火曜日, 3月 29, 2011

An open letter from a concerned UA Alumni:

Study Abroad and Student Exchange Office, Department East Asian Studies, and Editors of the Daily Wildcat,

Greetings. My name is Gregory Beck; I am a 2006 U of A East Asian Studies graduate.
I am writing from my workplace, at the Hiroshima Prefectural Government's Foreign Affairs Division, in Japan.
Since graduating that summer, I joined the JET Programme and immediately moved to Hiroshima Prefecture, where I have lived for nearly five years now.  Hiroshima has been a wonderful and welcoming home, and I feel every bit as attached to the community here, if not more than I do to my hometown of Tucson.

I write today regarding some disconcerting news I received from my mother, still living in Tucson. She reported to me that the office of study abroad and student exchange has called back their participants in Japan and would not participate in programs this coming fall as well.
If her news is inaccurate or incomplete, I offer my sincerest apologies in advance, However, I feel compelled to make my case against said action either way.

I do not need to inform you of the tragedy that has stricken Tohoku because I am well aware of the US media coverage. That is to say, I am aware of the disproportionate volume, inappropriate tone, and misleading inaccuracies of the mainstream news, causing all manor of panic and irrational behavior from Russia to Washington D.C. and every point in-between.
That said I also do not pretend this is anything less than the greatest hardship to befall Japan since WWII. Almost everyone I know, including myself, has been affected in one way or another by this tragedy, but I feel it my duty and yours to provide the U of A students with accurate information and pray that you give it serious consideration.

If you have already asked students to return, then I suppose this cannot be undone, but I hope you will at least consider allowing students the opportunity to decide for themselves, and the accurate knowledge with which to decide, whether it is safe to study in Japan this Fall.

Right now, in Tokyo, they are dealing with scheduled rolling blackouts, restricted train services, and at one point, even issued an advisory (since lifted) warning not to let infants drink tap water. I understand how these facts alone could cause concerned students and parents to withdraw from participating, but at the same time the realistic danger to a study abroad student living in Tokyo is minimal, and in my opinion, ultimately no greater than living in Tucson.

I spent my junior year participating in the Year in Japan program at Konan University, near Kobe, and even farther from the afflicted area of Japan. Saying my time there changed my life is no overstatement. The lifelong friends, knowledge and experiences I gained were not simply "worth it"; their value cannot begin to be measured. There is no way I could be the man I am today, or work as a translator and Coordinator of International Relations, as I do now, without that program.
If I imagine myself, two months from completing that program, being called back to Arizona over worries caused by the media, more than the actual situation here, I would be outraged, and probably refuse to return. However, I know from personal experience and conversations here in Hiroshima, that not all people, adults included, share my level of personal freedom. Some, for financial, cultural, or emotional reasons, do not have to the luxury to refuse a panicked family or school's demand. But for the University of Arizona, an academic, not to mention scientifically well endowed institution, to act based on emotional knee-jerk reactions, rather than the facts, both disappoints and saddens me. The Kansai area is as unaffected by the recent disaster as Hiroshima, or Okinawa. My friends, former professors and host family are still living and thriving there. While everyone is donating as much as we can in time, effort, and money to the relief effort in Tohoku, we are also starting to feel the warmth of spring, planning picnics under the cherry blossoms, and continuing on with our lives as best we can.

The average Arizonan has very little general knowledge regarding Japan, and the image of a small, island nation is disconnected and mostly relative to the considerably larger size of America. Imagine the world’s foreign exchange students fleeing the entire American east coast and as far west as the Mississippi River, or people in Hawaii buying potassium iodine pills, during the 1979 Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown and you will begin to realize the scope of the world’s current hysteria regarding TEPCO’s failing Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors.

Ultimately the point I wish to impress you is this:
Japan has suffered enough.
The University of Arizona has been most gracious to donate money and hold charitable events, but pulling the plug, even temporarily, on the study abroad program both adds to the socio-economic damage Japan is currently suffering and offsets those charitable wishes, by robbing both U of A students and the Japanese people they would meet and interact with, of innumerable opportunities, wisdom, character building experiences, memories, and friendships, made possible through international exchange.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Feel free to distribute and use this letter however you see fit. I pray for the continued health and success of everyone in Japan, you, and the University of Arizona.

In closing, I would like to explicitly state that the contents of this letter are my personal opinions and the Government of Hiroshima has not currently expressed an official stance on these specific matters.


Gregory Beck

土曜日, 3月 26, 2011

Shameless Promoting

Alright Internet. Let's make sweet open-source love.
If I promise not to abuse you, will you help me promote a great program?
Most of my readers know me, and know I work for the Hiroshima Prefectural (State) Office, in the International Affairs Division. That's right. I am a JAPANESE Government employee. The only white guy in my building, actually. My point is, in case you stumbled upon this, my job is to promote international exchange and understanding in Hiroshima.
I'm in the middle somewhere...

I worked with a team of extremely skilled and experienced professionals at the Hiroshima International Plaza to develop a 2-week, summer program for intermediate-to-advanced level Japanese speakers to try out, and further develop their abilities here in Japan, while learning about the culture and history of Hiroshima.

Despite the short term of the program, it manages to include Japanese lessons, field trips, a weekend home stay, and even dinner parties and cultural activities. Other than the home-stay, participants stay at the gorgeous facility, which includes a dormitory with individual rooms, baths, toilets and internet connection; a rec center, full-sized, multi-purpose gymnasium, library, computer lab, classrooms, cafeteria serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and even free bicycle rentals.
Taken from the third floor veranda: Foreground is reflection of behind me, background is the city through the glass
 The program is open to basically anyone with a strong drive to improve their Japanese knowledge and understanding, and because it starts and ends at the facility, participants are free to plan their own personal trip around Japan before, after, or around the program dates. It really is just a pocket full of awesome.

Here's where I need your help: I've run into a few problems promoting it.
1) Universities aren't interested in helping.
Even though this is an incredible learning opportunity, we cannot offer college credit flat out, and even if we could, it would be up to each individual university, and I just can't contact every Japanese department, or study abroad office in the world. My own alma mater, the University of Arizona told me: We already offer enough programs to Japan.
2) It is hard to make people realize the full extent of the opportunity.
This is more than just two-weeks of study Japanese all day, every day. Besides the sight seeing field trips to Miyajima and the Hiroshima Peace Park (each home to a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site), participants also get to visit businesses and/or the University of Hiroshima, and ask questions about studying or working in Japan. We also want to invite participants from all over the world, giving them the added opportunity of creating bonds with people from Japan and other countries as well.     
3) People are scared of coming to Japan.
Sadly, as I've touched on in a previous post, the news has been working almost 24-7 to confuse and misinform the world on the state of affairs in Japan, and the consequences will be devastating and long lasting.
As if a giant earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor crises weren't enough, the unwarranted bad press has caused tourists, businesses, students, and even governments, to cancel plans, visits, deals, and opportunities all across Japan. That is their decision to make, and I can recognize the wisdom in erring on the side of caution, but HIROSHIMA IS FINE. No tainted water supplies, irradiated milk or vegetables; no damaged train lines or rolling blackouts: we are fine.

Better than fine, in fact. Hiroshima has an amazing effect on everyone who visits here. The same way those who come here are inevitably surprised by the level of revitalization and recovery Hiroshima City has achieved since the atomic bombing almost 67 years ago, we need people to participate in programs like this, not just for our economy, but to show the world that Japan is not the ruined picture of a country the mainstream media is so eager to portray.
Taken on my cell-phone camera, also made in Hiroshima, on the anniversary of the bombing, Aug. 6th 2010.

Finally, this program needs at least ten participants in order for the Hiroshima International Plaza, to make back the cost of holding it. Reversely, this means if you have or know of a group of 10 or more people who would like to study there, you can contact me and the HIP will help you set up your own, private, custom program for anything from a week to a month!
PLEASE feel free to share this with anyone you know who might be interested or know people who are interested. If you have ideas on how to help spread the word about my program or want more information, such as dates and prices, for yourself, please leave me a comment or message here, -OR- you can message me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/yogafire

木曜日, 3月 24, 2011

Drinking on a Weekday

I moved to Hiroshima straight out of University and had already experienced four years of rowdy fun and parties on random days when school and work allowed. But I settled in to my island home of Ondo and grew into my role as an ALT.
My first breakfast at my new apartment in Ondo (August 2006)

As a teacher, on a small island where everything closes at 8pm, I quickly associated drinking with the city (Kure City) and I only went there on weekends. Also, being a social creature, buying beer at drinking at my house never occurred to me, and I think I had a total of one beer by myself the entire year I lived in that apartment, which hardly qualifies for "drinking alone".

Drinks on the pier in Kure
Anyway, my point is, drinking was a "weekends only" thing for me, and has been, with few exceptions, for the my first three and a half years here. Once, I even recall hearing of "Hump Day Drinks" and chuckling! Oh! The immaturity!

What happened to make this clean-living boy crack? A violent break-up? Death in the family? Intolerable STRESS?!?
My friends opened a new bar.

When I say "friends", I mean, they are my friends now. back then one of the guys just owned a smaller bar I would go to maybe once a month on a weekend, and when it first opened, things were the same for Southern Cross. But being a new bar, they wanted to get a clientele and steady business, so one of the things they did was start a Wednesday night Pub Quiz. This is something I HAD NEVER DONE BEFORE, and had only seen ONE reference, in an episode of the cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Not only was the quiz free to play, everyone got 100 yen off all drinks, and the winning team gets FREE DRINKS at the next quiz! That's how they sucked me in. This has been going on for almost one year now, and of course, I don't go every week, but even when I don't go I think about it, and every once in a while I volunteer to host the quiz (think of the questions, MC, and score the answer sheets), a task which also comes with free drinks and is a lot of fun.

Normally I don't get drunk or anything, it's just a fun night out. The "problem", if you choose to call it that, is that there are a few very intelligent ex-pats who usually win, so I have won a total of maybe 2 or 3 times, but 1 of those times was last week! So last night I went to play the quiz again, and enjoyed my free drinks, perhaps a little too thoroughly, and waking up this morning was... not so easy. No big deal, but next week some Japanese people will be hosting the quiz for the first time and on top of being curious as to what kind of questions they ask, etc., it is also a charity benefiting the victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, so weekday or not:
I will drink to that.

水曜日, 3月 16, 2011

Elsewhere in Japan...

While the World news reported basically the worst of everything they could find, and tried their best to make the world think all of Japan had sunk into the Pacific, my region was blessed with nice weather and a whopping zero catastrophes.

While tsunamis swept the north-east coast and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, boats, cars, and most tragically, lives; I was sitting on a ferry crossing the placid Seto Inland Sea to Matsuyama, Ehime on the island of Shikoku, staring in disbelief at the awful footage streaming through the television on board.

But this is not about that.
After another 2 hours on a train, I was finally in my girlfriend Wendy's city of Uwajima, and we spent four glorious days together in which we celebrated St. Patrick's Day, visited Ehime Castle, saw Plum AND Cherry blossoms, made Hawaiian food, and I even got to go to the high school she teaches at and help her in two classes!
Here are a few pictures from this time.
I don't expect you to forget the horrible disaster going on in the northern region of Japan, but I also want to say we didn't forget either, and there were donation drives going on the entire time in both Ehime AND Hiroshima.

That said: Please Enjoy.

火曜日, 3月 15, 2011

As if the Tragedy in Japan wasn't Big Enough...

I would like to keep this brief since I am so busy trying to keep everyone up to date on the events North-east Japan.
First: I am not surprised, but none-the-less displeased with the lack of accurate information from foreign media sources. It is sensational, overly-general (The affected area is not "JAPAN") and focuses almost exclusively on what the WORST CASE SCENARIO could be, rather than what we know and what can be done to help/prepare for the worst.

Second: ALL of us here in Hiroshima are safe and sound.

Third: If you want useful information I have two sources for you: one is a scientific community giving up to date, thoughtful, and detailed answers. It is in depth and in English.


The next link is to NHK World, the multi-language Japanese News site with streaming news similar to C-Span, but for Japan:


I recommend you use GOOGLE MAPS if you want to see WHERE in Japan things being discussed are happening, but keep in mind: Even if 3 nuclear reactors melt down and the wind blows it in my direction, radioactivity dissipates! Simply put, the worst case scenario would be awful for MILLIONS of people, but it still NO WHERE NEAR as bad as the foreign media has been claiming.

If you want to donate money, please check this site and take note of their rating system for how much you can trust the charity organization: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1221

土曜日, 3月 05, 2011

Run for your life! *Updated*

Before I get started, lemme ask: Do YOU have a blog? If you do, please leave me a link in the comments section, or "follow" mine and I'll follow yours back. I like this means of keeping in touch!

You may or may not know, but Hiroshima City is the headquarters for MAZDA (zoom zoom).

Did you watch the whole video?!? I actually understand what they're saying, and I couldn't bring myself to. SO CORNY!
But seriously, Mazda and companies that supply them, make up 30% of Hiroshima City's job market (not an exact number). They have their own hospital, and enormous manufacturing plant, and they even sponsored the building of Hiroshima's spiffy new Ball park!

Their compound is amazing and huge and no outsider is allowed in, Chocolate Factory style...EXCEPT for the first Sunday of March every year. What happens on that day? The MAZDA 駅伝 (Ekiden). Translated as "Relay Race" this is a short race (less than a half marathon) and divided into 6 legs that are run by different team members, who pass off a sash (not a baton) to the next person at the end of each leg.
A river runs through it...

There are two divisions: Mazda employees, and everybody else. Anyone can register a team, or just come watch, and my workplace, the Hiroshima International Center, has entered a team every year, partly because 3 of our members are dispatched FROM Mazda. In fact one of those three, the president of the International Center, is the CEO of Mazda himself! But his title as President of the HIC is in name only, as far as I can tell.
 Since coming here I have been volun-told, as my brother Bill says, to join the team, and both times I've run as anchor. It's only 2.2km, but it definitely comes with a lot of pressure, since everyone who passes me is guaranteed to directly affect our final score, and everyone I manage to pass improves it!
The Full Course (I run the highlighter-yellow portion)
My first year i was pretty nervous. I had never run competitively for any distance, and had no idea what was expected of me. I asked what our team's score was the year before and when they said 100-something-eth I was a little relieved.

We ended up coming in 67th! I think mostly because we had a marathon runner on our team doing the longest portion, but we have also had a 70-something man named Mr. Tanimura doing the shortest bit (1.2km) every year, but I did manage to pass about 6 more people myself, and was only passed by one person who I made sprint for it at the end! I felt even better about our score when we went in the auditorium for the closing ceremony and it turned out the winners were the Yamaguchi University track team. I remember thinking "Are they even allowed?!?" It seemed unfair at the time. But last year, even though I personally only got to pass 3 people during the final leg, we came in 39th place! (Out of 160+ teams)
Click to enlarge
Afterwards, we always go to yakiniku - grill-it-yourself indoor bbq restaurants made popular by Korea, but loved by all Japanese people - and undo what little health benefits we might have gotten from it, but last year, while we ate, the table next ours' smoke-intake lit on fire (it was also covered in grease after all), everyone had to leave the restaurant, and we wound up walking 30 minutes before we found a new place to start over! This year, we went to a Hiroshima-teppanyaki restaurant, which was fine with me, because I just ate yakiniku with my friends Kelly, Joe, and his father visiting Japan, last Thursday!
Joe and dad and glorious, glorious yakiniku

So I showed up at 8:45am on the dot, even though the race didn't start until 10:30, and waking up early was easily the biggest struggle of the day for me! :P I did have a good breakfast though (Bananas and some pork and potatoes). We got dressed out, and put on our blue Happi; the runners pinned numbers to them, and after the opening ceremony in the auditorium, we walked to our positions.
Notice I am rocking my Vibrams this year! ↑
Judging by our fastest runner (a marathoner we had run the 5km portion first) and our 5th runner, my higher-up Mr. Maekawa, who passed the sash to me for the final leg, we were around 60th place (out of 160 non-Mazda teams) for the entire race.
Greg time.
By the time I got the sash it had started drizzling. I had no idea how that would affect me since I've NEVER run in the rain EVER, but once I got the sash, and saw people with yellow tags in front of me, I started running hard. Harder than I thought I would be able to keep up actually. I kept second-guessing my breathing. Was I breathing too hard to keep up for the full 2.2km (That is almost 1.5 miles btw)? I didn't want to pass a bunch of people just to have them all pass me at the finish line, but I couldn't help myself. My competitiveness had kicked in, and I started reeling them in. In the first few minutes I had passed four people easily. Then a high school boy blew past me and I thought "that's okay, you're still up by 3" and kept my eyes on the next group of "marks" further down the road. They were clearly only ahead because their teammates before were faster than mine, but my team was better balanced. I passed them around the halfway point of my leg, and could see a few more ahead of them, so I pressed on. I had become oblivious to the rain, and as I passed the next two, I saw three more in the distance. I first thought that I they were too far to catch up with, but I could see the incline on the way to the bridge over the river was slowing them down, so I decided to run faster up the incline. I was on their heels as we reached the final straightaway, so I hit my final burners, charged all the way to finish line and improved my team's score by 11 positions to finish at....
I was gasping for breath as one of my bosses (one of those who was actually dispatched to work at the HIC from Mazda) found me at the finish line, congratulated me and we went back in the auditorium to change and wait for the closing ceremony. That was my day yesterday. March, 6th, 2011.
This year's runners and support team (All Hiroshima International Center employees)

水曜日, 3月 02, 2011

Givin' Me Something to Blog About

yeah, so...
I've been going on some epic rants but only because so much has happened last month, for the shortest month of the year, it sure was crazy busy!
Most importantly, I now have a girlfriend!

I wasn't sure how to type about her in a way that wouldn't sound braggy or like I'm objectifying her, but my friend Hozumi asked me to describe her (via online chat), and this is pretty much all taken from that conversation (ありがとうズミ).
Her name is Wendy. We're both 5th years on the JET Programme, but it took us until this year to start hanging out! We crossed paths like 4 times since I became a Prefectural Adviser (PA) as part of my CIR duties, but for whatever reason I was always spreading myself too thin and never got to really know her until we had lunch together last October at a work conference.
She lives in Ehime, which is kinda far, but she's worth it because she is SO the girl for me!
Why? Well, for example, every nerdy thing I have never talked to girls about (at least successfully or enjoyably) SHE knows all about! She even quoted YODA to me...*YODA*!!!

SO, we finally started dating when I invited her out for snowboarding, and we decided we wanted to go on another, but were busy in February, so we actually set a date for mid-MARCH!
Luckily, after spending the weekend together and talking over Skype nearly every night, we couldn't wait and she was able to stop by for an official date (I got her a rose and took her to dinner, purikura, etc.) on her way back from yet another conference. 
This is PURIKURA (short for Print Club)
The next morning I had to ask “So how many more dates do we need before you're my girlfriend?” to which she replied “You just have to ask”. So I took her rose away from her and holding it for her ransom, asked her “Would you be my girlfriend?” And the rest, as Wendy says, is history. ^^