Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back to School

I (Brad) love teaching at St. Mary’s. The thought of working with 24 boys was somewhat intimidating before the first day, but the class has been surprisingly fun, comfortable, and yes, easier to work with than a coed classroom. With boys, jokes race around the room, sketches of alien-insect-bug-destroyers abound, and these “gentlemen” (as referred to by Mr. White) work harder than any group I’ve ever had…with the right motivation, that is.

Here's one example of an awesome motivator for the boys: every time I notice them doing a particularly good job at something we've been working on, I give them a "Good job ticket." They write their cluster's name on the ticket and enter into the weekly "Samurai Contest." On Friday, I choose a ticket and the winning cluster gets to keep the prize on their tables all week to show how hard they've been working. Here's the prize, a miniature Samurai Helmet I got at an antique store (they LOVE it):

We’ve established many of our procedures for the year, and will continue to practice, practice, and practice some more until the room becomes a well-oiled machine. I am definitely learning a great deal about a school system far different from those I’ve worked in before, and I hope to use what I’ve learned back in the States in a few years as a principal.

Although the school is certainly not perfect, they foster a nice blend of teacher’s autonomy and accountability, provide all the resources you could ever ask for, and the administration directly and personally encourages the students to achieve and strive to do their best on a regular basis. Needless to say, the things the school emphasizes support teachers and students and create a great place for boys to learn.

All in all, it’s been a good start. ☺


We have finally begun unpacking our suitcases now that we’ve moved into our cozy, new home. In the process, Brad found these notes scattered throughout his baggage:

Although things are wonderful here, it is definitely hard to be away from our families sometimes, and the Skype/iChat conversations and little surprises like this make everything much easier to manage. Thanks “Maaa.” We love you too.

P.S. We've been praying a great deal for both of our mothers' health these days, and God has made some amazing things happen lately, but we still pray for health, healing, and happiness. Feel free to join with us in lifting up these two women that we love so much. :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Exploring alone...

Today was Brad's first day of school with his 2nd grade boys. Being that I do not yet have employment, I decided to go out and explore. I did not venture too far away from the hotel, I was alone- and that's HUGE. I made it to the same area that our apartment is in and acquainted myself with the ridiculously expensive shops (no, I did not spend any money) and found the train station that we will be using as well.

It was nice to be able to go at my own pace and take in the people around me, listen to my iPod, and browse around all the shops. It is amazing to watch how the people in this city work. They are very perceptive and it is quite noticeable when they are checking you over, trying to find out what you're all about. Women do this more than men, which is not much different from other countries I suppose.

There is a large mall, Takashimaya, where I wandered around for a while today. They have stores like Chanel, Prada, Louis Vitton, etc, and an amazing basement level full of little food places. I walked around there for about half an hour just oggling all of the beautiful food. It is all quite expensive, but a nice place to go if you're feeling a little down and need a small treat.
There is a pet store across the street from our apartment as well. I decided to go look through the glass at the puppies and totally fell in love with all of them. No surprise there.

All in all today was great and I look forward to getting used to more of the city as time goes on.


Yesterday, while preparing Brad's classroom for the first day of school, we had our first earthquake experience. We were sitting down and suddenly heard a low, very quiet rumble. Then, we felt the floor move under us and watched as everything hanging on the ceiling started to shake. It lasted less than 10 seconds and when it was over, we weren't even sure it was actually an earthquake. All we knew is that we had never felt the floor move that way. When we arrived back at our hotel, we found this link.

It was a mild first experience- let's hope it stays that way!

There was another interesting story from Tokyo today... A monkey at the train station! Click here to read more. There's never a boring moment here in Tokyo!

Obon Festival Fireworks and Karaoke

Here in Japan, Obon is a time of year when the Japanese believe that the spirits of their dead ancestors return home. During this holiday, many people in the country return to their hometowns to spend time with their families. When we arrived in Japan, Obon was just beginning. On the last day of Obon there are many festivals to partake in. We attended a festival here in Tokyo where we enjoyed a full hour of the most amazing fireworks we had ever seen! Somewhere around 500,000 to 1 million people gathered on the banks of the river for the fireworks. We arrived about an hour and a half early, bought some food and drinks and claimed a spot on the ground while we waited for the fireworks to begin.

Earlier in the day, we bought kimonos to wear to the festival along with traditional shoes. We certainly did not look quite as nice as the Japanese people, but we felt very festive!

Later on that night, we went out to a small restaurant called a Yakitori-ya. These are small restaurants that fit no more than 8-12 people and can be found by looking for a red lantern with black writing on the outside. The Yakitori-ya are run by Mama-sans or Masters (pronounced Massah). At the particular Yakitori-ya we visited, a man named Noburo was behind the bar. We ate some delicious food, had a couple beers and invited our Noburo and a couple of other new Japanese friends to join us
for Karaoke!

Karaoke in Japan is much different than in the States. Here, you get a small room where you sit with your group of friends instead of in front of an entire room full of strangers. We were able to sing many of the songs as a group and had an amazing time together.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

One man’s trash…is Brad & Rachael’s treasure!

Do you remember those highly-publicized instances when people have found a discarded piece of valuable art or an original copy of the Declaration of Independence in an unlikely place? Well, ours isn’t quite as valuable, but we did have a find of our own yesterday.

While walking around a wealthy neighborhood downtown with our friends Triston and Justyna, we stumbled upon some beautiful Japanese art that someone had thrown away in their garbage. So, yes, we took someone’s garbage (affectionately referred to as “gomi” by Triston).

For a few hours in 100+ degree heat and a bit of rain, we carried these handmade wooden paddles with Japanese characters made from fabric around Tokyo. We knew absolutely nothing about what we had found, except that they might look nice in our apartments. Strangely enough, everywhere we went, people would look at us, point, crack jokes or even laugh out loud. In general terms, we haven’t seen behavior like this at all in Tokyo, so we could tell we had found something at least mildly entertaining.

When we stopped to buy our new kimonos for a massive festival we’d attend later in the evening, we set the boards down in the shop and one of the store workers told us that what we had found was actually quite valuable, possibly worth thousands of dollars!!

Apparently, these paddles, called “hagoita,” were originally used in a game called “hanetsuki,” but have now evolved into an art form of their own. Our paddle is nearly three feet tall, so this is definitely a decorative hagoita, rather than one used for the badminton-like game of hanetsuki.

Here are a few links, two of which are particularly hilarious…

Some photos of common hagoita:

Two girls playing hanetsuki:

And a superb hagoita nerd, pitching his hagoitas on Ebay:

From what we've found online, ours is quite large for a hagoita, and most likely worth between $200 and $1,000. Not bad for some discarded trash eh?

Friday, August 15, 2008

This and that.

Tokyo's subtle oddities are countless and mostly enjoyable. Here is a short compilation of the things we have noticed, experienced and learned so far.

1. Sweat happens. Today, the heat index was 102 degrees. Tips: buy an umbrella to shield you from the sun and/or a fan to at least give the illusion of cooler air by simply making it move.

2. Don't talk on your phone- text instead.

3. When you arrive at a small restaurant, don't let the crowded first impression fool you. They will find room for you.

4. There are bugs- big ones.

5. Brad has already learned at least thirty useful phrases and basic words. Rachael has learned two. She will work on that.

6. We remember the phrase "Toi re wa do ko des ka" (Where is the toilet?) by singing it to the tune of "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," and ending with an enthusiastic "Hai!" Good times.

7. The subways are intimidating but surprisingly easy to use. Just pay attention to the signs and remember which stops the express train skips (we forgot about this today and missed our stop...a 20-minute mistake).

8. "Crocs" are very popular. And they come in many shapes and sizes that are not found in the States.

9. Sometimes your dinner table will consist of a small table and cushions on the floor. When you sit at these tables you have to remove your shoes.

10. There are authentic Italian restaurants with decent pizza- who knew?

This list will surely grow in the coming days, weeks, and months. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


View our pictures by clicking here.

World's most expensive cities 2007

1. Moscow
2. Tokyo
3. London
4. Oslo
5. Seoul
6. Hong Kong
7. Copenhagen
8. Geneva
9. Milan
10. Zurich

22. New York City

We are quickly finding out why Tokyo is #2. Although our salary is more than in the States, things will still be tight. Here's one reason why:

When you move into an apartment in Tokyo, you go through a system where you pay two month's rent to your landlord as "thank you" or "key" money, two month's rent for a deposit that may or may not be returned, one month's rent for the following month, and one month's rent to the agent that found the apartment and facilitated the contract.

When you add all this up, that's six months of rent due before you can even move in. We found a modestly-priced two-bedroom place, and it runs around $1,600 a month. That means that they move-in cost alone is $9,600. Luckily, contract renewal is every two years and only costs one month's rent for "key money." Another lucky thing is that the school covers part of the cost and gives us a loan for the rest to be paid back in installments over the next six months.

Food has been relatively affordable, and we have most of what we need, but we're starting to see the practical reasons for Tokyo's placement at #2 on the list of the most expensive cities in the world. Eating out can be cheaper than making food at home, according to some people who have lived here for a few years. We'll make it work, but it should be interesting...

Monday, August 11, 2008

We're here!

Attention Tokyo: The Whites have landed. And they love your city.

So far, we have had an absolutely wonderful time in Tokyo. Despite the long flight and sometimes-oppressive heat and humidity, we have already settled in quite comfortably and have enjoyed some delicious food with new friends.

We do have to mention that last week was also wonderful. Brad’s parents came out from Denver, and along with Rachael’s folks and Rebecca, we spent a lot of time together in preparation for the big move. We had bonfires, delicious meals, packed and repacked, and Rebecca even got a three-song dedication send-off for us on the “Morning Show” on Minnesota Public Radio, with our favorite radio personalities, Dave Connelly and Jim Ed Poole! Thanks moms, dads and Rebecca.

The city is buzzing. Literally. There are millions of cicadas and other bugs in the trees, but so far none have bothered us with anything but sound. There always seems to be activity going on, but the city is surprisingly quiet and pleasant.

Today, we spent time touring apartments with some amiable Japanese real estate agents, one of which starred in the all-too-famous Budweiser commercial series of “wasuuuuuuup,” except that he did the “konichiwaaaaaaaa” commercial. Needless to say, Brad was pretty excited about this fact. Check out this link: (he’s the one on the couch).

In an incredible stroke of divine intervention, we signed a contract for our new home today- we were the only teachers to find anything suitable, and we LOVE this home. It is about a five-minute walk from the school, which is unbelievable, considering that many of our fellow teachers are paying more money for less square footage, and living further from the area where the school is located. We have a two-bedroom place with a nice, open kitchen, three balconies, and our own personal rooftop terrace, since we’re on the top (4th) floor of the building. It is nicely maintained below with beautiful plants and flowers inside the entrance gates and walls, and in a green, quieter, residential area of Tokyo.

Tonight, we went to Shibuya, the “Times Square” of Tokyo. We can surely say that we have NEVER seen so many people cross one intersection at one time or been blinded by so many neon signs, LCD screens, and cell phones. Also, with thousands of people crossing one street, another person didn’t touch us in crossing. The politeness of the Japanese is simply amazing. After seeing some of the sights and shops, we stopped in at a quaint sushi joint by following a narrow stairway to the second floor of a building in Shibuya. There, we enjoyed between 10-15 tapas-size plates of a variety of sushi, teriyaki meat skewers, spicy kimchi, savory noodle dishes, and a couple drinks with our new friends from St. Mary’s International School (SMIS).

This morning began with a breakfast of lattes and orange-glazed rolls at a local French bakery, and we look forward to something similar tomorrow. For now, we’ll sign off. Keep in touch and send any questions you have our way!

Brad & Rachael