Page County Blogs

Onsen

Written By: rachel - Jan• 25•12

We are deep into winter here and it has been COLD! Now I know it’s usually cold in Clarinda (although it was having a freaky warm streak when I was back for Christmas vacation) but in Japan most apartments don’t have insulation or central heating. So that means that I’ll often wake up on winter mornings able to see my breath. Not fun. Trust me. Or ask my Dad, who slept in a hoodie with the blanket over his head. ^^ Anyway, one of my favorite winter pastimes (aside from spending time under my kotatsu, a heated table/blanket contraption that is the only way Japan doesn’t become a nation of icicles) is going to onsen. Onsen being “big pools of VERY hot water that you get into TOTALLY NAKED.” My first experience with onsen was beyond embarrassing to my shy high school self, but luckily I gave it another try in college and fell in love with it. It’s actually quite easy to get over the nakedness because nobody cares. The etiquette can be a bit daunting at first, so I was amused when I ran across this very helpful illustration on a Japanese onsen website.

I really think Americans should try this. It’s a great experience. Hope ya’ll stay warm!

This says it all

Written By: rachel - Dec• 09•11

This video from the Great East Earthquake victims was being shared among the ALTs I know on facebook this morning and I was moved to tears. I thought I’d share it with all of you.

We Will Always Remember You

Engrish

Written By: rachel - Nov• 09•11

If you’ve been following the news at all, Japan has a new Prime Minister who reminds me a bit of Obama in his play-it-safe strategies. There’s been some talk of energy saving techniques come winter but it hasn’t seemed as prominent as the summer efforts. Any sort of news recently, from Occupy Wallstreet to Chinese economy worries has seemed pretty grim so I thought I’d inject some humor into the situation. I mean, if you can’t laugh, you can’t live. That’s my opinion.

Anyway, one of the things I love best about living in Japan is a phenomenon we expats call Engrish. We spell it (and pronounce it) with an “r” instead of an “l” because of the Japanese tendency to mix up the two, often with hilarious results. Some examples include “fly” and “fry,” “right” and “light,” and “herro” instead of “hello.” Some Engrish is simple spelling mistakes, some odd grammar, and some seem like someone just slapped English onto a Japanese product and the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other (which I’m sure is actually the case since English for some reason adds the “cool factor” to anything here). I don’t think a day has gone by living here without me seeing some form of Engrish, whether it be on a student essay or in a store. So without further ado, I’m going to share some of my favorites.

In an essay on how to make some sort of Japanese dish that I forgot the name of in the hilarity that ensued: “Fly the porn in the pan over high flame.” She meant to say “fry” and “pork.” This is why spelling is so crucial.

Another great spelling mistake: “There should never be any more unclear war.” I agree. Nuclear war is very unclear.

I got many variations of this answer in a required letter assignment: “Thank you for your kind yell when I was in worry, it made me brave.” Ah the wonders of direct translation.

One of my best friends has a shirt with a picture of a motorcycle on it and the words “Keep regular constipation.” There were multiple versions of this shirt in different colors. I really wonder why no one checks these things before they go on the market.

In this essay students were supposed to name mysterious spots in the world (like Machu Picchu) and explain why they were mysterious: “My mysterious spot is restroom. The spot is very small and it makes me relax. So restroom is very mysterious!! lol” And yes, she included the lol.

And my favorite pajama shirt at the moment also happens to be one of my fondest memories of Engrish. For our school festival, each class and club make t-shirts. My English club girls have amazing senses of humor. This is the shirt they created and wore ALL DAY at the festival.

Acupressure for Pain Management

Written By: Beth Steeve - Sep• 16•11

I have a young man coming to me for chronic pain. He had an extensive surgery ten years ago, and has been on daily pain medication since then. He had relief from the first treatment, and after 3 or 4 sessions he has been able to go 8 hours or longer between medications, even forgetting to take his med sometimes. He has taken pain medication every six hours for years, and he told me that it had gotten so bad, he watched the clock for his next pill. That isn’t true anymore; he still has to take it before the pain gets too bad, or it is harder to get it under control, but the pain isn’t the cutting sharpness that it was before, and so is more tolerable. The challenge now is to get his body stabilized and teach him to do his own healing treatment. Acupressure is a powerful, under-utilized tool for pain management.
Beth Steeve,
Acupressure Access
LMT, Certified Acupressure Practitioner

(712) 542-1100
bethsteeve@gmail.com
www.acupressure-access.com
www.acupressure-access.blogspot.com

Disaster Simulation

Written By: rachel - Aug• 22•11

The other day, we were having an orientation for the new JETs, the people on my work program who are just beginning their life in Japan. During this orientation we were discussing disaster preparedness and about an hour later experienced one of the rather large aftershocks reminiscent of ones just after the big quake. We veteran JETs just looked at each other, rolled our eyes, and went back to what we were doing. Thanks, Japan, for such a vivid demonstration.

The second day of orientation we went to a special Disaster Preparedness Center. On the outskirts of Utsunomiya, Tochigi’s capital, is a center dedicated to educating people about the various natural disasters Japan faces. And if there’s a natural disaster that can happen, it is almost certain to happen in Japan. It’s somehow not surprising that people were civil after the earthquake because they’ve been hit by so many different things already. The first thing we did was watch a video basically warning us not to underestimate disasters, especially earthquakes. Although I could see the gravity of what they were talking about, it was also rather amusing because they used scare tactics and cultural hooks that didn’t really work on us foreigners. After the movie is when it started to get interesting. The center has 4 main rooms that showcase what each disaster will be like. They have a wind room, a smoke maze, an earthquake simulator, and a rain room.

The first room had a wind machine to show us what the level of wind would be like in a typhoon. They even warned us beforehand that if we were wearing contacts we should squint our eyes. It was pretty strong, and I could feel my clothes being blown around, but I could still breathe. I’ve had worse when I stick my head out of car windows going down the interstate (sometimes I think I’m part dog). Then I tried to imagine torrential rain, possibly hail, and poor lighting in addition to that kind of wind. It would not be fun. They measured the strength of the wind, but they were using meters per second, so it was confusing. I don’t know what it would be using the American system. I watched some other people go into the room and that was more impressive. It reminded me a bit of the parts in the movie The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is stuck in the tornado.

The second room was actually a series of connected rooms designed to let you know what it was like with poor visibility due to smoke. Our job was to follow the lit exit signs and find our way out of the “maze.” The smoke was made from water vapor and some sort of plant base, which was actually supposed to be good for your skin. It didn’t smell anything like real smoke, and there was no heat in the rooms, but it was still fairly creepy not being able to see anything in the room. It really made me appreciate those exit signs because most of us take them for granted.

The third room was an earthquake simulator. We stood on a large raised platform and got to experience all the levels of earthquake on the Japanese scale, called the Shindo scale. They have levels 0 through 7, including a 5-, 5+, 6-, and 6+. It’s actually a very good scale because they measure what you feel and experience at the surface. Level 0 is the lowest and most people don’t even notice it. Levels 5 and 6 are where you actually start seeing damage and things falling down. A good example is this picture from a Japanese seismic website.


Having been through a level 6 + in March, the simulator seemed more like an amusement park ride, especially as it was only the floor that was moving, not the walls. I could see some of the new JETs were a little shaken up however. The good news is that Japanese buildings are constructed with earthquakes in mind, and if they aren’t earthquake reinforced now, they will be in the next few years because they are going around and updating each building. Schools are the safest because most of them are the community evacuation centers and they house large numbers of children. The way they are reinforced ensures that they sway with the earth and don’t just crumble. It makes them very safe, but quite scary to be in when an earthquake actually hits, as I’ve found out. In human instincts, a swaying building is a very bad sign.

The last room was designed to dump the same amount of water as a typhoon and according to our guide it is the only one in Japan to be able to do so. Luckily, the Japanese also make amazing rain suits so even though we basically stood under a waterfall for 2 minutes, we emerged nice and dry. Having lived in Japan for 4 years now, I know quite well how hard in rains and it was very amusing listening to the new JETs from England marvel at the amount of water Japanese clouds can hold.

All in all it was quite an interesting experience. It made me wonder if we should have tornado simulation centers in Iowa.

Atomic Anniversery

Written By: rachel - Aug• 17•11

Luckily for everyone involved, the typhoon swerved and missed the Tokyo and Northern area. I made my plane to Ireland and had a nice, cool, mostly rain free vacation. Oddly enough, my friend back in Japan informed me that while I was gone, the heat wave broke and the temperature was almost pleasant. Of course, when I returned to Tokyo, the temperature jumped back into the 90s.

After my venture overseas, a friend and I decided to tour some of the major cities in Western Japan, namely Hiroshima, Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto. We did this with the “Seishun Juhachi Kippu” literally the “Youthful 18 Ticket.” The seishun juhachi kippu costs 11,500 yen (roughly $120) and gets you unlimited travel on local JR trains for 5 non-consecutive days. Basically this means that you can travel anywhere you have the patience for (local trains are the slowest ones) for about $25 a day. Which, if you are going from Tokyo to Hiroshima, is quite a deal. Even if it does take nearly 24 hours. When my friend and I were planning which cities to go to on which days, it just so happened to work out best that we hit Hiroshima from Aug 5-7. For those of you who know your history, that meant that we went to the Hiroshima Peace Museum on the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb. The Peace Museum is a sober place at any time (I’ve been three times now) but that day in Hiroshima was the first time I actually saw Japanese riot police. When we first got to the peace park, there was a group of people outside yelling into megaphones and generally extorting the people around. This wasn’t such a new thing, it actually looked like what politicians do to get elected (I swear, it’s a good thing I don’t have voting rights here because I would NOT vote for a candidate who rolled by my apartment in a truck at 8 on a Saturday morning bawling out his campaign promises and name). I couldn’t quite tell what they were saying, but I believe it was some sort of protest and if I had to take a guess, I’d say it was about nuclear power. The thing that made me slightly nervous was the fact that they were all waving around flags that looked suspiciously like the ones the Japanese Imperial Army used during WWII.

As my friend and I exited the museum, the group of protesters was still there, but had moved to a bridge and was now spread out in parade style. Surrounding this odd parade were Japanese riot police, who looked like they’d come straight out of a movie, helmets, shields, batons and everything. The way they moved off with the protesters made it seem to me as if they were protecting them rather than getting ready to break up the gathering. It was one of those times I wished I was fluent in Japanese rather than merely semi-competent so I could understand what was actually going on. I read in the English newspaper the next day that the Prime Minister had been to the memorial ceremony and linked the nuclear disaster in Fukushima to the nuclear bombing in his speech. I’m not sure what his agenda is, but that was quite a telling connection.

Support for the Prime Minister has hit an all time low of 19%. He has said he will step down after two key bills for reconstructing the nation have been passed, which could happen at the end of August. Right now, the situation is reminding me more and more of the debacle in New Orleans. Some reconstruction is happening, but very slowly no one seems very happy with the  government. Some local governments have stepped up efforts to recover bodies in the last week, as it’s Obon season. One of my fellow JETs has a good article about Obon and the disaster. What is Obon?

I could see a big difference between Western Japan’s electricity policy and my own Eastern area. Here in the “East” as the Japanese call it, you can see signs everywhere telling people to save electricity, and everyone from TV personalities to your coworkers talks about it. I didn’t see one sign, or hear one person talk about electricity in West Japan. In Kyoto we went by a shrine where priests inside were selling charms. Two sides of the building were open and when we walked past we could feel the chill blast of air conditioning. I turned to my friend and said “Wow, that’s pretty wasteful isn’t it?” Last year I would have thought nothing of it.

Vivaxis: Your energetic connection to Planet Earth

Written By: Beth Steeve - Aug• 09•11

Acupressure is so much more than body work. I’ve been working with some new modalities that really bring the emotional component into the work. There is no “counseling” as such, I don’t get tearful confessions, or even know the issues: it isn’t important to what I am doing. But people shift, attitudes adjust, and often the client is able to move out of a pattern that has ceased to function effectively. The most startling example is that of a woman who came to me with a myriad of symptoms – pain here or there, depression over a fading relationship that she’d been stuck in for about a year. Her job was unsatisfactory and she had lots of “stucks.” One of the first corrections that came up was for ‘vivaxis,’ which is a person’s connection to his/her place of birth.
Because we have an energetic connection to our place of birth, when we live far from that place, we sometimes experience a vague sense of not belonging or dislocation. I asked where she was born (out of state) and whether she suffered from homesickness, or any desire to return. ‘No, not at all,’ was the reply, and it was somewhat emphatic.
We did the correction, which is a strange process, and one I hadn’t done many times. In all, she did less than ten sessions over a period of a few weeks.
She called a few weeks after the last session and told me she’d spent a week with her family in her home state, she’d broken off with her boyfriend and had found some job opportunities near her folks. She would be moving as soon as she could pack. She sounded more animated than I’d ever heard, and she said she felt at peace and that this was what she’d been needing. She thanked me and told me she knew that the Body Talk (the modality I’d used) had helped a lot.
If a doctor told you to get acupressure therapy to decrease the healing time for a broken bone, it would decrease that healing time, and it wouldn’t be a pill that would cause mood swings or stress your heart, in fact it would help those issues. That’s why I do acupressure.

Bus Card for blog

Batten down the hatches!

Written By: rachel - Jul• 19•11

For anyone who knows about Japanese onsen (hot springs) there have been some interesting developments in the months since the earthquake. Springs have stopped, changed color, or burst from unexpected places. A few places in the Tohoku region have seen the sources of their onsen baths dry up. One or two have seen this as reason to close up shop, but many have drilled in other places and secured new sources. Another spring has changed from very clear water to milky white. Customers at this onsen have said they liked the change, as it made their skin smoother. The main theory on why it has changed color is that the earthquake shook loose some clay into the source of the spring. As time goes on, the spring is returning to its original clear look, which has disappointed some people. Finally, in some abandoned mine shafts, new springs have gushed forth, providing a much needed windfall. It seems the earth is still all shook up.

And speaking of shook up, the beef industry has been hit hard by the knowledge that it has sent beef tainted with radioactive cesium to consumers in 37 prefectures. According to the Health Ministry, the levels are above the legal amount but shouldn’t negatively impact human health. The meat came from farms in Fukushima prefecture. Farmers are keeping their cattle indoors, but have been feeding them rice straw that had been kept outside to dry. Many of the farmers say they weren’t told what they could feed their cattle, and didn’t realize the straw had been contaminated. Stricter measures on beef products are now being enforced and could put Fukushima cattle farmers out of business.

The most recent bit of news is the typhoon currently blowing through the southwest part of Japan. Typhoon Ma-On could hit the Tokyo/Tohoku region sometime tomorrow, but even it doesn’t, the amount of rain we’ve been getting is slightly insane. Workers at the Fukushima plant have hurriedly made a makeshift roof for the reactors to protect it from the wind and rain. This particular force of nature dumped enough water on my town to overflow many of the sewers and coming home from work I gave up staying dry as a lost cause. Some puddles of water were ankle deep. Personally, I hope the typhoon misses the Tokyo/Tohoku region, of course because they don’t need any more disasters, but also because I have a plane to Ireland to catch tomorrow morning. I’d really rather it not get canceled.

Summer Swelter

Written By: rachel - Jul• 13•11

Summer has finally come to my part of Japan. The cicada are buzzing, the frogs are singing their songs in the rice fields near my apartment, and it is HOT! It gets hot in Iowa, but the humidity is so much worse here. You do any sort of fairly strenuous activity and you get soaked with sweat. I’m one of the lucky people who actually has air conditioning running in the classrooms at my school but some of my friends have to suffer through the day with no more help than small fans. Even with air conditioning, I sometimes feel sweat on the bottoms of my legs as I’m sitting in my chair. Japanese people have always been of the grin and bear it variety but this year, they’re going to new extremes since the government has officially set the power consumption limit to 15% lower than it was last year. Which means that AC is usually set to 28 C (82 F). Compared to the outside temperatures of 30 C (86 F)-35 C (95 F), sometimes with 100% humidity, 28 actually feels pretty good.

A new campaign, “Super Cool Biz” has been started in companies around Japan. Basically, they are relaxing the strict dress code and allowing polo shirts, aloha shirts, and in my case capris. I was so glad not to have to wear full pants to work. Some companies have also implemented their own version of daylight savings time, starting at 7:30 or 8 in the morning and turning off AC between 4:30 and 5. Many are telling employees not to do overtime work after 7pm and instead do it early in the morning if absolutely necessary. There are even companies that are working on weekends to save power and giving workers time off during the week. A few offices in my prefecture have decided to be open one day of the weekend. So far my school schedule hasn’t changed.  The limit on power usage will continue into September. I’ve been trying to do my part by using my AC as little as possible. I just got a new fan the other day which lets me sleep through the night now. I’d been waking up the past week because I was too hot. Cold showers are heavenly. I really hope this summer we can avoid both blackouts and increased deaths from heat. It gives me new appreciation for seemingly limitless power and nature.

Life goes on, with changes

Written By: rachel - Jun• 16•11

Another thing you learn about living through a disaster is what goes back to normal….and what doesn’t. The Japanese newspapers still have a special disaster coverage section with continuing updates, but it seems the rest of the world has moved on. Even some people in this country have gone back to worrying about other things. However, 90,000 people are still living in shelters. Many of them have changed evacuation centers so many times they have given up on going home. Others have won the lottery to move into temporary housing, but since the housing units do not have water or electricity and are often located far away from city centers, they have decided to leave their belongings in the housing and continue living in shelters. This understandably upsets citizens who failed the lottery. Most of the debris in areas hardest hit by the tsunami are still not cleared. People are also living in damaged houses, for reasons ranging from family care to not wanting their pets to annoy other people living at the shelter. So far there is not enough manpower to fix these houses and a major concern is the rainy season will cause even more damage. A leaky roof is annoying enough and perhaps even cause a partial collapse, but people living near hills and mountains are also worried about landslides. Another concern is the 1,700 kids still living 20-30 km from the Fukushima plant. They are taken by bus every day to schools in other parts of the prefecture.

The political situation is about as politely nasty as it can get. Blame is flying and calls are coming from all sides for the Prime Minister to resign. He barely survived a no confidence vote a few weeks ago and has said he wants to stay in office until aid starts getting to victims, which he believes will be the end of summer. In light of the nuclear fiasco, Japan is thinking of shutting down all of its nuclear reactors, which means that the Kansai electric power company (Southern Japan)  is also thinking about a 15% power cut this summer. Some businesses have considered moving their working hours up an hour to make the most of Japan’s daylight, a sort of unofficial daylight savings time. Small generators are selling out as fears mount about inadequate amounts of electricity during the hottest months and a new type of electric car is being made that will be able to power small household appliances such as rice cookers and washers. And I didn’t think it was possible, but even more Japanese have started wearing surgical masks in an effort to filter out radiation. Wearing masks has always been popular, but even as far away as Tokyo they are appearing on more and more people.

On the bright side, people have been rebuilding in spite of all odds. In order to cheer up people still living in shelters, a program using therapy dogs has begun rounds in affected areas. The response is overwhelming and the demand far outstrips availability. After all the pictures of devastation, one local photographer has begun taking pictures which focus on people’s smiles. He posts them on the outside of his still standing studio in order to encourage others.

The main thing that I’ve noticed has changed where I live is that it’s darker. Lights that used to be on are not. In trains. In nearby parks. Along small streets. Even in the restrooms in my school (although not all the lights there are out, only the ones directly above the stools). Tokyo’s famous skyline looks different at night now. But most people don’t talk about it. They go about their daily routines as usual. And life goes on.