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Volume 13 Issue 13

May 2016

Photo courtesy of Caleb Hagan

Photo courtesy of Graham Rix

Dear Hokkaido ALTs,

Whether as a reprieve between classes, a quick shot of the mother tongue, or just an excuse to ignore the crashing implosion of your home country’s body politic, we’re glad you’ve clicked open this edition of Polestar. We hope you like what you see and consider helping us to make it better. Anyone can submit work to Polestar. Facebook message or email us at with any ideas, questions, or concerns. Thanks to the writers and photographers who made this issue memorable!

Jack Powers, Editor Isabelle Legault, Designer

Next submission deadline: May 30th

t m Fro

. s e r he P kaido k o H , Heya

Photo courtesy of Ferfie Brownoff

Ferfie Brownoff President | HAJET


guess spring is finally starting to be a thing here. Or at least my vague notions of spring are underway in most of Hokkaido. Don’t quote me on this, but I’m fairly confident that any more major snowfalls will have to wait until next fall. As I write this, we are currently in the midst of Golden Week, and since I made no plans, I’m sitting at my work computer looking out at some pretty glorious weather. Unlike many of you, I didn’t opt to make any travel plans; In fact, I didn’t even take the Monday or Friday off. I just figured I’d bum about in Hokkaido at my leisure and check out some of the spots I’d wanted to see, but hadn`t gotten around to yet. Plus, thanks to the facebooks, I can live vicariously through the pictures from your travels – which is supposed to sound less sad than it does. Seriously, a lot of you obviously got up to some rad stuff. Even so, my decision also came from a realization that there’s going to be an onslaught of heavy HAJET and HEC activity in the coming months. As such, this was probably a good time to slow down and not really commit to anything in particular. I have to say, that while maybe not the most exciting choice, I’ve really enjoyed getting out into Hokkaido taking in some of the aspects that I’d forgotten over the winter. As the snow’s melted - and my surroundings have begun to resemble the landscape I remember when I first arrived - I’ve gotten to thinking more about my decision to do this ALT thing all over again in August. For all of the headaches that can crop up while living and working in a totally foreign culture, I have to say

that without a doubt, I stand by having signed on for another year here. Even things as simple as the trails that I ride in the mornings before work remind me that I’m not ready to leave this place yet. Obviously this will be in opposition to the decision that some of you have made, and I honestly don’t wish to instill any anxiety or ill-will in those of you who’ve opted not to extend your contract. There are any number of reasons to be moving on this August, and I’m sure they are all totally valid. Until then, however, I know there are a slew of rad events that’ll be coming up. The HAJET Summer Meeting has been slated for June 24-26 at Lake Toya – and if literally every person that I’ve talked to regarding Lake Toya is any indicator, it’s going to be an ultimate place for a meeting. HEC has some events coming up in the next little bit as well, in addition to the camp itself. One such event is the HEC Bike Relay, which will take place on the weekend of June 10-12. For those still unaware, ALTs will ride from their respective regions to the Sapporo TV Tower, all in the name of raising funds for HEC. If you’re not able to participate as a cyclist, I know that we’d love more volunteers for this. Personally, I’m still trying hash out how I’ll be getting back home after my leg of the ride. Regardless, it’s going to be a rad event and if you bail, you’ll be kicking yourself for passing it up. So get at Jeremy Blanco or me if you’re interested. But until then, I’m going to continue taking my time – living my life like an old man or sloth or something – in the Hokkaido countryside. I’ve got a few days of hopefully nice weather to soak up before this calm, albeit slow, lull in activity is over. Though, as much as I’m enjoying my pace right now, I’m equally stoked on what’s to come. Stay safe and do rad things.

Photos courtesy of Brenna Sorokowski

Thoughts from the

First Year Rep.

DING DONG! THE WINTER’S DEAD! Jon Curry First Year Representative | HAJET


kay, sorry, that may have been a little over the top. Currently double hyped from the arrival of spring and having seen Wicked during Golden week, so bear with me.

a bigger house, we brought that ability to avoid excess junk with us. Not to mention, my dad was always pretty strict about keeping the place tidy at all times. Then, as a broke college kid, I couldn’t afford to be messy if I even wanted to, so my springs stayed inherently clean.

Second, the snow is finally gone for good! Well, at least for the next few months. And of course we’re still in that post-snow-melt-everything-is-muddy-and-wet-andgross phase of spring. But hey, give it a couple more weeks and we’ll have nothing but clear blue skies and greenery as far as the eye can see. I’m definitely going to be trying to hit as many prime hiking spots as I can while the getting’s good! Maybe even try to hit the beach and soak up some sun for the first time in months!

But now that I’m living on my own for the first time, I am finally starting to see what that phrase really means. After the coldest winter of my life, the return of natural light flooding through my windows and heat in general was revitalizing. I emerged from my kotatsu cocoon, looked around me, and decided that my house was far too bare. One quick trip to Daiso later and things started looking… well, a bit more interesting. More silhouette stickers (ooh, maybe I’ll do robots next), along with some fun posters, are definitely in my future. For the time being, though, things feel at least a bit more lively at home. I also recently got a little plant for the house (apparently called “the tree of truth”?), and taking care of it has been surprisingly meditative. Maybe I’ll try to find some lie-lacs next. (Baddum-tss. I’ll be here all week.) Couple that with some mass cleaning projects and new furniture arrangements, and you’ve got a clean house with a breath of fresh spring air.

And thirdly, with spring comes that which has been something of a foreign notion to me until now: spring cleaning. As a kid, I would hear the phrase get thrown around, but it felt like it never applied to me. I spent the first half of my childhood in a relatively small apartment, so we didn’t have enough room for clutter that would one day need to be sorted through. When we moved into

If you’re like me and this is your first time living on your own, definitely take the time to make your place your own. Even if you’ll only be here for another year, or especially if you’re planning on sticking around for a while, being able to stand at the center of your humble abode, look around you, and feel at home is immensely satisfying.

Seriously though, spring is FINALLY upon us and that means several things. First of all, let’s talk about all these bugs. It’s been maybe two weeks since the weather really started warming up and I have already lost count of how many rollie-polies I’ve found in my house. Am I the only one who has these things spawning out of their ofuro drain? That’s totally normal, right?

Photo courtesy of Liam Nolan

A note from the Kumamoto recovery Liam Nolan Copy Editor | Connect Magazine


ife is starting to return to normal, though the Kumamoto Earthquakes dealt catastrophic damage to sections of the prefecture. Aftershocks hit with decreased frequency, and many once unusable roads are open again, though traffic can only limp down them. Throughout the prefecture, motley clean-up crews are assembling to repair the damage. Our recovery is beginning. Most people outside of Kumamoto have been thoughtful and caring. Generalizations always risk inaccuracy, but I can confidently say that every one of us appreciates the friends and family who check and checked to make sure we are and were okay. Many, myself included, won’t have classes until May 9th at the earliest. One of my elementary schools, which had been growing pansies and tulips before the disaster, will have to conduct classes at my town’s junior high school. After the second earthquake, I drove by that elementary school, and I was filled with melancholy. All of the windows were broken, the walkways buckled, and the flowers mixed with shards of broken planters. It’s going to take a long time to repair that damage. The government is pouring many resources into rebuilding Kumamoto, but the greatest resources Kumamoto has are the passion, drive, and kindness of its people. Immediately after the earthquakes, international students and teachers in Kumamoto provided warm meals for the displaced. Currently, those signing up to volunteer at one of the clean-up centres have encountered significant wait times for placement.

Many are passing out information related to clean-up services and resources so those in need can get help as soon as possible. Some are choosing to share their stories with different communities, both nationally and internationally, to put a face and name to a disaster that could otherwise feel abstract. However, we’ve only started recovering. Many sleep at evacuation centers and in their cars. Some will return home soon, but others, particularly many in Mashiki, have no homes to which to return. People I know in the city fear finding an eviction notice on their buildings telling them the building suffered too much damage. Many are still without basic utilities such as water, power, and gas, though specialists are working hard to restore these utilities. Some have received the news that they won’t have running water again until June. Throughout the prefecture, conbinis are still barren. Daily life, with its constant threat of another disaster, has suffered an aftershock of its own. It’s going to take time to fix this beautiful prefecture, but Kumamoto will recover. Though my town, which is relatively close to both epicenters, spent several days under threat of evacuation, I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to return home. Life will never be exactly like before. The earthquakes altered the very landscape of Kumamoto, and it’s going to take a lot to create a new normal. Still, the people of this prefecture, and Japan as a whole, don’t intend to fold in the face of the tremendous losses we’ve suffered. Kumamoto is our home; we will fix it.


l a i ec

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Michi no Eki Ice Cream:

Sam Hong’s top 5 picks Urausu Tsurunuma M.E.

Carrot & Grape

Akaigawa M.E.

Broccoli & Rice

Kyogoku Fukidashi Koen M.E.



Yubari M.E.

Coffee ice chunk

Yoichi Space Apple M.E.



The mighty Michi no Eki stamp rally! Catrina Ciara Member| HAJET


ome of you looking at the title of this article may have been left with a number of questions. For example “what is a michi no eki?” or “Why would I care about another stamp rally?” Even for those in the know, don’t roll your eyes too soon. Maybe only if you already know the full cultural and historical significance of the michi no eki and the stamp rally. To start, “Michi no eki” literally means “station of the road” or “roadside station”. Some of you will start to get a picture in your head just from that description. For the Canadians and American among us, you may think of rest areas or welcome centers on major highways. This is not a bad start as most michi no eki offers similar services. All michi no eki have a 24 hour public restroom and a free parking lot. This can make them extremely good car camping sites. A michi no eki will normally have some kind of store or restaurant that sells locally produced goods and souvenirs. Whatever the town is famous for will be on sale at the michi no eki. They also include a place to rest, either a room with chairs and tables or a park or picnic area at most michi no eki. Best of all, they are found all over Japan! Before I get into the michi no eki specific stamp rally, I need to explain the second part of my title, the stamp rally. The Japanese love stamp rallies. They are all overshopping malls, train stations, etc. The original stamp rally in Japan started centuries ago. In the Edo period, people could not travel freely and

Michi no Eki

travel was very expensive. So let’s say you want to visit a famous temple to help local crops or a sick relative or, maybe, because you’re just that religious. If you are a simple farmer this is not an easy trip. So you ask your town to help you. Townspeoplel contribute money and give you prayers to offer for them as well. You make your trip on behalf of your town. But how will they know you actually went to the temple instead of the closest big city’s brothels? Enter the temple stamp (go-shuin). Most every temple or shrine in Japan offers them. Historically, you would get the stamp from the places you stayed (pilgrim lodging or shukubo in Japanese) and the temple you made the prayers at. This became both proof that you did the job for the town and a travel record. The beautiful stamps, made by a combination of red ink temple specific stamps and master calligraphers, often became family treasures or heirlooms. The collected stamps can be seen as a record of travels, like a scrapbook, or photo album of selfies before cameras were an option. Recording your travels with stamps became a common and expected thing in Japan, and as travel became easier, stamp collecting also became common. Like any good trip in Japan, a michi no eki trip is hardly complete without a stamp. The stamps are specific to the place. They will include local landmarks, mascots, famous people, the town food, or something else that makes the town unique. Many also have a place for the date you were there (though there is also a place in the stamp book for the date if you have it.) It can be

quite fun to collect them as you travel Japan. There are official books to collect these stamps. They range in price from 200-500 yen. The one for Hokkaido is 200yen. The books not only give useful information like maps, addresses, phone numbers and hours of operation for the michi no eki, but they also provide a place for each stamp and discounts at a number of michi no eki. If you get the stamps from every michi no eki, you can get a certificate of completion with a sticker. And based on the number of them you go to in a year (from April to March) you can be entered in the draw for prizes based on the number you went to. High numbers of michi no eki visited can mean selections of local products or hotel and onsen stays. A low number can still get post cards, bags, and similar items. Overall if you are going to spend time at michi no eki you might as well get the book and see how far you get. The lowest number of michi no eki to be entered into a draw is 5, a very easy number to get. Why have some michi no eki become destinations in and of themselves? The short answer is that they are often put in places where there is something to see or do. There are nature sanctuaries, aquariums, museums, national parks, amusement parks, and more at many michi no eki. In the following articles, I will be highlighting some of the best and most interesting michi no eki in Hokkaido. But don’t forget they are all over Japan and are worth checking out on any trip.

Photo courtesy of Catrina Ciara

Spring Events Jack Powers Editor | POLESTAR


ure sometimes it snows in April, but that shit happened at least like five times. March and April in Hokkaido are but a long, slow cessation of winter. The whole Spring thing is a rumor, a peculiar brand of dark comedy played out on TV sets and conbini promotions. But this year right as its absence started to become less and less funny, it came. Cherry trees, tulips, azaleas, lilies, lilacs and an island’s more all in bloom with the birds chirping and the sun pulsing the soil. The season of “less winter” has finally passed and Spring is here in Hokkaido. Though any activity involving leaving your house will have a similar effect, below are a few positively botanic ways to enjoy the beauty of late Spring/early Summer Hokkaido.

Matsumae Sakura Festival: Early to mid May Sapporo Lilac Festival: May 20-31st Odori Park Kamiyubetsu Tulip Fair :May to early June

Photo courtesy of Karisa Whelan

Matsumae Sakura Festival | Adam Gentle

松前さくらまつり | Karisa Whelan

Sapporo Lilac Festival | Sapporo Park Greening Association

札幌ライラックまつり | 札幌市公園緑化協会

Kamiyubetsu Tulip Fair | Karisa Whelan

かみゆうべつチューリップフェア | Marie Gentle


Fukushima Women’s Only Sumo Tournament Daneille O’Neil Southwestern Representative | HAJET


umo has been the national sport of Japan for centuries. It began in ancient times as a performance to amuse the Shinto deities. However, for as long as sumo has been an important aspect of Japanese culture, it has exclusively been the domain of men. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine the sport as a symbol of a corrosive gender hierarchy, instead of just as an enjoyable athletic pursuit. Then you venture to Fukushima Town for the Hokkaido, Women Only Sumo Competition. This event occurs yearly on Mother's Day beginning around 9am. Having been a staple in the town since 1991, women have the chance to become sumo legends (well, at least in the southwest of Hokkaido.) Divided into two tiers: A Block (upper tier) and B Block (lower tier); contestants vie for all sorts of prizes, including cash, airline tickets courtesy of JAL, and even a hundred ripe bananas. As a past contestant, the fun of the event wasn’t the prizes but simply the cultural experience and the odd camaraderie developed among fellow participants and spectators as well. In and outside the ring, you are exposed to all sorts of personalities. The most intimidating of the contestants you will find isn’t just athletically formidable but also an

incredibly kind soul. In recent years the competition has become ‘internationalized’ with the participation and A Block second place win of Dori White, Mori Town ALT a few years ago. Being my town-mate, she introduced myself and others to the tournament and in my second year of competing I surprised myself and others with a second place win of my own in B Block. This is an experience I would encourage anyone, both Japanese and foreign alike to take part in. Whether as a participant or a spectator, everyone should experience the simple joy of sumo. Consider a little sumo for your future Golden Weeks. One of this year’s participants, Danielle Thomas, shared some of her perspectives on the experience. “It was all very fascinating, but true elation came when I won my first match, practice though it was, I may have abandoned decorum and celebrated a little too much. I went on to win three more bouts, two of which were official. Can you say, “Feelin’ myself!” But, my final bout was a real battle. Even though she was bigger than me, we were evenly matched and neither of us was about to give up. After a prolonged, intense stand-off, my palm grazed the dohyou, and it was over. Epic cry! But, you know what? My butt never hit the ground! Alright! Alright! Alriiight!!!”

Photo courtesy of Noriko Matsui (Tomakomai)

Photo courtesy of Caleb Hagan

Polestar May 2016  
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