Arigato from Japan

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MOtoshop War for #Movember

What started out as an innocent little bit of photoshop work to promote my Movember Team Fukushimo, a play on Fukushima, Japan, as the team is made up of current and former residents with a few others sprinkled in, has turned into a game of “Which barely literate idiot can click enough filters on photoshop to best the other.”  It has been a decent bit of entertainment or dare I say, Brentertainment over the last couple days for the masses on facebook and twitter, and by masses, I mean, me, my mother and probably Steve, my worthy advesary.  My last Movember update featured a few of these pics, but I’m going to use this post to update all of them as I’m sure there will be a few more added throughout the month, so feel free to check back later for more.

If you’re feeling generous, head to my Movember Page and donate to me, my team or any other team really and if you want to see what our merry band of Mo Misfits looks like, here are all of our social media hubs of glory.

Now to the MOtoshop! Obviously in chronological order.

It all started so innocently, look at Steve’s face, he just looks like he should be the girl in this right??  I on the other hand, well, look at my rippling abs!

Done by Brent

That little ditty, was followed by 2 pictures from Steve… Continue reading

A brief Movember/Fukushimo Update

Well, our team is almost at $800 by mid month, but for some reason everything has slowed down quite a bit in the last little while.  Here’s hoping that some of the horribly bad photoshopping I’ve been doing over the last little while creates a spark of some sort.  If you’re wondering what why November and Fukushima have been spelled incorrectly in the title.  I refer you to my previous blog.  For those in the know, click to behold my photoshopping skillz.

Continue reading

Tokyo is as Tokyo was, big and bright – Return to Tohoku #4

And I’m back on the blogging.  I wrote pretty much of all of this while I was in Japan and honestly it’s a bit too travel blog like for me, but it marks how I was feeling at the time.  I’ve added in a few things and taken out some of the more flowery language.  If anything it’s just a starting point for me to begin to actually put down my thoughts and feelings on the trip that I returned from a little under a month ago.  

Arriving in Japan felt more normal then I had assumed it would.  There wasn’t a wave of culture shock or nostalgia that swept me up in strong emotions.  Instead, it felt pretty regular.  The only difference from all other times that I’ve returned toJapanwas that I stood in the line for foreign passports, and it did make me feel like Japan was no longer my home, I was just another tourist.

While it all felt like it did a year ago, certain things stood out to me despite having been off the plane for no more than forty minutes.  When I arrived in the Narita JR office to claim my rail pass, bobble head Akabekos that are ubiquitous in Fukushima tourist spots, adorned the desk, along with a large Daruma in the corner.  I thought that this was, at the very least, a decent, understated show of solidarity with the Tohoku area.  And most likely, very few Japanese people outside of Tohoku know what the Akabeko is.  But, as I’ve blogged before, for the JET community, the Akabeko has become the unofficial mascot.  It’s the name of JET soccer teams and has become a symbol that foreigners within Fukushima identify with.

Arriving at Tokyo station, at around 6:30pm, emerging from the rather spacious and partially empty train, I was thrown in with the orderly throngs of people surging through the labyrinth that is Tokyo station.  A wash in a sea of white button up shirts and black suits, I joined the masses.  After walking through Tokyo station for a few minutes, the sheer size of it once again amazed me.  Moving through the groups of people, there was very little noise.  Outside on the street, I felt out of place without a clear umbrella to shield myself from the rain.  Here, the silence was even more deafening. Tokyo station, while being a major hub, is surrounded in tall office buildings and doesn’t have much of a night life.  People on the streets were filing out of their respective places of work looking forward to the long weekend ahead of them.

My business hotel room was, well, Japanese and by that I mean, small.  There was enough space for a bed, desk and bathroom with a tiny walkway between the bed and the desk, but perfectly suited to fit my needs.  The view from the window was the typical view that you get from most buildings in Tokyo, the wall of the neighbouring Mizuho bank.

I arrived at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 30 minutes late, after having figured I could make it through Tokyo station fast enough to get to the hotel and try and clean myself up a bit so that I didn’t appear to be the dishevelled human being that had spent the last 20 hours in transit.  After sorting out where MOFA was and where I was supposed to be I was escorted to a small room on the 3rd floor by an employee and a woman from the Japanese Tourism Board.  It appeared to be your average Japanese government office, but again, with a small difference in that very few lights were on.  “Setsuden,” the MOFA employee explained was the reason for the eerie lighting.  Once again, another sign that the disaster and it’s after effects are everywhere and that must be a constant reminder to the Japanese people even far away from Fukushim in the offices ofTokyo.

After going over travel documents and the like, I told the MOFA employees what I had planned.  When I asked what they wanted out of all of this from me they said that they want people to know that Japan is safe.  I told them that I didn’t think all of Japanwas indeed “safe” they responded that, well, most of Japan is.  And that made me think of a of the first contribution in Reimagining Japan by Yoichi Funabashi, the former editor of the Yomiuri Shimbun.  He says that Tohoku, “has always served as a power source, manufacturing supplier, breadbasket and labor force for Tokyo, functioning essentially as an outsourcer supporting Tokyo’s prosperity.”  It seemed to me that this was potentiallyTokyo using Tohoku once again.

The sheets that were given to me outlined that the other participants and had been invited to Japan to “deepen [our] understanding on the current situation in Japan…and to communicate what [we] see and experience in Japan on [our] return home.”  And that’s what I planned to do, little did I know how the coming days would effect me and how little I was prepared to deal with the seriousness of what was going on.

After my meeting with MOFA, I headed straight to a convenience store to quickly purchase everything that I needed.  By needed I mean, WANTED!  The things that made me feel like I was in Japan: canned cold coffee, Aquarius, an Asahi tallboy, a “genki drink,” an onigiri and some Japanese cigarettes.  After successfully opening the onigiri without tearing any of the seaweed, I drank from all of these things.  Coffee, followed by a genki drink, then a bit of Aquarius and from there onto the beer.

After relaxing for a few minutes and sending emails, tweets and facebook updates, I headed out and met up with another former JET that just happened to be in Tokyo for business.  Tucked into an izakaya on the 5th floor of a building that we had arbitrarily chosen, after meeting at Ochanomizu station, we started our nomi-houdai (all you can drink) and began reliving our past lives as ALTs.  It has only been a year since I had seen Keith, despite him having left Fukushima 3 years ago.  We met in Denver last year to attend the wedding of former JETs that had lived in Fukushima.  And just like it had been in Denver, it was if we had never parted ways and never had to say goodbye to each other.

That is one of the truly beautiful things about the JET programme, it seems like no matter where you go in the world, there’s someone there that you used to live in Japan with and it’s easy to fall back in to being friends.

As the night grew on and the beer flowed, I realized that the Japanese language is not exactly like riding a bike.  I’d liken it more to that sport you played through high school.  You used to be decent at it and you assume that you still will be, even though it’s been numerous years since you’ve even played.  That amazed feeling, when you realize how horrible you have become at it is exactly how I felt sitting across from Keith, who is Japanese-American, listening to him throw out blazing fast Japanese with ease and finding myself struggling for the words to order a beer.

We parted ways after a few hours of discussions of past JETs and what they’re doing now or where they’re at and just catching up on life.

I went to bed thinking about how I had traveled so far, but that it felt like a strange version of home, where everything was as it always had been, but was just shrouded in a light haze.

Fukushima + Movember = Fukushimo

Dear friends, family, and people of the internet,

Each year, the Fukushima community comes together in November to take part in Movember.  Former and current international residents of Fukushima prefecture, Japan, combine to make Fukushimo.  Chapters are created in different countries all over the world in order to raise awareness of men’s health and funds are directed to Prostate Cancer societies.  This year I have joined our Canadian team in hopes to raise funds and awareness, as well as to grow a ridiculous moustache.  I have shaved the beard that I have been sporting for the last 5 years, to the probable delight of my mother and the dislike of my girlfriend.  To see me, sans beard, is by itself worthy of your money, as I look ridiculous.

Day 1
I ask that you please show your support and donate to our worthy cause.  If donating is beyond your means at this time.  I will allow you to forward this post to at least 5 people as your get out of jail free card.  Please check in on our team and my page from time to time in order to witness the ridiculousness that is grown men competing to grow the most ridiculous moustache.
Thank you,
Brent Stirling
Movember.com – Fukushimo Team (or donate here) (*note, if you are going to donate to the team, please spread it across all members, so we all feel the love)
Here’s our team picture.  Still missing a few members, but it’s a scary sight nonetheless.
Check out this blog post by The Stevolution about Fukushimo as well.  He’s a funny guy.

CBC Radio One – Ottawa Morning Interview

While I continue to procrastinate about writing the blogs detailing my trip back to Fukushima (sidebar: it’s actually less about procrastination and more about the fact that I’ve talked about it so much already with media, friends and family that I’m on a bit of an overload), I figured I’d at least share some of my words in audio format.  Here is my interview with the CBC Radio One show Ottawa Morning.  They were nice enough to send it my way.  I’m pretty sure it’s the best interview I’ve done to date.  Although, I was a little thrown off by the first question.  I didn’t think we were going to dive into Soma that quickly.

Ottawa Morning Interview – Tuesday October 11th – Brent Stirling

Thanks again to Ottawa Morning for having me on.

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

Why this is only blog #3.5 – Return to #Tohoku #3.5

Before I left for Japan, I had figured I would have time to write, in and amongst the crazy hectic schedule I created for myself and the drinking and general shenanigans that went along with returning to see friends throughout Fukushima.  I did fall a bit behind but had written a few blogs and took copious notes throughout my trip about how I was feeling and what I was thinking about.  My initial blog about Tokyo was written in a travel blog style, with descriptive paragraphs, metaphors and the like, in order to entice and excite you and I assume after all is said and done it still will be along those lines.  But there was one thing I hadn’t counted on during this short jaunt through the land of the rising sun.  And that one thing was Soma.

So, on my last night in Japan, sitting in my hotel in Tokyo, I’m going to give the reason for my lack of posting up until now, other than an excuse for not blogging blog (see, Return to Tohoku #3).  And this very well may turn into another excuse for not blogging blog, but hey, you’ve read this far and look how much more there is to go!

This past Sunday, I went with a bunch of foreigners to go and volunteer with Hearts for Haragama, a group I’ve blogged about before.  After spending the day with children from different kindergartens in the Soma area, they took me out to the coast.  The JETs that have been out to Soma a few times decided to take me out to Tsukasa’s (the owner of the Haragama kindergarten) house.

As we began to near the wreckage I had my camera going and got Jay to shoot a video with my Xacti.  At first, it was just as I had seen in the news.  Pictures of buses in the water and some buildings.  But as we got closer and closer to the Pacific Ocean, the utter destruction began to take over.  At first I was amazed at how different everything was, giant concrete tetrapods that had lined the coastline were now gone, washed away by the sheer power of the tsunami.  Cars, still lay smashed at the side of the road, in parking lots and beside the shells of buildings that the tsunami left behind.  We couldn’t even return to the beach that I had gone to almost every weekend of every summer for four years because the bridge that would take us up and over the cove that I had always used was no longer safe to drive on. Continue reading