Here’s where all the pictures are!

Sorry, but wordpress could make it more painless to add photos to each post, until then, they’re just all in a jumble here:




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Week 2: Festival Preparation:

Once a year, Ohda-shi hosts a large festival/fair, and it’s a tradition of the NPO that we work with to raise money by having the international volunteers cook and sell food. So the second week we were tasked with preparing for the food stands. We needed signs for every country, food (duh!), tents and cooking equipment, etc.
The japanese in charge of our program have never been to hot about me cooking (see previous posts) and thought I should make lemonade. OK. The NPO has always made Pizza, so I begged them to let me put Pizza on my sign and incorporate it as an “American” Food. Success!! I made an awesome poster, with the American flag splashed across the top, a cartoon bald eagle and statue of liberty (the latter much cutre than the former, and also not drawn by me – (not a coincidence)), but forgot to take pictures of it. Sorry!

Some of the other volunteers thought I had at easy because I had to make lemonade, while, for example, the koreans made 지지미, the Estonian potato salad, and the French girl struggled with Japanese cookware (lack of it, really) before deciding to make some fried-dough thing with applesauce. I proved them all wrong, however, when I had to squeeze 40 lemons by hand (Taira, our leader, told me that we had juicer. Sic! 뻥!. I squeezed about 7 with barehands before I got sores on my hands and fingernails, then I used latex gloves and went through 4 pairs (they always got holes, hopefully due to my strength than to the acid). Then I mixed the juice with sugar syrup (aka simple syrup) in pots and pans. The kitchen looked like a meth lab, there was so many glass vials and stuff. Not that I hang out in meth labs. Never mind.

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Week 2: School visit

One of our first tasks after the first week was to visit a local school and give presentations to them about our countries.
I had a terrible time deciding whether I should present on the entire United States, or just Chicago, with myself prefering the latter and none of the other international volunteers agreeing with me. I’ve always felt that the United States is too large (to be presented as one entity), and, as Howard Zinn said, is composed of many cultures and does not lend itself well to a homogenous representation, especially compared to, say, Japan or Korea.

The international volunteers eventually convinced me to do the entire United States, but not before I had already made a poster for Chicago. I stayed up late making my new US poster, featuring polar bears, disney land, and Barak Obama. The main argument of the other volunteers was that at the age that we were presenting to (pretty young), the kids weren’t super concerned with the accuracy or fullness of the depiction.

The presentation ended out fairly well, and we concluded by baking with all of the kids. We had French, Estonian, and Korean recipes (I was never asked to cook something, maybe because I was male? Or from the US?) I joined the Korean team and made delicious Ddeokbokki. Success! Then the kids talked about what they liked best, which was 100% the games that the Koreans brought to play during their presentation and the dance the Estonian girl did.

Lesson learned: kids need to be entertained

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Week 1: Bamboo cutting

Our workcamp is devided into 2 1-week “tasks”. During the first week we work with Wata-san, a professional logger, to help clear some of the bamboo trees from Iwami Ginzan. 

I have not taken many psychology classes, so please pardon my poor usage of the word, but the first few days I did have some congitive dissonance when our schedule said “Enviromental Work”, and the day involved chopping down beautiful bamboo tries and putting them in a wood chipper. I wondered if, coming from the US, I had preconceived notions of bamboo trees as being more pristine and holy (I’m thinking of the background to my favorite fight scenes from crouching tiger, hidden dragon), whereas in reality, they’re quite weed-like, growing very quickly and blocking out the other trees for sun.

Somedays we would get additional volunteers, and on one day, children from the local school came by to help us. It was a lot of fun, maybe just because they were super cute.


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What is Iwami Ginzan? (I had never heard of it either)


I am staying in Oda-shi, a town of 40,000 inhabitants and many rice farms, but the main focus of the workcamp (and really of Oda-shi) is Iwami Ginzan, an ancient silver mine about 20 mins drive away. Iwami Ginzan used to be the world’s largest silver mind, and fueled much of the trade between Japan and the West, deveolopping ties between European power and Japan and also European interest in East Asia. There’s no more silver left, but Iwami Ginzan is now a UNESCO world heritage site, home to many trails, visiting by many Japanese tourists (and occasionally foreigners) and has an adorable mascot, logo, and several bicycle taxis that give tours.

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30 hours of home stay

So, this past weekend, we all got to live with host family. Of the 11 people in our group, 5 went to stay in the house of one of the employees of the NPO here. Another 5 went to stay in another employee’s house.

I, for some reason I am still completely unsure of, was sent to stay with a family down the road. And it was fantastic! We communicated in very basic english and japanese, with spatterings of attempting (on my part) to write kanji (chinese characters) that I learned in high school, and then sometimes just saying korean words and hoping that they were similar in Japanese. This worked surprisingly well: yo-ri (ko) is yoooo-ri (jap), mu-ryo is the same, and a lot of other ones (e.g. the words for culture, grammar, although they both sounded to me like Boon-pah). The first night, we talked a lot and I told them (in japanese–hashtag accomplishment of the week) that I wanted to learn how to cook japanese food. We went to the supermarket and bought ingredients for okinomiyake (I think) which were pancakes of seafood and vegetables with meat on top. Then they invited neighbors over (something that never happened in Korea, and I wish I knew more about it) and we stayed up talking.

The next day we went to a nearby shrine and lighthouse with the dad and kid. Apparently it was a holiday to celebrate senior citizens, in any case, he had the day off. For lunch, we went to a sushi restaurant with one of those conveyor belts–so cool, and I’ve never been to one. Finally we did some calligraphy (I was given a brand new kanji name: root-stream-prince, I think) and origami, and I returned back to the NPO office where we all stay.

I wish I had some more time to talk about differences between my korean, chilean, and japanese homestay. What have (you all? y’all?)  experiences been like? Feel free to leave suggestions and complaints!


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The official website (Japanese)

So, the organization I’m with has been taking photos…meticulously…of everyone.

Check out their website at:

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