Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Introducing Monchi Munjak

Sometimes people choose their pets. That was my family's case with our first two cats. We adopted Tamaちゃん from a nearby animal shelter. And we found Mashuくん, the runt (チビ子) of the litter, from a local cat breeder's online advertisement. 
Other times, pets choose their people. That's the case of our third cat or kitten (子猫). An acquaintance's (知り合い) daughter developed a cat allergy and he needed to get rid of his kitten. It was either the shelter or us. So we took in the young male bengal tiger-striped Scottish fold with open arms and re-named him Monchiくん.

Why Monchiくん? Well, with his long, curly tail and tucked-in ears, he resembles a monkey at times (時々). And "Monchichi means happiness," right?

So we hope that Monchiくん has a long happy life alongside his older sister Tamaちゃん and older brother Mashuくん). 

John Munjak
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Monday, November 2, 2015

The Toyama Marathon

4 hours 27 minutes 25 seconds

That's the answer to the first question people ask me about how long it took to run the full Toyama Marathon.

(My Net Time - based on my GPS tracker - was 4 hours 23 minutes 36 seconds. I obviously prefer this time, mainly because there was a lot of waiting around and walking out of my D Block when the marathon first started).

No, I wasn't able to run the whole way.

That's the answer to the second question people ask me about running the whole marathon. I really wanted to, but I "hit the wall" around the 35th km. That means, I lost a lot of power and had to walk a bit. Actually, I started to get muscle spasms (痙攣) around the 37th km that were a little scary so I don't feel so bad about walking.

I learned a lot from running in my first marathon. I learned that the second half of a marathon is much, much harder than the first.

I learned that "slow and steady" really wins the race when the race is 42. 195 km (26.2 miles).

And I learned that people of all ages can enjoy running a marathon. I was passed my many elderly men. I was passed my many elderly women. Heck, I was even passed by a blind (盲人), elderly man.

I learned that the marathon isn't a race against others. It's not a race against time. It's a race against yourself.  I finished the Toyama Marathon but I lost to myself in the end.

So I'll definitely be running the Toyama Marathon next year. The question is, will you join me? Or - if you live in another part of the world - will you challenge yourself to run a marathon, too?

P.S. Special thanks to my student Hくん for all of you help & support before, during and after the marathon. It was an honor to run alongside you.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

What's Wrong with this Picture?

Please take a good, hard look (よく見て) at this picture. Does something seem wrong to you?
If you are American, you might say the lighting is too bright. Or, admittedly, the picture is kind of boring. Who in their right mind takes a picture of a twice-bitten Japanese pear (梨)?

If you are Japanese, you are probably just thinking, "Who in their right mind eats the skin of a Japanese pear?"

Why don't Japanese people eat the skin? I mean, after all, it's completely edible (食用), full of vitamins & minerals, and a great source of fiber (食物繊維).

To answer that question, I asked many of my English impact students and I came up with the top three reasons Japanese people don't eat the skin of a pear.

1.) The skin is considered to rough to eat. It might be that Japanese fear damaging their teeth or upsetting their stomachs, but the rough skin turns most of them off.

2.) There is a fear that too many pesticides (殺虫剤) and chemicals are on the outside of pears. A good washing with cold water and soap can easily remove most of the dirt and other pollutants on the pear.

3.) Since other Japanese don't eat the pear - including mothers and grandmothers - the idea that it is inedible has become common to every generation of Japanese people.

Now, I'm not saying you have to eat the skin of a pear. Of course, it is up to your individual preference. The point I want to get across is that there is every reason to eat the skin of a pear; there is nothing wrong with it at all.

Only people who eat the skin of bananas are out of their mind. Oh, wait...

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Shrimp Moustache?!?

There are many people, including Japanese, who don't like seafood. It might be the smell or taste or even appearance of some fish and animals that turn people off (嫌悪する). 

In Toyama, we are fortunate to have a wide variety of fresh seafood, like yellowtail (ぶり), trout sushi (ますずし), firefly squid (ホタルイカ) and white shrimp (白エビ). 

As far as I know, white shrimp can only be found in Toyama making it one of our most famous specialties.

However, one of my English impact students had a unique reason for not liking white shrimp - it is dangerous. She went on to explain that the shrimp's "moustache" can be sharp and do damage inside of the eater's mouth.

Wait a minute, I thought... Shrimp don't have moustaches, not like we humans. Then it hit me that she was translating ひげ or antenna as "moustache. 

Yes, some men - ok, some women, too - have moustaches. But what about cats? Do they have moustaches? No, we call theirs "whiskers." 

And for shrimp, they might have sharp antennas that can cut the insides of the mouth.  

So there's another reason not to like seafood. It can be dangerous. Or possibly the image of a shrimp with a moustache will remain with you all of your life.  

In any case, I understand why you might not like seafood. That's cool (いいよ). More for me!

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Top 5 Things I Never Imagined I'd Be Doing Now

Happy Obon, everyone! Are you enjoying some time off from work? Are you planning to spend time with your relatives (親戚)? Return to your hometown (里)? Visit and clean your family grave (お墓参り)?

Every time Obon comes around in Toyama, it reminds me that my family moved here from Osaka so we could spend more time with my wife's family. And it reminds me how much my life has changed since we came here 2 1/2 years ago. Here are 5 things I never imagined I would be doing now:

1.) Being a cat person. Growing up, I was always a dog person. I used to have an adorable Shih Tzu named Muffy. He lived to the ripe old age of 17 and was like a family member to all of us. Then, living in apartments in Japan all of my life, there was never a chance to have a pet. So when we moved to a house in Toyama and were finally able to have a pet, we decided first to get a kitten from a shelter and then the runt of the litter (末っ子) from a local breeder. Now Tamaちゃん and Mashuくん are like family members to us here.

2.) Attending a stranger's (知らない人) funeral (葬式). Within a year of living in Toyama, one of our neighbors passed away (亡くなる). A notice was put into our mailbox and the neighborhood leader came by asking us if we planned to attend the funeral. Thinking that it was the polite, neighborly thing to do - despite not having any idea who the deceased (死者) was - my wife and I got all dressed up in the black, prepared a monetary present and boarded the bus to take us to the funeral. Imagine our surprise when we saw the bus was less than half full and none of our next-door neighbors were there. When another neighbor we didn't know passed away earlier this year, we offered our condolences (哀悼). But wisely stayed home.

3.) Growing everything from peanuts to watermelons. Most people who live in apartments in Japan not only can't have pets. They also can't enjoy the pleasure of gardening and/or growing their own food. Nothing tastes better than organic, homegrown vegetables.

4.) Driving a car again. For 13 years in Japan I got around by walking, riding a bicycle or taking public transportation (公共交通機関). I never thought I would be driving again. That's why my Kansas driver's license expired. And why I had to spend 2 months going to a Japanese driving school because there in no way to live in Toyama without a car.

5.) Seeing my abs (腹筋) again. My life has definitely become healthier since moving to Toyama: eating organic vegetables, not drinking alcohol, training for the November 1st Toyama Marathon; and exercising - swimming, weight lifting, cycling and so on - has helped me discover something I hadn't seen since high school - my abs.

Obon is a time for reflection. We pray for our ancestors' spirits and mourn their absences in our lives. It is also a time for you to reflect on your own life. Are you living the life you want? Are you happy? If not, what would you rather be doing? I'm praying for your happiness, too.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

How INSIDE OUT Is Different in Japan

Sure, Inside Out has a different title in Japan. Here it is called Inside Head.

And, annoyingly (ムカつくに), too, the movie is only being shown in most theaters dubbed in Japanese because Japanese kids - the main audience in summer vacation - can't read Japanese subtitles or understand spoken English. 

But the big difference I want to write about is the vegetable that the little girl hates. In the US version, it is broccoli. 

And in the Japanese version, it is green pepper (ピーマン). So why the change? Why did Pixar go all out to change every broccoli scene to green peppers?

The simple answer is, because Japanese kids don't hate broccoli. What's to hate about it?  Well, some American kids think it looks weird - like eating a little tree - and tastes bad (まずい).

It is the bitter (苦い) green pepper that freaks out most Japanese children. 

If it were up to me, the vegetable I would have used in the movie would be beets. Or brussel sprouts. Or lima beans. There were so many gross vegetables I had to eat when I was growing up in the USA! My American friends and family members are understandably surprised that I am now so interested in vegetable gardening.

Now, as an adult, I can look back and laugh at what used to be going on inside out or inside my head when I had to eat beets or brussel sprouts or lima beans. And that's the same joy that Pixar wants all audience members to feel when they watch the movie.

Now if it were only in English... !&#%&*%&&#$&!(#%&#

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Please Don't Pee in the Pool!

Happy Marine Day (海の日). Today's national holiday is the first day many pools, including my local Osawano Swimming Pool, open in Japan.

I'm excited to add swimming to list of exercises I enjoy. Swimming in summer is much more relaxing and enjoyable than running. It's also easier on the leg muscles than cycling and easier on the arms than weight lifting.

But - and this is a really big BUT - since it is a free, community pool, there is chance that I might be swimming in something more than water. That is, people of all ages have a tendency to pee (小便をする) in swimming pools instead of getting out and using the restrooms (お手洗い).

I'm sure you, loyal English impact blogger reader, don't do that. But if you do, know that your urine (小便) reacts with the chlorine (塩素) (CI) in the pool to create a toxic chemical called cyanogen chloride.

It's also a good idea to take a shower before and and after you swim. Showering before entering a pool can wash away the dirt and sweat from your body so the water will be cleaner for everyone in the pool.

And after you finish, showering can wash off the chlorine or cyanogen chloride from your body.

Have fun swimming this summer, everyone, and remember it is a public swimming pool, not your own secret toilet.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Close but no Martini

You might have heard the English saying (諺), "Close but no cigar (惜しい)." It means to come close to winning something, but not actually win.

In my case, "Close but no martini" seems more appropriate since I am trying to watch all of the James Bond in order without falling asleep.

My original plan was to simply enjoy each movie, from the original Dr. No (1962) to Skyfall (2012) in anticipation of the newest one Spectre in December 2015.

After falling asleep midway through Dr. No several times, though, I realized I had a serious problem. The whole series of movies is boring. And I really mean that. For all of the action - the chase scenes & the fight scenes, for example - and the beautiful Bond girls, there is an equal amount of slow moving plot lines and boring, awkward dialogue. Don't believe me? Think I am exaggerating? I dare you to try to watch one from the 60's or 70's late at night and make it all the way through two hours awake. 

Beginning with Dr. No all the way to Octopussy (1983) - well, actually Never Say Never Again, which came out later that year but was not released by Eon Productions - I have tried but failed to stay awake in one sitting.

I thought I had a good chance with A View to a Kill (1985) since it was the first Bond movie I ever saw in a movie theater. And I was doing pretty well until the very end when it seemed to take Bond forever to get to the bomb to save Silicon Valley. I was in La-La Land (寝る) while he was saving the day and making out with Bond girl Tanya Roberts.

But I'm not worried. I still have 10 more chances, and the movies have gotten far more exciting and cooler than before. 

I'll get that martini yet. Shaken, not stirred. 
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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In Our Garden

It's a beautiful morning here in Toyama City after a night of rain. That means two things. First, I don't have to water (水をやる) my vegetable & herb garden. Second, I can go jogging for 90 minutes, my July goal.

I'm overjoyed that I don't have to go out and fill two 10-liter buckets with water from a nearby rice field's irrigation canal (田んぼの用水堀). Mother Nature took care of that job for me this morning.

And while I'd rather be running than blogging, this is a good chance to tell you a little more about my garden.

When my English impact students ask me what I am growing, I usually say, "Everything from peanuts to watermelons (落花生からスイカまで)," since I don't want to list everything.

But with this short blog, I can put everything down in writing and send a link to my students to read if anyone asks in the future. I'm also including the herbs that my wife chose (and I water) since we often use them for cooking. The number of each plant is in the parenthesis (). Here goes (行くぞ):

fruits & vegetables
peanuts (4)
mini-red tomato (3)
mini-yellow tomato (2)
eggplant (3)
green pepper (3)
various (いろいろ) pepper plants, including spicy red peppers and paprika (8)
cucumber (2)
yacon (1)
bitter melon (4)
green onion (80)
snap pea (?)
sweet potato (?)
okra (13)
strawberry (?)
asparagus (?)
wasabi (1)
watermelon (2)

herbs (1 each)
Italian parsley
Japanese parsley
rose geranium

I think that's everything. And now it's running time. Here I go!

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sayonara, Ameba. Hello, Blogger.

Ever have one of those days (大変だ)?

Early this morning, I couldn't understand why I wasn't able to write my regular Ameba blog. When I clicked the "Write a Blog" button on my homepage, it took me to the log-in page. And then wouldn't let me log in.

To make a long story short, Ameba deactivated my account for some reason. I don't know why. They wouldn't provide a reason. Nor would they grant me access to the hundreds of blogs I had written on Ameba.

All of those blogs are gone forever. I hope you enjoyed them, loyal English impact blog readers, while they lasted.

The good news is that my semi-regular blogs will continue here on Blogger. I'll continue writing about my life in Toyama City, Japan where I wear many hats (いっぱいお仕事)- English impact School owner/teacher, husband, father, avid gardener, health food fanatic, beginner pianist, marathon trainee & American ex-pat. Oh, and my newest one - Ameba critic 【評論家).

One reason I didn't like Ameba is because it is very English unfriendly, kind of like Mixi before it. You have to have a pretty high level of Japanese to access it (I don't; my wife does) like Mixi before it.

And , like Mixi before it, it doesn't have nearly the reach or audience of an international blog site like Blogger.

So I expect bigger and better things with Blogger. Not extinction (絶滅) like Mixi before it.

What a great new day!

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