A Year In Japan

As a young child, I learned that certain objects in our household were precious and fragile. These objects were daiji. It wasn't until later in my childhood that I realized that this word we used was not English, but Japanese.

Such was the case with a handful of other terms, as well as certain aspects of Japanese culture that were a part of my childhood. Ours was likely the only family in our rural Alaskan community enjoying sushi and sukiyaki on special occasions.

Paul and Isabel Gerhard in Kimonos in 1936 TokyoThis early exposure to Japanese culture and language came as a result of my grandparents, both of whom were born and raised in Japan. They were gaijin (foreigners), the children of missionary parents. They met in Tokyo in the early 1930s, and subsequently married. Three of my aunts were born in Japan, before the family had to return to the United States in 1941 when war between the two countries seemed immanent.

Throughout their lives, my grandparents shared their love and knowledge of Japan with their children and grandchildren. I grew up feeling an affinity to a second, undiscovered country. In my early teens, my family traveled to Japan with my grandparents as guides. We spent three weeks traveling throughout the country, visiting new places and well as spots with special meaning to my grandparents, such as the small village they honeymooned in after their marriage. I've wanted to return ever since.

In 2002, I was offered a job teaching English with Aeon Corporation, one of the large language schools in Japan. I accepted a one-year position in the city of Nagano, where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held.

I lived in Nagano from June 2002 until June 2003, teaching at the school and spending as much time as possible in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture and traveling around the country. I made it both to Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido, and down to Okinawa, the tropical archipelago far south of the country's main islands. But the bulk of my travel was in central Honshu.

The year went by so quickly, and so much of the country and people were left unexplored. I have no doubt that I'll go back again someday.


Panorama Image

Northern Alps, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
I spent a lot of time in the mountains surrounding Nagano, hiking in the summer and fall and snowboarding in the winter. The shot above is from an overnight hike I did in the Northern Alps near Ougisawa in September 2002.
View JPEG panorama


Quality Television


In a dark room, a crowd of hostesses (the women who entertain clients at bars for "gentlemen") crowd around a mat where two of them wrestle, punch, pull hair and try to keep their mini skirts from riding up to waist-level. The winner gets to shove a pie in the face of the loser.

Clip One: The Fight (QuickTime Movie 2MB)
Clip Two: The Pie (QuickTime Movie 1.5MB)

The show continues with a segment that includes women in bikinis reading off their body measurements and jump roping (in heels, by the sound of it).

Clip Three: Bikini Jump Roping (QuickTime Movie 3MB)

Hakuba 47 ski area, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Hakuba 47 ski area, Nagano Prefecture, Japan =========================

Keitai Shots

Keitai Shots =========================

Snapshots of People in Japan

Japan People

I met so many great people during my stay in Japan. Here's an album with snapshots of friends, family, students and co-workers.

nagano skylineAbout Nagano
Nagano can thank its role as host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games for its Shinkansen (Bullet train) connection to Tokyo. The trip from Toyko to this medium-sized city in the mountains northwest of Japan's megalopolis takes just under two hours via express train.

nagano apartmentApartment in Nagano
I lived in a small apartment (in Japan? No way!) just five minutes walk from the train station and from my work. It was a newer apartment, with a western bed, a decent view and no insulation (winter=brrr!).

japan travel mapTravels in Japan
This map shows most of my travels during my stay in Japan.

Photo of Japanese plastic masks
Plastic masks for sale during a festival in Nagano. =========================

Photo Albums

Choose an album from the list below. Or, visit the Photos & Flicks page.


Blog Entries

A year in Japan gave me ample material for posting on this site. To see all blog entries related to my time in Japan, you can visit the Life in Japan category. Or, if that seems like a bit much, I've selected a dozen or so entries that one might find of interest:

Mt. Fuji
A September climb up the famous mountain.

Four Generations on Fuji-San
My Fuji climb followed in the footsteps of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Sado IslandVisit to Sado Island
Sado Island is a bit off the map—just the way I like it. Situated about 40 km off the western coast of Japan, it was the perfect place to take my mom when she came to visit.

Kodomo News
A television show for Japanese children attempts to explain the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Teaching HTML
I had an opportunity one week to teach a "special interest" class at my school. I thought an HTML class might be fun.

super chu-haiSuper Chuhai
I miss my favorite alcoholic beverage from Japan—Suntory's Grapefruit Super Chuhai. Apparently a lot of other people crave these special drinks, as well.

Chopstick Fiasco
I had a lot to learn when I visited Japan as a 13-year-old.

Something Fishy
An onerous odor overwhelms a gaggle of gaigin in a cramped compact car careening along snow-covered streets.

shrimpThe One I Didn't Eat
It was a Christmas Eve sushi fest, and I ate everything on my plate—except for this one.

Nothing Butt Options
A personal control console for the toilet.

Snow Monkeys
Japan's famous "snow monkeys" live in the mountains near Nagano.

hana chuhaiHana Anticipation
After the winter season, Japan explodes in a flurry of cherry blossom fever. Weather report-style updates follow the arrival of blossoms from south to north, and seasonal cherry blossom-flavored drinks appear on store shelves.

Viewing the Apricot Blossoms
Cherry blossoms get all the glory, but flowering apricot, apple and plum trees also provide viewing opportunities.

Leaving Japan
My rather feeble attempt to write a goodbye entry while waiting to board a plane home at Narita airport.

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