Saturday, May 29, 2010


Last weekend Aya and I went with her parents to local honey/bee farm to do some bee keeping. This place offered to show people the colonies and let them try honey, we were pretty sure it was meant for kids, but sounded so fun. So off we went.
When we arrived we had to don some funky net hats to make sure that we didn’t get stung on the face, but our hands were left exposed. As the woman guiding us got her smoker going she was telling us about the bees and that we shouldn’t stand in front of the openings of the hives because the bees would feel threatened. There were maybe a dozen boxes each containing its own colony with its own queen. She led us into the middle of the hives, or apiary, and I must admit that I was pretty nervous. There were bees landing all over me and the noise a bit unnerving. Plus, I thought, “Can bees smell fear? Didn’t I hear that once? Oh no, … don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, stay calm.” That isn’t exactly true. Bees can smell pheromones, but they can’t smell “fear”.
Anyways, as we stood there our guide pulled out a board from the hive and showed us some honey comb, pointed out the queen, then punctured a hole in the honey comb exposing some fresh honey and told us to put our fingers in to taste some. I was the last to put my finger in and I must admit it was awfully hard not to poke a bee as I was trying to get some honey, but it was really good. Our guide explained to us about workers and drones and told us that essentially males are used just for breeding and once their purpose has been served they get kicked out of the hive where they starve to death. In some ways I feel bad for them, but not really. There lives may be shorter than other bees, but all they do is eat and breed. Sorry guy, I don’t feel bad for you. So I was thinking about whether or not I would actually want to be a male honey bee when Aya got stung. The strap from her camera and squeezed a bee between it and her hand and it panicked and stung her. Of course then our guide got to tell us about how when a bee stings and they lose their stinger they also lose their lives.
Other than that though we had a good experience and after went into the honey shop to taste some different kinds of honey like mikan, caramel, shiroka, soba, etc. They were all pretty interesting. We also read about some of the other uses of honey such as for medicine, shampoo, and other things. So that is the buzz on my honey bee experience.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Stranger Danger

That is a picture of what I call the "stranger danger pole". This name is the name used by the foreign teachers that I know here in Japan. The real name is sasumata, which translates as something like "pushing fork" As you can see it is a long pole with a semi-circular shape on one end. The user grasps the pole on the other end and uses the semi-circle to pin someone by the waist to a wall or basically to push them away, all the while the user can keep a safe distance from the person being pinned.
In Japanese schools, as in every school, there are school drills that are conducted at fairly random times to make sure that the students are prepared in the case of a real event.
Fire drills at my school are pretty cool actually. One of the staff sets off big smoke bombs in a certain part of the building, say the upper west hallway, and then the fire alarm is pulled. Teachers and students have to figure out how, based on the smoke, they should evacuate. I think this is brilliant, but there is one major flaw. At my school the gymnasium is the evacuation area. The gymnasium is attached to the rest of the school.
There is another drill where we practice what to do if an intruder comes into the building. In this scenario, again, no warning is given. Across the anouncements the principal announces that there is an intruder. Students then have to, again, figure out how to get to the gym and avoid the intruder. The kids get to the gym and then the intruder (a teacher wearing a partial face mask and hat) enters by a side door and proceeds to hurl insults at the students and teachers and basically to act mean and threatening. At this point the intruder is subdued. Teachers surround the intruder and try to talk them down, eventually someone physically subdues the intruder. The "stranger danger" poles are always on hand and occasionally used. I have never used one myself, never even been in the act of subdueing the intruder. The closest I got was running around the school with the secretary, each of us with various office equipment as weapons, try to flush out the intruder.
The funniest part about the intruder poles is that they sit in a closet except for the day that they are brought out to subdue the intruder. They are not even handy should someone come in. On top of that, there have been numerous times when I have seen people just wander into school. Its always some nice old guy selling flowers or something, but the point is that there is no barrier to them coming in nor is there much concern when a stranger is seen in the hallways. The doors are unlocked and really anyone could get in at anytime that school is in secession. I don't mean to belittle the Japanese school system for trying to protect the students, but perhaps more should be done to ensure the safety of schools.
I actually asked Aya if she had these in school when she was young and she said no. The reason being that they came about because of violence in schools here, especially the Osaka massacre in which 8 elementary children were stabbed to death. In America and some other parts of the world there has been similar desires to respond to school violence. While I agree that measures need to be taken in schools I think Japan's most appropriate response is to examine the country's social policies regarding the treatment of mental illness. Often I hear people say that times have changed and usually I think that times really haven't changed, just the amount of people and therefore the amount of exposure to atrocity. However, when I hear about things like the Osaka massacre I have to wonder if maybe they are right.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


It is usually this time of year in Japan when most foreign people sigh and think; I really like Japan. It is also this time of year when most Japanese people think, I am Japanese.

The reason for this is hanami, or flower viewing, which really means the viewing of the cherry blossoms. From late March to May cherry trees in Japan begin to bloom. It is also this time of year that weather starts to become warmer. The sakura (cherry blossoms) because of the variations in latitudes and therefore climates, bloom first in the south of Japan and then creep northward ending in Hokkaido in May. Sometimes on the news you can even watch the “hanami front” as it creeps northward like some lovely pink army.
The flowers are very beautiful and many people like to picnic under them. At times the places with many cherry trees can look like a giant party as many groups will be picnicking at the same time. Unfortunately the flowers only last for about 2 weeks before they fall off. This also can be a beautiful time as flower petals falling resemble snow and hanafubuki, or flower blizzards, occur in high density areas.
I took the picture above in Ueno Park about one month ago. I had just arrived back from Australia and had time to kill before my bus. I thought the park would have some good flower viewing and I was right. There were lots of people there, everyone having a good time. I bought myself a beer and some yakisoba, a noodle dish, and sat under the trees enjoying my food and the view. As I sat beneath the trees I thought to myself that this might be the last time I see these trees for a while. If all goes to plan I will return to the US in August. So, with that in mind I sighed and thought; I really like Japan.