Monday, December 22, 2008


Merry x-mas everyone! This is definitely my favorite holiday of the year. As a child, I can remember counting the presents and counting the days before I could open all of them. My parents spoiled my brothers and me. I think we got over 10 presents each! Probably the best present I received was a blue Schwinn bicycle with the raised handle bars and big banana seat when I was about 9 years old.

Like shogatsu (New Year's) in Japan, x-mas in America is a time for family. My family always went to my Uncle John and Aunt Kinu's house. My grandparents, cousins, their boyfriends and girlfriends, my brothers and me and our girlfriends would all be there. Of course we would have the traditional x-mas dinner of roast turkey but there would also be an Asian flavor. My grandma always made inari sushi and maze gohan. My aunt would make her famous fried wonton and Chinese chicken salad. There would also always be lots of California-grown white rice to go with the turkey, ham, steak, chicken and sashimi. BTW, guess what the most popular dish is in Japan on x-mas eve??? It's a bucket of KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)!!!

Yes, Christmas here in Japan is different. It's not a holiday and it's hard to feel the x-mas spirit. Christmas Eve is not a time for families to be together but a time for couples to go out. It's much like Valentine's Day in the states. Surpisingly, Christmas was not a holiday in early America either. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. And Congress was even in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until 1870.

In the 17th century, Dutch immigrants brought the practice of gift-giving at Christmas to America. They also gave us the legend of Sinter Klaas; Sinter Klaas is the Dutch name for St. Nicolas and this is how we got Santa Claus. Santa Claus was born in the US in the 1860's. Americans gave Santa Claus a white beard, dressed him in a red suit and made him a cheery old man with red cheeks and a twinkle in his eye. But do you know where Santa Claus is from originally? Most people are surprised when they learn that he was a real person from the warm climate of Southern Turkey. The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280A.D. It is said that he gave away all his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. Christmas is a time for giving, sharing and peace.

Happy Holidays to you all!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Famous "friends"

OK, I use the word "friend" very loosely here. To be totally honest, the people in the pictures don't even know who I am! :)
I was just happy to have met them and exchange a few words with them.

The famous people are:
Charlie Sheen (actor),

Sean Elliot (former NBA All-Star),

Tamlyn Tomita (actress),

Stephen Malkmus (musician) and Scott Kannberg (formerly of Pavement).

I can claim Stephen and Scott as my friends. In fact, we used to be best friends back in elementary school and were all part of the ol' Morada gang. The picture of the 3 of us was taken backstage when I saw them live at Blitz Akasaka. You can also see them in a couple of the Halloween pictures on my October post. I did also have dinner with Sean Elliot that summer night we took that picture. This was back when I lived in Matsuyama in 1990. He was dating a friend (half-Japanese girl in picture) whose mother was from there.

Since I'm on the topic of famous people I've met, I have to tell the story of when I was a bellman in my hometown around 1984. Nicolas Cage was filming a movie and staying at the hotel I worked at. I was working in the giftshop when he popped in to buy some snacks. He took out a huge wad of cash and for some reason just handed a $20 bill to a little boy who happened to be standing next to him. He just said "here you go". It was so spontaneous and so surreal. Speaking of movie stars, I was also on the set with Michael Caine and Sally Field as an extra. My friend, Jeff, and I were just a few feet from them during the scene we were in. We were so excited and went to the movie as soon as it opened. We watched the whole film anxiously waiting for our scene to appear only to find out that they cut out the entire scene. Anyway, that was the end of my acting career, haha! :)

I'll finish by writing about my famous cousin, Philip Kan Gotanda. He's one of the most well-respected Asian-American playwrights and a very cool guy too. My favorite play of his is "Sisters Matsumoto" which was based on my grandmother and her sisters and their lives after returning from the internment camps. I had the pleasure of seeing it both in San Jose, California and in Tokyo (in Japanese).

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Halloween originated in Ireland and was brought to North America by Irish immigrants in the 19th century, so it's just been over a hundred years that we Americans have been celebrating it. The most common activity is "trick-or-treating". This is mainly for children up to age of about 12. They dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for treats with the question "Trick or treat?" If no treat is given, the homeowner may have a trick played on them or their property. When I was a kid (or early teen), the most common trick was to TP (toilet paper) their house. This is when you get some rolls of toilet paper and throw them up in their front yard, decorating their trees in a lovely shade of white or pink. :) This usually happens in the cover of darkness. Anyway, I used to love going trick or treating and bringing home a huge bag of candy, one of my favorite foods. haha! Nowadays I still enjoy going to a costume party. Here in Japan, Halloween has been getting bigger and bigger every year since the first time I came here in 1990. In almost every city a costume party can be found. They are usually attended by a mixed crowd of "gaijin" and Japanese. You can see some photos of a few of the parties I've attended here and a couple of me on Halloween day when I was in elementary school back in CA.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Man's best friend

"A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself" is a quote from American writer Josh Billings. This is why dogs are known as 'man's best friend'. The close relationship between humans and dogs began many thousands of years ago. The most popular breed is the Labrador, but the best breed is the German Shepherd. Okay, I admit that I am biased. Since the age of 7, I grew up with 4 different German Shepherds (my parents still have #4 right now). I know what a good and smart dog they are. In fact, they are the 3rd most intelligent breed of dog behind Border Collies and Poodles (what poodles?!). Shepherds are also known for their loyalty and courage. I would agree with this too although our second one, Mari, would jump the fence at any chance. Come to think of it, it probably got bored of being alone in our backyard with nobody to play with. Shepherds do need a big yard to play in and because they are smart, they need a lot of stimulation.

German Shepherds were and still are used to herd sheeps, hence the name shepherd, but they are also used as guide dogs for the blind, for search and rescue, in the military, as police dogs and as they were for our family, guard dogs. Shepherds only bark when they feel it is necessary, so we'd always peek out the back window when we heard him barking. Sometimes it looked like he just wanted our attention but other times he probably did encounter a racoon or opossum.

Having grown up with big dogs, I don't care for small dogs much. They can be cute but for me, they're pretty much "All bark, no bite". Here are pictures of the last 3 German Shepherds my family has had. As you can see, none of these are 100%. Our first one, Lila was a thoroughbred but I don't have a picture of her. She was named after our dear late Aunt Lila who used to live next door to us and was a big dog lover herself. All of them were very kind and gentle and I miss them a lot.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

One World One Dream

I like the slogan of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games; it's positive. Today is the final day and IMHO the Chinese have been very successful as the host country. They've also been very successful as participants, garnering the most Gold medals. The U.S. has the most overall medals but which is more important??? FYI, Japan has the 8th most Gold medals which is not so bad considering it's the 10th most populated country in the world. Note: More than 200 countries took part in these XXlX Olympic Games.

"Citius, Altius, Fortius" became the Olympic Motto in 1894, the date of the IOC's creation. This means faster, higher, stronger in Latin. Basically it means that giving your best is the goal at the Olympics and in life. And we did see some spectacular performances! Bolt's 2 new world-records in both sprint events were amazing. But to me, Michael Phelps' new record of 8 Gold medals in swimming is by far the most impressive achievement of these games. BTW, may I brag about my own swimming record? I hold the Niigata Masters Meet record in the 25 meter freestyle (12.56 seconds). :)

The Summer Olympic Games are always a treat for me. Out of the 28 sports, 3 are my favorites: basketball, swimming and tennis. One sad thing for me though was that I could not watch one single game of basketball as Japanese TV didn't deem it worthwhile. I guess I can understand as Japan didn't field a team but I would have loved to see Kobe, Lebron and the rest of the "Redeem Team" in action. As I write, they are playing and I imagine on their way to the Gold medal that Team USA promised to deliver after sub-par performances in the 2004 Games and recent World Games.

My final thoughts are that although these games cost an astronomical amount of money to hold, they are worth it. They bring the people of the world together. This breaks down barriers and helps us understand each other. It also brings the people of a country closer together as they get behind their team to cheer and share the agony of defeat along with the elation of winning or placing. It also motivates us regular people to do our best and to keep playing the sports we love and maybe even start a new one.
It's been about a year now that Aki and I started tennis lessons and we have both moved up from beginners to "high" beginners, haha. I figure when my basketball days are over that tennis will become my main sport. However, I do hope to be like my dad and play organized basketball into my 60's! Of course, I'll also have to take up golf once I get into my 50's. :)

Monday, July 28, 2008

English Conversation CD's

Have you ever been paid over $1000 for one day's work? I sure hadn't. But a few months ago, my friend, Gayla, and I did some English narration work for Daiso, Japan's largest franchise of 100-yen shops.

The CD's are finally out, a total of 4 CD's and 4 accompanying booklets with both English/Japanese translations. A couple of the titles (shown in picture) are "English for Emergency Situations", eg. The water in the toilet won't stop running - Toile o nagashitara zutto mizu ga nagareteiru(トイレを流したらずっと水が流れている) and "English from Morning til Night", eg. Why don't you do a little house cleaning once in awhile? - Tamani wa souji shitara dou desuka? (たまには掃除したらどうですか?) I'm afraid my mom might want to say this to my dad sometimes, sorry dad! :)
Daiso is also international with nearly 500 stores outside of Japan. Friends in the Bay Area, please visit the Daiso in Union City, supposedly the biggest and best one there. Check to see if they have the CD's. They're a great way for you to study your Japanese. Don't forget to check for my name written on the back (in katakana - コンラッド・マツモト). And in case you didn't know, most items sold there go for $1.50, 50% more than the 100 yen we pay here in Japan.

Anyway, we were treated very well by Mayumi (Editor) and all the sound staff. We really enjoyed the whole process of making the CD's. But for me, I much prefer the face to face interaction I have with my students and the joys of teaching English. Having said that, Daiso, please call me when you make your next English CD :)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Blog blues

Every month I wonder what to write. I usually can't think of anything until the last moment and as you can see it's the last day of June and I'm finally writing this month's entry. So this month is just going to be a hodgepodge. I write this Blog in hopes that a few of my friends/relatives back in CA can catch a glimpse of what's going on in my life here in Japan and for my students so they can hopefully learn a new word/idiom (eg. hodgepodge) and also find out something new about me too. Before starting this Blog almost 2 years ago, I had been keeping a journal. I started writing this journal as a homework assignment when I was in the 6th grade at Davis Elementary School. I continued to write in it every couple of months and usually just wrote gossipy stuff like who I was in love with or what my friends were up to. Then it evolved into marking down milestones in my life such as graduation, getting my first car (Honda Prelude), moving down to Long Beach for college, etc. Later I'd write about Japan, my travels, a friend getting married, a relative passing away or a birthday.

Which reminds me, this month was my dad's (6/20), my wife's (6/25) and my grandfather's (6/29) birthdays.

Yesterday, my grandpa turned 99 years old! We plan to go back next summer to celebrate his 100th.
Anyway, going back to the title of this post, basically I just picked it because the 2 words sounded good together. And as I was having trouble thinking of what to write, I thought it made sense. Actually I do enjoy doing this Blog, especially after I've finished writing it. :) And to be honest, I guess I write this Blog for myself too. It gives me a chance to reflect on what's happening now, remember something from the past and to think about what lies ahead.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Who is the real "Last Samurai"?

I (not Tom Cruise) am the real "Last Samurai". Joke! But on May 3, my father and I marched through the main streets of Odawara along with 2000 other samurai warriors and I did feel a little like a samurai, haha.
We took part in the Odawara Hojo Godai Matsuri (festival). It is the largest sight-seeing event of the year in Odawara.

The annual event reminds us of the glory attained by the five generations of the Hojo family. After all, in the 16th century, Odawara was the cultural and industrial center of eastern Japan under the power of the Hojo clan. It was during this time that the Odawara Castle became the biggest in all of Japan. Castle-town Odawara was protected by the sea on the east side and by rivers and mountains on all other sides. Odawara Castle was originally built about 800 years ago. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, most recently in 1960. Now Odawara is the only castle town from which you can see Mt. Fuji. I love living in this city!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Top 10 Reasons you know you've been in Japan too long.

You know you've been in Japan too long if:
10. You start bowing when you talk on the phone.
9. You bow to other drivers who give you the right of way.
8. You're not surprised when the female cleaning ladies come into the restrooms and start cleaning while you're doing your business.
7. You're not surprised when you see "salarymen" in their suits taking a wee on the streets.
6. You know the names of all 4 SMAP members and you even know what their silly acronym stands for (Sport Music Assemble People). Is that English?
5. You start using words like "Shogannai" or "Natsukashii" instead of their English equivalents. Note: "Shogannai" translates to "no ginger" (sorry bad joke) correct translation is "It can't be helped."
4. You think taking off your shoes inside your house is a great idea.
3. You stop saying "hi" to all the new foreigners in town.
2. You don't worry anymore when you carry more than $500 dollars in your wallet.
1. And the #1 reason you know you've been in Japan too long is when you start liking NATTO! (fermented soy beans with a very bad smell) :)
To my students: This list was made "tongue in cheek". This idiom means "jokingly" or "half-seriously." :)

Monday, March 31, 2008

California Dreaming

This is my first time to write in my Blog outside of Japan.
I'm currently back in CA for our spring break. Our tour just finished today. 6 students joined and we had a wonderful time. Check our HP for "event photos ".

Our state nickname is the Golden State and it became the 31st state to enter the union in 1850 right after the gold rush. Here are some interesting facts about CA. We're the largest wine-producing state in the U.S. The first McDonalds opened in CA in 1948. The California Redwood is the tallest tree in the world at 112 meters (396 feet). They are over 3000 years old. The hottest day in the U.S. was recorded in Death Valley, CA on July 10, 1913 at 56.7 degree C (135 F). Death Valley is also the lowest point in the U.S. at 282 feet below sea level.

The size of CA is a little bigger than Japan but has only 31 million people (compared to Japan's 128 million). LA is the biggest (3.5 million) and most famous city but Sacramento is its capital. My hometown of Stockton just 30 miles south of Sacramento. Stockton has 2 really good points. The weather is great with 185 sunny days per year. The location is quite good as well. We're just a couple of hours drive from Lake Tahoe and Yosemite and just over an hour away from San Francisco (130kms). These are my 3 favorite places in CA. Start your dream. Visit California!

Friday, February 29, 2008

My Travel Pics

Thank goodness it's Leap Day! I wouldn't have been able to post my once a month Blog if it wasn't. This month I'd like to show you some of the beautiful places I've visited. As you know, traveling is a big passion of mine. Funny thing is, if I hadn't come here to Japan after graduating college, I may have never picked up the bug, the "Travel Bug" that is. Japan was the first foreign country I visited (Tijuana, Mexico doesn't count). And now I've been to 35 countries, but who's counting? I guess I am, haha! Each journey leaves a lasting image in my mind. With every country, there's a story, a memory, a friend that was made or an adventure that was had. I've been very fortunate; for every 99 good things that I've encountered in my travels, I've only had to deal with 1 bad thing. Even the bad things weren't so bad. I think of them as learning experiences. For example, there was the time I was duped into playing the "Pick a card" scam on La Rambla in Barcelona. The whole crowd was in on it and I was taken for about $75 bucks. I also almost had my backpack stolen while I was on the payphone inside the busy train station in Paris. Luckily, I was too fast for them, hehe. And then there was the time I had to go to the bathroom but...I don't think I'll finish this one. And the good things that have happened, there are just too many to tell.

So let me just show & tell you about 10 of the beautiful places I've visited. I'll start with the Pyramids in Giza. By far, these were the most breath-taking sights I've ever laid my eyes on. To be able to touch these structures that were made more than 2000 years ago was just an incredible feeling. Machu Picchu, often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", is 7875 feet (2400 meters) above sea level. Angkor Wat, the awe-inspiring temple was built in the 12th century. Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace. Sagrada Familia is a massive Roman Catholic church designed by Antoni Gaudi. Construction began in 1882 and continues even now. Cappadocia is a region in Turkey characterized by natural wonders often resembling fairy chimneys. Christ the Redeemer (statue) is 130 feet (40 meters) tall. It's a statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro. Stonehenge is one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world. It's believed to have been erected around 2200 BC. Venice, world-famous for its canals, is connected by about 400 bridges. The Eiffel Tower, one of the most recognized structures in the world, was completed in 1889.

My travels are not done; there will always be someplace I want to go. Seeing different cultures first-hand makes me more interested in learning more about our world. It's also let me see my own country in a different, more objective light. To my friends back in California who haven't come to visit me here (and that's most of you), come out and see a different part of the world. You won't be disappointed. :) Happy travels everyone!