, as a further precautionary measure, evacuate this area. The directions of the Japanese government and local emergency response personnel should also be followed by all Canadians in Japan.

Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures:
DFAIT advises against non-essential travel to Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
The earthquake and tsunami caused extensive damage to infrastructure in these prefectures. Ongoing reconstruction efforts are affecting telecommunications, transportation routes, emergency and medical care, as well as power, water, food and fuel supplies. Canadians in these prefectures should exercise caution, monitor local news and weather reports, and follow the advice of local authorities.

Northern Honshu:
Canadians should exercise a high degree of caution in northern Honshu.
In areas of northern Honshu less affected by the earthquake and tsunami, commercial means of transportation are available for travel. Canadians are advised to verify the availability of transport and other services, and confirm their reservations prior to departure, as there may be limitations in some regions. Water, food, and fuel supplies may be disrupted in some areas.

Canadians are urged to monitor our travel report for Japan for travel advice and advisories: http://voyage.gc.ca/countries_pays/report_rapport-eng.asp?id=140000

Information on radiation levels in Japan:

Following consultations with Government of Canada experts, and based on information available from the Government of Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Government of Canada has assessed that at this stage there is no indication that there is a radiation health risk to Canadian citizens in Japan (outside the evacuation zone) and in other countries in Asia.

Based on current information, areas outside the Japanese evacuation zone are not subject to radiation levels associated with a health risk. Health risks still exist within the Japanese evacuation zone; therefore, Canadians should not enter this area and should continue to follow the instructions of local authorities.

On April 12, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan raised the alert level of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from a 5 to a 7, according to the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. While there has been some media comparison to the Chernobyl event, which had been put at the same level, this comparison should be viewed with extreme caution. Japanese authorities confirmed that this is a backward-looking assessment based on better estimates of the amount of radioactive contamination released in the early days of the crisis. It is not meant to imply that there has been a sudden change to the levels of radioactive contamination. Environmental radioactivity levels continue to remain very low outside the immediate vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Information on the status of nuclear facilities in Japan can also be obtained on the websites of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Potassium iodide (KI) is only needed in a worst case situation where there is a large amount of radiactive iodine in the environment. At this time, only people in the immediate areas of the Fukushima Power Plant might need this medication. The Government of Canada does not advise anyone to take KI. KI will be available from local health authorities in Japan if the need arises and should only be taken on instruction from the Japanese authorities.

Please visit DFAIT's information fact sheet on Japan's radiation levels for further information on health, potassium iodide and food safety: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/countries_pays/issues_enjeux/article-eng.asp?id=1106

Get prepared:

Are you and your family prepared? Learn more about emergency preparedness and how to create an emergency plan and kit at www.getprepared.gc.ca.

Connect with us:

Follow us on Twitter for up-to-date information on the evolving situation in Japan at: http://twitter.com/#!/DFAIT_MAECI

If your contact information has changed, or if your location has changed, please update your profile in the Registration of Canadians Abroad service on www.voyage.gc.ca/register or send an email to the Consular Section of the Embassy at tokyo-consul@international.gc.ca.

Please direct any questions you may have to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo:

7-3-38 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Tokyo 107-8503, Japan
Tel: (011-81-3) 5412-6200

or to the 24 hour Emergency Operations Office in Ottawa at:

(613) 996-8885 (collect calls accepted)

Take care and stay safe,

Consular Section
Embassy of Canada
Tokyo, Japan

I am particularly pleased that they mention specific prefectures heavily affected by the earthquake/tsunami rather than generalizing to Tohoku. Eastern coastal cities in Aomori Prefecture (like Hachinohe) were hit pretty hard by the disasters, but even then the damage here wasn't as severe as in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. (Although Aomori is also part of the Tohoku region, we're the northernmost prefecture and thus a lot closer to Hokkaido than Fukushima.)

So yes, we're all doing our best to carry on as usual. As such, my thoughts are mostly occupied with the recently started school year:
  • What can I do to encourage my students to use more English when speaking with me? (They know I generally understand what they're saying in Japanese, so they don't feel as compelled to make the effort to speak in English.)
  • How can I keep myself from (over)using Japanese at school?
  • How can I keep things fresh for the students (some of whom I've taught since they were in elementary school)?
These are the things within my control right now. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and the nuclear situation in Fukushima are not.

And while I'm doing my best to stay informed and my thoughts and prayers are certainly with those who have and are still suffering from the disaster, I feel like the best and most respectful thing I can do is to live my life to the fullest now--appreciating that things I once might have taken for granted (ready availability of electricity, running water, gas, etc.) or considered to be ordinary/routine (going to work, eating school lunch, etc.) are really all blessings.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Thanks to Ceci, I rediscovered the NFB.ca (National Film Board of Canada) site. These are some of the animated "classics" from my childhood which are available to watch online:
I also found a series of wordless ~4min short films that show how things are made:
Watching the potato chip film in particular, I was struck by how wasteful our current consumption habits are. I never really thought about it before, but it takes an awful lot of energy, machinery, ingredients, water (e.g. to wash the potatoes), packaging, etc. to make food that (often) isn't even particularly good for us! And what do grocery stores do with all the foods that are past their expiry dates, anyway? Does it all just go into the trash? Our eating habits are definitely not sustainable...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A load off my back!!!

I had made the decision to cancel my planned trip back to Toronto for Golden Week around mid-March (a little more than a week after the earthquake, when it seemed like the Shinkansen might take two months or more to be repaired) but didn't actually cancel the plane tickets until today.

When I first called Air Canada, their policy was that full refunds would only be offered for departures up to March 28th. For anything after that, regular cancellation fees (30,000yen per person) would be applied. Change fees would be waived (although fare differences would be charged) for planned departures up to April 30th. I considered re-booking for Christmas but since the tickets were at least $200 more expensive than the tickets I had booked, it didn't seem worth it.

Since I could cancel up to the day before the scheduled departure (April 28), I figured I would just wait and see if Christmas flight prices would drop. (And if they didn't, well, I'd still be paying the same cancellation fee anyway, so it wasn't like I was losing anything by waiting.)

But then on March 24th, when I was checking prices for Christmas prices, I noticed that Air Canada had changed its policy for flights to/from Narita--the cancellation fees were being waived for flights up to April 10th.

When I saw that, I had hope that Air Canada would eventually change their policy to enable me to cancel my April 29th flight without charge. Since then I've been checking the Air Canada website almost every day.

And the waiting game has finally paid off!! As of yesterday (April 6th), the policy was changed so that cancellation and change fees for flights booked before March 11th for travel until April 30th would be waived (although for re-booking (to Japan/Asia), fare differences would apply).

I was so excited, I let out a fairly loud "YES!" while I was sitting in the teachers' room at Kirita.


The teacher across from me was surprised, so I briefly explained the situation. He was probably wondering why I was making such a big deal out of it, but really, 30,000 yen is no small chunk of change.

And even though I can understand logically why Air Canada's policy was set up the way it was (the airport and planes were able to run/fly as usual and businesses can't be expected to make exceptions for people's personal situations), emotions aren't logical, so it was really really bugging me that I had to pay a cancellation fee for a trip that I really was only canceling because of the earthquake.

But thankfully, Air Canada's policy did change, so now I'm perfectly happy with the airline again. Although, I did have a bad moment when I called reservations to make the cancellation. At first, the lady I spoke to was like, "You can cancel, but there's a 30,000 yen per person cancellation fee."

Which of course made me go: "HUH?!" It took about an extra five minutes or so, but after I told her what the website policy said, she was eventually able to confirm that I could indeed get a full refund. *Phew*

Even though I thought that it was best to cancel the trip, I did regret that I'd have to pay the cancellation fee. But now I can feel fully at ease/peace with my decision.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A dream

About a week ago I had a dream where five students from my first graduating class from Kirita came to see me. Even though that's all I remember about the dream, I do know that the dream made me really happy. And it got me thinking.

As far as dreams go, that really is one of my dreams right now. I wish that I could see all of my past Kirita students again before I finish my time on JET (August 2012).

If I was a Japanese teacher, I think I would have a much better chance of realizing my dream. See, in Japan, newspapers publish lists of transferring and retiring teachers in mid-March. So anyone can look through the lists and see where their old teachers are going (if they're being transferred). Consequently, last week four students who graduated two years ago came to Kirita to see our principal before he changed schools. (They even got flowers for him!)
(Although they came to see the principal, they actually ended up staying and chatting with me and some other teachers for about two hours!! Even though I should've been feeling sad since it was the last day of school—hence the last day I'd be working with some of the teachers—I was really happy to be able to talk with former students.)

Thinking about that, I really wish newspapers would do the same thing for ALTs finishing their contracts. I'd like to think that if some of my former students (and/or even co-workers) knew I'd be leaving Kirita that they'd come to say goodbye...