Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cool Japanese Shoe Dryer

One of the great things about living abroad is that things can be different than in your native country. This is especially the case if you are a curious person always on the look out for something cool. I suppose that as a blogger/video blogger, I look at the world in a slightly different way. I am always searching for something that would be interesting enough to snap a picture of or film.

The other day while on a break, I went for a brief walk. I wandered through a fairly nondescript residential neighborhood. I came across a coin laundry (laundromat). That alone wasn't particularly interesting, but the sneaker washing/drying machine in front of it was:

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

So, you wanna live in Japan?

I have been blogging and video blogging since 2006. That is when I began my first and now defunct, blog about life in South Korea. While in Korea I began video blogging on You Tube. Four years and change later, I’m still making videos and writing blogs about my experiences overseas, as a teacher, runner, lover of the outdoors and parent. Obviously, if you read this blog, you know that I live in Japan. For that simple reason alone, there are many people attracted to what I have to say and show. I would love to say that all of my You Tube subscribers and blog readers follow me simply because I’m charming and have so many wise bits of knowledge to impart, but I realize that for many, the fact that I talk about Japan and Korea from time to time is why you are here.

Between all of the people who watch me on You Tube (close to 20,000 on my two channels combined) and the awesome people who take the time to read my blog, I get a lot of questions about life in Japan and Korea. Many of them are from people, who for various reason, would really love to come to Asia to work and live life. Some questions are very intelligent. Some are very insightful, some are awkward and some are just plain ridiculous.

Today, I was watching several of my good social media friends having a debate about this topic online. These are some cool people who are successful in various careers here in Japan. They are foreigners who came to Japan, worked very hard and are now enjoying various degrees of success. They are the kind of folk who many out there, aspiring to come to Japan want to emulate. Like anywhere, in Japan, if you want to be successful, you must work hard and often have a strong skill-set, and of course, build up a network.

There is no magic spell or trick to becoming a success here in Japan. During my almost three years here (not a long time), I have met a few very successful foreigners. All of them had some specific talent that got them where they were.

If you are interested in coming to Japan, great! Japan is a wonderful place that many fall in love with. It has a rich culture, cuisine and history. It is easy to see why so many are attracted to the place. If you do ant to come here though, you need some sort of plan. Many people say to me, “I just want to come to Japan cause it’s so amazing. I’m young, have no education, language abilities or skill-set, but I must get to Japan ASAP!” All I can do is shake my head when I hear that sort of talk. If you do want to come here and you are truly serious about it, you can’t just expect success to bite you in the ass because you are a gaijin (foreigner). You have to make a serious plan and work hard at it. Even then, there are no guarantees.

I don’t know as much as some, but I can share a few little tidbits of knowledge about coming to Japan (note that a level of sarcasm may at times be used!):

1. Get a job with a large non-Japanese company that has foreign offices in Japan. If you work for a big company (insurance, tech, banking) maybe you can get transferred to a Japanese office!

2. If you have a university degree, get a job as an English teacher. This can be at times tough (especially in Tokyo…..a lot of competition) since the English language market is continually shrinking, but it is indeed doable.

3. Come to Japan as a language student. If you sign up to study at a Japanese language school you can get a student visa. With a student visa you can work up to 20 hours a week. While you are here, you might be able to lay the groundwork for a job that will supply you with a working visa once your student visa is finished!

4. If you are an amazing musician you might be able to audition for some sort of hotel gig!

5. If you are an amazing skier/snowboarder, there are jobs in the ski resort areas such as Nagano and in Hokkaido. Many foreigners work at ski resorts during the winter months.

6. Maybe a tech sector job would suit you. Two things though, you will need amazing tech skills and also the ability to speak fluent Japanese. If you don’t have those, chances might not be so good.

7. Are you a professional chef, I’m sure more than few places (fancy hotels) may be looking for a few.
8. You can come to Japan as an exchange student.

9. If you are a credentialed teacher you can work at an international school (competition is stiff though).

10. Marry a Japanese person….boom….instant visa!

I’m not writing this post to be negative. I’m just writing it to be realistic. There are amazing opportunities for so many people who want to come to Japan, but you must set realistic goals. You must also have realistic expectations.

It is not always easy to even get to Japan let alone be successful in Japan. If you want it bad enough though, you can make a plan and work towards your goal. It may take time. It may take a long time, but if you are driven it will happen.

Now, as for the myth that any foreigner can become famous and rich in Japan, that’s exactly what it is, a myth. You become successful here the same way you would in Canada, America, England or any other country. You must work hard, have goals and sometimes, have a little luck.

Should you keep your children’s artwork or throw it away?

A recent article in the New York Times called "Mom, You’re One Tough Art Critic", has caused quite a bit of controversy as it talks about this very topic. Should we keep the hundreds if not thousands of pieces of artwork, the drawings and crafts or children make over the years or chuck them in the recycling bin. Some of the parents interviewed mentioned they throw everything away because there is too much clutter. Some mentioned that they only want to keep the “good stuff.”

As a teacher and now a parent, listening to other parents say that they throw these artifacts of their children’s youth away makes me sad. Recently I had a student tell me (as she carried a pirate ship craft we made in class) that her mother throws all of her crafts away because there is no room for them. I know for a fact that this young student lives in a large house and I assume there is enough room for at least one box to store her hand made treasures in.

I watch my students draw and color everyday, whether it is during art class, craft time or during their free time. I see the amazing sense of joy and expression it gives them. Drawing gives them the chance to let their imaginations take over. I still remember how much joy it gave me to draw. In fact, I still love drawing!

One mistake many parents make is comparing their child’s artwork to their classmates. Some might look at their child’s and then another’s and says, “Wow, my kid isn’t doing well compared to that one.” Comparing one child to another is one of the biggest errors a parent can make. Every child develops at different rates and paces. Some children’s motor skills develop a little later than others. This in no way diminishes the quality and feeling behind their artwork. It also in no way diminishes how good they feel about it and how proud they are when they give into you.

I still remember how amazed I was and how good I felt when I last visited my parents in Canada. It was Christmas of 2009 and my father excitedly and proudly showed my wife a collection of letters my brother and I had written to Santa, teeth we lost as young children and yes, some pieces of artwork. The fact that my parents have kept these showed me how much they valued these precious items. It gave me the warm and fuzzies!

In the NYT article some people suggested making digital copies of your child’s’ artwork to save space. I liked that idea, but I would do it as a backup only. I still plan to keep all of the wonderful work my future little artist will produce.

I have been teaching for more than eight years and still keep most of the artwork and letters my students have given me over the years. I know they worked hard to make them and I know there was real meaning when they gave them to me. I also plan to encourage my son and can’t wait until the day I can have an art gallery wall in my office where he can see his work displayed.

Hey parents out there! When you save your child’s artwork, you are storing their legacy. You are documenting your family’s history. That is by no means a trivial thing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Monster Moms" in Japan

The Japanese school year runs from April until the beginning of the following March. That means of course that this school year is coming to a close soon. Although I don’t teach at a Japanese school, I teach at a school that runs on the same calendar. That also means that my school year will soon be coming to a close. To be honest, I am very excited about that! I’m looking forward to spring vacation. I’m looking forward to having time to go hiking and running. I am also looking forward to more time with my wife and son and to be very truthful, I have aged about 3-5 years during the past school year.

There are definitely many reasons for this. Being an elementary school teacher is like juggling a thousand hats at once. Having your first child throws your entire life for a loop (a delightful, yet sleepless loop). At times, there can be friction within the workplace and of course, at times, parents can cause issues. All of these were factors during this year.

I want to focus a little on the problems of parental pressure. I’m of course not going to go into detail about my specific situation, but I will allude to it and reference to issues I have had in the past as a teacher in Korea, Canada and in Japan.

Many people in Japan (especially educators) talk about how things are changing with regards to parents. The same trends seem to be happening in many other places as well. One important role of kindergarten/elementary schoolteachers is to teach a child to become independent. We give them the confidence and the skills to do things by themselves. Depending on the age, that might be something as simple as dressing him or herself or dealing with complex problem solving issues. We want our students to learn how to deal with the world and handle things by themselves. As teachers attempt to instill independence, a growing number of parents seem to want to encourage dependence. As teachers we tell our students that you are responsible for organizing your books and carrying your bags. Many parents tell them, “It’s ok, I’ll do all of that for you and if anything goes wrong, it’s your teacher’s fault.”

Again, these are not just problems in Japan, but in America, Canada, the U.K etc. As teachers we tell parents that children need solid routines both in school and at home. They need set meal times, homework times and bed times. We encourage parents to take an active role in their child’s education. Read with them. Read to them. Guide them during homework time. Make sure they get the proper amount of sleep. Many parents ignore all of this advice and when their child doesn’t reach a high level of academic achievement, the parents very quickly point their fingers in the teachers’ direction. “It’s all the teacher’s fault.”

It can be a frustrating job. Being a teacher is more than 9-5. Often, it’s more than a job. It’s a vocation. Recently, here in Japan, one Japanese teacher decided to take legal action against a “monster mom.” She has also taken legal action against her former school for not supporting her while she was harassed on a daily basis by a crazed mother demanding more than any sane person should! The teacher had to take a stress leave and suffered from insomnia because of this one mother’s demands.

“Monster Moms” are a serious problem. They create unfriendly environments for teachers, students and other mothers. They set unrealistic expectations for teachers and their children and often take no responsibility for any outcomes. Education starts and ends in the home. Parents lay the groundwork for good students. Parents who fail to pull their weight at home often have to deal with the consequences later. Often the result is a child who struggles in school. Monster Moms are the sort of people who would never take any personal responsibility for their child’s situation. They just point their fingers at their child’s teacher and yell loudly.

I recently liked a story about a Florida State representative who wants to grade parents. This politician is proposing a bill where elementary teachers would have to grade parents as well as the students on report cards. Are you pulling your weight as a parent? If you are not, it will show on the report card as well! I like that.

Monster moms are in every country. The real problem is that there are more of them now than ever. If you teach in America, Canada, Japan or Korea as a public school teacher or as an English teacher you will probably run into some.

The past few months have been rough for me and I have asked myself a lot of serious questions. I have had serious doubts about carrying on in this field. At the end of the day though, I love teaching. I know I am good at it and have dedicated myself to it. I have also been very fortunate to have a principal and administration that are firmly on my side and supportive. Even with that, it can be difficult.

Thanks for reading.

p.s. Remember folks, teachers work harder than you can imagine....give them a break! Show them some respect. "Thank you" always works :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Japanese Urban Agriculture

I've video blogged about this topic before and I've done it yet again. Many people in Japan's urban centers live in pretty cramped quarters. Even owning your own house doesn’t guarantee you will have enough space for a lawn or garden. It is actually quite rare to see a home in the city that has a front or back yard. Of course many people, especially seniors, come from more rural backgrounds and have a desire to keep their thumbs green. How do they do it? They maintain their desire for gardening by creating small garden plots wherever they can find the space.

Today, while out for a walk during my break; I came across another one of these great little urban gardens. Not only is this a relaxing way for some people to get outside, but it is also a way to produce herbs and some vegetables they can eat. Urban agriculture is a movement that has been gaining momentum in Canada and America recently. Many people are even choosing to make container gardens when they lack the space to create a more traditional one.

Check out this short video I took of the urban garden:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Osaka Marathon Website now in English

FINALLY! The Osaka Marathon has an English web page!

Registration begins on february 15th. I'll be registering that day for sure :)

Green Eggs and English

I have to admit that I have been really leased with this week. What has really tickled me pink so to speak is the tremendous number of wonderful people who have taken the time to stop by and read this blog. I have of course spread the word about it through my two you Tube channels, Facebook and Twitter. I’m a little surprised sometimes with some of you great folks who have been following me for a long time on You Tube and were completely unaware of this blog. Better late than never! Welcome to the party.

Recently, on my jlandkev You Tube channel I took the time to promote an American English teaching living and working in Seoul, South Korea. His you Tube handle is GreenEggsAndHamster and he makes some great videos about his day-to-day life as an English teacher in Seoul. As my knowledge of what goes on in Korea becomes more and more second hand, I try to point curious people with questions in the direction of guys like GreenEggsAndHamster who are there, on the ground so to speak.

This is a really cool video he did about the day in a life of an English teacher (in time-lapse). I think it’s really well done!

Again, thank you everyone for stopping by and spending some time on A Canadian in Kobe. There is definitely a lot more to come!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Connecting Kids and Parents With Nature

I grew up in Eastern Canada. I grew up in a small town surrounded by forests and the ocean. I grew up in nature and to this day I love nature. I suppose as a child I really took it for granted that I had beaches, craggy ocean-side rocks, forests, lakes, streams and ponds as my playground. I never realized how lucky I was until years later when I moved to the large cities of Asia. Once I lived in the rat race and was surrounded by a severe lack of nature, I realized how important it was and is to me.

I have lived in Seoul and Busan in South Korea and now I live in Kobe, Japan. At a population of 1.5 million people, Kobe is the smallest of the three cities. I suppose I am quite lucky that due to the geographical layout of Kobe, nature (Mt. Rokko) is close, but I am still in the big city. I live high up in an apartment building in the middle of the city. I long for a back yard. I long for a front yard to go with that back one! I also wish I was within walking distance of the Great Outdoors. At the moment, those are not part of my reality so I make the best of the situation. I try to run by the water when I do run and try to spend time in parks when I can. There is nature to be had within any city if you are willing to look for it!

You probably all know by now that I am a teacher. I've taught in language schools in Korea, public and Catholic schools in Canada and private schools in Japan. Schools and the students in these countries have many things in common and of course many differences as well. One common trait that all of the students I have taught (most of them anyway), have in common is the fact they have very little contact with nature. They spend the majority of their time in classrooms. They study all day and in the case of some Japanese students and most Korea, study into the night at private cram schools. They have no opportunity to have contact with nature. Their Canadian counterparts have the luxury of more free time, but choose not to go outside, glued to TV's, computers and gaming devices.

Responsibility cannot be placed solely on the gaming industry and the TV networks. Parents have a massive role to play in their children’s lack of exposure to the natural world. Recently I was listening to a radio series that David Suzuki did for CBC Radio in Canada called The Bottom Line. In Episode 10, Dr. Suzuki discusses the concept of biophilia and nature deficit disorder. It shocked me to think that a lack of contact with nature can have a series of harmful side effects on children. As I sat back and thought about it though, as someone who grew up in nature and now the teacher of many children who have no contact with it, things made sense.

Children who have more contact with nature have less trouble learning. They can focus more. They seem to have better problem solving skills and confidence. Children who have a deeper connection to the world around them respect it more and will grow up to be adults who respect it more. The problem is, there are fewer and fewer children like this. We have modern middle class parents telling their children that getting dirty is a bad thing and insects are something to be feared as opposed to examined and celebrated. We have a modern generation of parents who find it far easier to throw in a DVD or Xbox game than take their kids to a local park. We have a new generation of children who have up little connection with nature and will grow up to be adults who simply care less about it!

As a teacher and a parent I think about this a lot. It is something that bothers me more as I get to know my students, their parents and others around me. I have no plans to run out and hug a tree tomorrow, but I am a fan of nature. I grew up exploring and living within it and I hope my son (I plan on it) will have the same wonderful experiences I did as a young boy.

Reconnecting children and their parents to the natural world has become a big interest for me. I’ve decided to focus a lot of my energies in this direction. You will definitely see this theme popping up from time to time in my writings as well as my video blogs on both my BusanKevin and jlandkev You Tube channels. I’ve also decided to channel some of my social media knowledge and experience in the classroom to helping an amazing organization that makes a difference in the area I am passionate about. I plan to do my part to help the David Suzuki Foundation (based in Canada), an organization dedicated to sustainable living, protecting nature and wildlife amongst other things.

I have joined the community leadership program for the Foundation. I will try to help as best I can through my knowledge of new media and education.

Expect to see more to come!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Living Abroad Can Be So Great

There are definitely many benefits to living in ones’ native country, but there are also many benefits to living abroad (depends on the country of course). Learning about a new language and culture can be wonderful for a person’s personal growth. Opening your mind to new types of food and drink and the importance they have in another culture can be an amazing experience.

I think that the greatest thing about living in a different country for me is the fact that everything seems so interesting. This may simply be because of the fact that I am an incredibly curious and sometimes child-like (I find a great deal of wonderment in simple everyday things) kind of guy. A simple, quiet nighttime walk down a street in Japan leaves me excited. Everywhere I go; I’m packing at least one or two cameras because I always feel that there is something exciting that’s worth documenting.

I can clearly remember the first night I landed in Asia in February of 2002. I flew into Incheon International Airport in South Korea. The owner of the school that had hired me, picked me up at the airport and drove me to a “strange” Korean love motel where I dropped off my bags. I was then taken to a great galbi (yakiniku or Korean bbq) restaurant where I had to sit on the floor and eat for the first time in my life. I nervously and excitedly met my future coworkers and took in the thrill of a drastically new culture for the first time. Everyone spoke to me in a friendly way and I felt more energized and nervous than I could remember. I was then dropped off at my hotel and told that I would be picked up the next morning.

I will always remember the wonderment I had as I decided to go for a walk. I bought a bottle of beer at the convenience store located across the road from the love motel and wandered into a large local park. I sat down, drank my beer and thought to myself, “The adventure now begins.”

Almost nine years later, I am still in Asia. I’m now in Japan. I’m older and certainly wiser, but I have to admit that I am still, to an extent, filled with a level of wonderment! Although, these days I have been pining for home a lot more than usual, I still find the fact that I live in Asia….”cool!”

Check out a few random photos from the previous year in Japan!

A fireboat located close to my house on Port Island. I have never seen this boat in action, but it would be cool!

The small park in Sannomiya (behind the JR Sannomiya Station, know as Oppai-yama akaBreast Mountain) is a place where many indie bands like to gather and promote themselves in the warmer weather.

We Love Kobe!

Like most cities in Japan or anywhere in the world, Kobe looks great. Although I think I love the slow paced life of smaller towns more than big cities, I always love the bright lights of the big city at night.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Teaching in Asia: You Can't Move a Mountain

I have now been teaching in classrooms in Asia for more than eight years. I've taught in both South Korea and Japan and have worked in both language school and international school settings. I have also taught in classrooms in Canada (both public and Catholic school boards). I am a teacher and obviously I think about education and how cultural differences effect it constantly.

This week I plan to write about a few different aspects of teaching in Asia. In this post I want to give my two cents about the idea of "Moving a Mountain" as a teacher in South Korea and Japan. Most of my experience with this topic comes from my days in South Korea, but some is also from my experiences here in Japan.

Every year, thousands of young and not so young people from English speaking countries around the world take the plunge and head to Asia to spend some time teaching English. There are also folks who are teachers in their native countries who move to Asia to teach in international schools. Some international schools have a predominantly international student body while others have student bodies mostly made up of indigenous students. For the most part though, these teachers from abroad are moving to a foreign country that of course has a very culture.

Moving to a new country and dealing with a new culture often leads to culture shock. Languages are different, customs are different and of course, systems of education are different. This couldn’t be any more so than between Asian countries and those in the “Western” world.

As a Canadian who is a product of the Canadian education system and then later became trained as a teacher within this system, I can tell you, the “Asian” approach to education is nothing like the one we have in our country. This is the main stumbling block many new teachers come across when walking into their first classroom in South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, etc. Many young, idealistic, energetic and creative young people walk into classrooms across Asia every year expecting to deliver an awe-inspiring, fun, creative and imaginative lesson, just like their favorite teachers did when they were young. Every year, many, if not most of these teachers, get a surprising kick in the pants!

That creative, fun and hands on learning experience that you appreciated or valued so much is not what the parents of your students and often administrators of your school are looking for! That is not what they want you to deliver to the students. You’re being told to do something that you never would have considered as a teacher and of course never stood for s a student. You are being asked to give your young students boat-loads of homework, daily tests, lists of vocabulary to memorize, grammar formulas and the kind of class that would score 1/100 in the fun factor scale. Now of course NOT EVERY school is like this. Many teachers will come abroad and have a fun time at their schools. I am only speaking from my personal experience and that of some of my friends.

You are now a teacher in Asia and the education system is very different. Both South Korea and Japan are test-taking cultures. They are results based cultures. The education system you find in 2011 in South Korea was based upon the Japanese system (they were colonial rulers of Korea during the early 1900’s), but now has been taken to an extreme level that, currently, far surpasses Japan.

These systems of education are based upon rote memorization and testing. I think folks moving to a country like Korea also have to realize that Confucianism is also very influential so rank/social placement is also paramount! The pressure on young students to be #1 and to succeed is nothing like any of us have faced in our own countries/education systems. Starting in kindergarten, students have immense pressure to read/write/speak English/play piano/violin, etc. They have pressure that most American/Canadian, English, etc., kids never have.

As a new teacher in Korea or Japan, you can easily get stressed or unhappy with the amount of pressure put on the shoulders of the little kids you teach. Sometimes you may complain to the managers of your school. You maybe even feel compelled t complain to the parents of the kids you teach, but just remember; you are coming from a different place. Cultural and education wise, it is difficult to get used to. The education systems of America and Korea for example are diametrically opposed. There are many arguments to be made (and I will in some future posts). Many in Asian, Korea China, etc., will defend their systems of education and say that kids there score higher in math, reading, science, etc.; than many in Western countries. Many would argue that students in Western countries are more creative, deal with less stress and are far more innovative.

However the cookie may crumble, it can be difficult coming from one culture and teaching in another. Sometimes, after years of teaching in another culture you may not understand the goal/thought process of your students/parents/clients/etc.

I would suggest keeping an open mind to the new and fascinating culture you have come to live in. It is very different from yours. You may not like some of the things you find, but there will be other aspects you do enjoy. Although you have your opinions, things are not always black and white. Your school administrators (hagwon/ekaiwa bosses) may ask you to teach in ways you dislike or disagree with, but that is the nature of the beast. Like it or not, that is what they have hired you to do.

If you are a new teacher in Asia and things are frustrating you at times, remember that the culture is different in more ways than you may ever understand. We aren’t products of the culture so it can be difficult to grasp. I’ll admit, that to this very day (8+ years of being in Asia) that I don’t understand the way most people here view education. That’s ok though. I’m a Canuck! I do however; have to try hard to keep an open mind.

New Year's Meal Video

A few weeks ago I made a post about the Oscechi ryori ( New Year's meal in Japan) that my inlaws gave my wife and I. I took footage the same day and then promptly forgot I took it. While searching for something else on my computer the other night, I found it. I decided to put this video together.

Prepare to look at some REALLY delicious Japanese food!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Valentine's Chocolate Treat in Japan

Tis the season to buy expensive chocolates for the one you love. Well, in Japan, it's at least time for women to spend money on the men they love.

Unlike in the Western world, where both men and women demonstrate their affection for each other with gifts, candy and romantic dinners; in Japan, on February 14th, only women dole out the cash. February 14th, aka, Valentine's Day is a day for girls and ladies to give chocolate to their boy/man-friends. One month later, on March 14th, White Day finds men returning the favour.

Now, Japan is a country of seasonal delights. One of those delights is beer. Whether it is the changing of the seasons or the changing of the winds, Japan's major brewers have a beer to fit the occasion. To celebrate this "chocolatey" season, Sapporo beer has teamed up with a confectionary company called Royce and have created the very "Hokkaido-centric" Sapporo+Royce Chocolate Beer. It comes in both Sweet and Bitter flavours! Last night my wife bought a can of the Bitter chocolate beer for me (she's an angel).

How was this beer you ask? It was good! Upon pouring the glass, the room filled with very strong notes of thick chocolate. This was the most chocolatey, chocolate beer I have had yet (mind you, I haven't had many)! Although this can was deemed bitter, it didn't taste very bitter. I found it quite sweet actually.

Long story short, it was a nice beer. It was full bodied and flavoured. Could I drink two glasses in a row? Absolutely not! it was a little too rich for me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Greener Grass in Japan and Korea?

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. For many, including myself at times, that seems to be true. Some people realize that the "greener grass" thing may not always be true and some never seem to realize that.

When I was 25 and working in a high stress IT job in Canada, I sought greener pastures. I found them in South Korea (a place that has relatively few actual pastures). I found it in a new culture, new food, new friends and travel. Going to Korea was an exciting adventure for me. Life suddenly seemed (and probably was) more exciting, meaningful, fun and downright interesting. Eventually though, days in Korea seemed much like days in Canada. I woke up in the morning. I made a pot of coffee. I had a shower and shaved. I went to work. I came home from work and made dinner. I watched bit torrents of American television shows. I watched Canadian shows on the CTV and CBC websites before they began to geo-block them (I'm still bitter about that!).

Life became routine and just like living anywhere else. There was a difference though. I began to feel the frustration of the language barrier. Even more aggravating was the cultural barrier. The way my Korean coworkers and bosses thought and conducted day to day business began to drive me nuts! The wonderful shades of green started to become brown. It was time to move on. I went back to Canada. I lived in Ottawa and got my Bachelor of Education. After five and some years of teaching children I became a "real teacher."

It is now 2011 and I am going on my third year of living in Japan. I like Japan. It is definitely a pretty cool place. The history, culture, cuisine and many other things are spectacular. I can honestly admit though that I have never been a Japanophile or "Japanfan." I came to Japan because I met an amazing woman from Osaka and followed her here. She is now my wife.

Life is indeed good here, but it isn't a sparkly, wonder-filled existence for me. I work at a school where I would pretty much teach just like I would in Canada. I wake up in the morning and get dressed just like in Canada. I make a pot of coffee and then head to work. I of course see somewhat stranger and slightly more intriguing things on a daily basis than I might in Canada, but things are quite similar (aside from all the Japanese people).

Day after day though, I get so many messages from (especially teenagers) who are hardcore Japan fans! Often they may not be happy with their state of affairs and want a change. For some reason they believe that all of life's problems will be solved if they can just get to Japan! Everything will be better if I can go to Japan. I won't be bullied, I won't have to listen to my boring parents, I won't have to eat crappy food, every moment of life will be an adventure, etc.

Sadly; bullying does happen in Japan (to a much more evil extent that you can imagine…..massive teenage suicide rate). Parents annoy kids (just like in every country/society in the world). Parents are boring too!

Japan is place. You cannot base it on anime (Japanese cartoons) or manga (Japanese comic books) you have read. It is a place just like the United States is a place, just like Canada is a place, just like Britain is a place, etc. Life isn't perfect here. I like living here, but there are always things I can complain about. Then again, I love Canada, but there are always things to complain about there as well.

Long story short: The grass always seems greener. If you are really stoked to head to Korea or Japan, good luck and have fun. BEWARE though…neither place is perfect. Far from it. No place is perfect and every place has it's own set of problems. Not to be a negative Nelly; all places have positives as well!

I am very happy that I have chosen an "international" life. I have been abroad since early 2002. I have to admit that I often long for my home in Canada.

Although change may be a good fit for some folks, the grass may not always be greener for others!

Monday, January 17, 2011

8 Years in Asia

Next month will be my nine year anniversary of coming to Asia. Now of course there was a one year break thrown in there when I came back to Canada to get my teaching credentials, but I have lived eight out of the last nine years in Asia. This was never my plan. In late 2001, when I hatched my plan to move here, I was working as a software developer in Canada and only planned to come for one year. After that one year, I would head back to Canada, refreshed, travel bug having been fed and resume my career as a 3D modeler. Eight years later I am now a certified teacher and still here!

I spent my first five years bouncing between three cities in South Korea and for the last (almost) three years here in Kobe, Japan.

In this post, wanted to write about the Kevin who arrived in Asia in February 2002 versus the Kevin who lives in Asia in January 2011.

Then (2002): I had a small apartment in Ilsan, South Korea.
Now (2011): I have a bigger apartment in Kobe, Japan.

Then (2002): I was getting pumped up for the World Cup coming to Korea/Japan.
Now (2011): No World Cup this year. Could care less about football/soccer.

Then (2002): Was struggling with crappy Korean language skills.
Now (2011): I am struggling with crappy Japanese skills.

Then: Was single and looking for love.
Now: Happily married with a beautiful son.

Then: Ate out at restaurants most nights.
Now: Eat at home every night.

Then: Eating out at restaurants was really cheap.
Now: It's not so cheap.

Then: Lived in a city with few fellow foreigners and very little English around me.
Now: Live in a city with many foreigners and English everywhere.

Then: Was awe-struck by everything I saw.
Now: Somewhat awe-struck, but not so much.

Then: Was 26 years old.
Now: 35 years old.

Then: I trained in Tae Kwon Do.
Now: I enjoy long-distance running.

Then: Worked from 4:00pm to 10:00pm.
Now: Work from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

Then: Smoked heavily and went to bars several times a week.
Now: Don't smoke, rarely go to a bar.

Then: Kimchi everywhere.
Now: No kimchi.

Then: Was told everyday by locals why Japan was bad and America wasn't much better.
Now: Simply don't don't hear that sort of talk.

Then: Had a crappy boss.
Now: Have a boss that respects me a lot.

Then: Guys desperately tried to show me that they were stronger than me at the gym.
Now: Guys don't even notice me at the gym (they're to busy working out).

Then: Everyone around me spoke Korean.
Now: Everyone around me speaks Japanese.

Then: Wasn't a very productive/responsible person.
Now: Am both!

Then: Thought Korean food was great.
Now: Think Japanese food is great.

Then: Kim Jong-il sucked.
Now: He still sucks.

Then: Traveled a lot around Asia.
Now: Save up for trips back to Canada.

Then: Think about the short term.
Now: Thinking about the long term.

Then: Was a PC guy.
Now: Am a Mac guy.

Then: No such thing as You Tube.
Now: I'm a You Tube partner.

Then: Missed Tim Hortons.
Now: Miss Tim Hortons.

Life is different indeed. I may be still in Asia after many years, but as you can see, life for me in Japan is completely different than life for me in Korea. Some of that of course has to do with the time (2002 vs 2011), some has to do with the culture and of course, some has to do with my age.

Long story short; life was good then and life is good now. I suppose that the life I lead is just completely different!

Happy Reading :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Kobe Earthquake Memorial Events

Tomorrow, January 17th, marks the 16 years since the Great Hanshin Earthquake, aka the Kobe Earthquake. It happened at 5:46 JST and lasted for approximately 20 seconds. when it was finished, most of Kobe was left in ruins and nearly 6,500 died.

Today at Minato no Mori Park in downtown Kobe, there were various events set up to commemorate the tragedy. There were hip hop dancers, trick cyclists, inline skating and many other things. Unfortunately, it was the coldest day of the Winter so far and I think that kept many people away. I checked things out with my family. It was pretty cold so we only stuck around for a brief time.

Here are two short videos I took today at the park:

Minato no Mori Park is a new park. It just opened in 2010 and is located a stones throw from Sannomiya in downtown Kobe. it is about a five minute walk South from Boeki Center Port Liner Station. It has a wonderful 460m cushioned running/walking track as well as a large lawn. On nice weekends you can find people playing ultimate frisbee, rugby, soccer, or simply having picnics without heir families.

The park has a large lawn, running track, skatepark, inline skating facilities and rink, dance practice area, basketball courts and a nursery where they grow flowers and plants for the park.

Check out some pictures I took of the park a few months ago:

A 460m running/walking track is a wonderful thing for me since I am a runner.

Often kids and adults can be found here on the weekends playing inline hockey.

This is the skatepark.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Being a Musician in Asia

I received an email this evening on my BusanKevin You Tube channel that inspired this post. Someone who is interested in moving to South Korea asked me about teaching and also asked me about how they would find a wind band/group they could play with when they come to Korea. I unfortunately do not know about wind groups since I am a drummer and only played with rock/funk bands during my time in Korea. I suppose some of the key points I', going to make will carry over to any musical genre!

The key to meeting other foreign or indigenous musicians in either Korea or Japan is simple; NETWORKING. The same way I was able to get many subscribers on You Tube is the same way I was able to become a member of several bands during my time in Korea. I got out there and met people. Online we use text, Twitter, You Tube and Facebook. These are of course useful ways to meet folks in Seoul, Busan, Tokyo or Osaka in 2011, but at the end of the day, if you are a musician, I think you really need to get out to the places musicians play and meet them!

What you need to do is find out where musicians hang out. Where do they tend to be? Bars and clubs! Now that might be a bit of a problem if you aren't a big drinkers, but you can always bring a cup of Starbucks into a bar in korea and Japan.

Here is a picture of me playing in a club in Busan, South korea a few years ago.

If you are not sure how to find these places you can take a few approaches. First, if you are a teacher at a fairly big school, many of your coworkers have probably been there for some time. They already have a great deal of local knowledge and some of them will definitely be able to tell you/show you the bars that tend to have live music. OPEN MIC NIGHTS ARE KEY! Once you find out about these places you need to go. Not just once or twice, but often. You also have to be social and get to know the other folks there. Get to know the MC of the Open Mic night. I played in bands in Ilsan (north of Seoul) and in Busan, and this is how I did it! Hang out, chat with all the other folks just like you there and get to know them.

Another picture of KEVIN knockin the skins in Korea!

Bring your instrument with you when you go. You may just want to scout the first one out, but after that, always pack heat! There are often such eclectic groups of artists at these open mics that even if you play the panflute, someone may call you up on stage for a jam.

Long story short, if you are are a musician who has come to Korea or Japan to teach and you'd like to play music, you must network. Find some websites like Busan Haps (if you are in Busan) that might point you in the right direction. Get out of your house and meet people.

As for now, I am currently out of the music scene. The combination of a 6 month old son and an intense work schedule simply don't allow for a late-night lifestyle. In time though, I plan to get back into the mix again. I do miss my drums!

Have fun and good luck!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Following the Rules in Japan and Korea

This evening I watched a video on You Tube by a Japan based vlogger. On his channel YTBulletTrain, Kurt, the vlogger I am referring too, talks about respecting the rules of the country you are living in. He also discussed the fact that as a visible foreigner, you are always being watched.

I thought about how absolutely true this is. Whether you choose to live n Japan, Korea, China or any other Asian country for that matter; you are a guest in that country and therefore should follow the rules. Have some respect! Too many young and sometimes not so young people travel to Asian countries, live for a year or two and metaphorically piss all over the place. They have no respect for anything whatsoever!

Just remember. When you live in Japan or Korea (the two Asian countries I have experience in) you are always being watched. Your actions don't just represent yourself. they represent all foreigners.

I made a video blog about the topic:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mukogawa Half Marathon

As some of you may know, I am a fun runner. I am by no means a natural athlete. I didn't grow up in an athletic environment, but later in life I discovered that I enjoy running. I have run four half marathons, three full marathons and about a dozen 10k races. As a fun runner, I find running fun. After running my first sub-four hour marathon in November, I signed up for the Mukogawa Road race half marathon. Today was the day to run.

The Mukogawa (Muko River) is located between Nishinomiya and Amagasaki in Japan.

Unfortunately, going into this race I was somewhat injured. After my full marathon in November, something weird happened with my knee. I suspect it was a new pair of shoes. Something different about the ASICS Gel Kayanos that I have been wearing for years changed with the new model. I ran many times during my Winter vacation, but my knee got worse. I rested for the week before this half marathon hoping my knee would be fine. Going into today's run, I planned to just take it easy, run slowly and have fun. I didn't even turn on my stop watch.

When all was said and done, I finished the half marathon in 1hour 56minutes 27seconds. It was about 9 minutes slower than my PB (personal best), but far faster than I expected. At the end of the day I finished 183 out of 1347 runners.

It was especially cool for me since my son was able to come out for the very first time and see his father at a race. Mind you, he was sleeping when I finished and just plain confused when he woke up, but it was great for me!

Here are a few videos I hot during and after the run with my iPhone:

One of the things I thought was really funny about this race was the fact that there was no bag check. Normally there is a secure area where you can leave your belongings. This race was so small that there was no such thing. At first I was surprised, but then I just found a tree to leave my bag under. The great thing about Japan is the fact that I knew my bag would be safe. No one would ever think to steal from it. I like that about living in this neck of the woods.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I piece of home

A Canadian in Japan with a Canadian beer. A Christmas gift from a fellow Nova Scotian.

Cool Japanese Police Motorcycles

About a week ago I was out for a morning run. It was during my wonderful holiday.As I ran through Kobe's Merikan Park メリケンパーク, I spotted a long row of brand new Hyogo Police Department motorcycles. I know next to nothing about bikes, but these Honda VFR's are apparently pretty amazing motorcycles. The police officers were apparently going to be doing some sort of demonstration later in the morning. Unfortunately, I was on a tight time budget and had to get my run finished.

Check out a few pictures I took as well as a video on You Tube:

Monday, January 3, 2011

More wonderful Japanese food

As I mentioned in my previous post, my family gave my wife and I some Osechi-ryōri 御節料理 or お節料理 to take home with us. My mother-in-law ordered it from the Sheraton Hotel in Osaka. It was amazing. You can see for yourself!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Japanese New Years Food: Osechi-ryōri 御節料理

One of the greatest things about living in Japan is the food. I simply love Japanese cuisine, known in Japanese as "Nihon ryori" 日本料理. I suppose the fact that I have a family with some wonderful cooks also helps.

Today was January 1, 2011 and for the first time in my three years in Japan we didn't go to Nishinomiya Shrine for Hatsumode 初詣 . Instead, my wife, son and I went to spend the afternoon with my in-laws in Osaka. We took the train to their house to eat a traditional New Years meal known as Osechi-ryōri 御節料理 or お節料理. my mother-in-law had prepared some food and ordered some as well. We also filled ourselves with Sukiyaki すき焼き.

After an amazing meal and too much of it, we rolled back to Kobe. The amazing thing is that my in-laws had ordered an Osechi-ryori set for us to eat tomorrow. It is brilliant looking and the pictures will come tomorrow.

Enjoy some of the Osechi-ryori from today!

I hope everyone had a wonderful time last night ringing in the new year with family and friends. I stayed at home with my family and watched the NHK New Years special, Kōhaku Uta Gassen 紅白歌合戦. It may not have been the most exciting thing to do, but I had a wonderful time.