What’s Your Story? (One)

By Donald Ash | Articles

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What are you doing in Japan?

This is one of the most common questions I hear when I’m talking to people back home or when I run into foreigners here in Japan. I often answer by telling them that I’m an English teacher in Japan, which is true. But to be honest, there’s a lot more to it than that. Frankly, it’s pretty long story. But if you have time to listen, I’ll start from the beginning…the very beginning:

I was born July 22nd, 1980 in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a military Captain (Donald Ash) and a math teacher (Diann Ash). I would say that I had a pretty normal childhood. I grew up with three other siblings, my two elder sisters and my younger brother (I’m crazy about them). We were your typical kids who loved to play, break things around the house, and occasionally scuffle with each other.

The major difference between our family and others was that we were “Army Brats”. My father was a U.S. Army Chaplain/Captain, which meant we were always in church services and that we had a pretty strict upbringing. But the values they instilled in us have proven to be incredibly useful.

Being a military family also meant moving from place to place. I remember spending time in New Jersey, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida (where most of my family is from), and the last place (before my father left the Army) was Germany. I think living in Germany effected my life in so many ways.

The Germany Years (1986-1989)

I vaguely remember being a six-year-old kid taking that rather long flight to Germany. The thing I remember most about the flight was that my ears felt really uncomfortable. You know when you ears pop when you’re flying?

We lived in an apartment complex in a town called Butzbach and later in a two-story home in a city called Dorfgull (a beautiful neighborhood). There were quite a few other American military families living in the same area, which is why we never quite picked up the language; I know my numbers and colors, though 😉 . We attended an Butzbach Elementary School, an American elementary school, which consisted primarily of children from military families. It was a good school, with teachers who really cared. It was the kind of school where everybody knew everybody. Sadly, I learned that Butzbach Elementary closed its doors in 2007.

For my sisters, my brother and I, Germany was bliss. School wasn’t all that difficult. But then again I don’t really know too many first graders who struggle because of academic pressure. There was plenty of fresh air and open space to play around in. We got our very first video game console in 1986, the ever-popular Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Because there were so many other military families around it meant there was rarely a shortage of kids to play with or invite over for a video game fest. Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt, and Excitebike, those were the only games that anyone in the neighborhood had for quite some time (we got a hold of the latest games pretty late). I remember when my mother went to visit her mother for a short time and came back with Nerds (a candy we couldn’t get in Germany) and Super Mario Brothers 2. It felt like every kid on the block wanted to come over to play Mario Brothers 2. For just a brief moment, my brother and I were kings of the block…THANKS MOMMY!

These were your classic neighborhood. Nothing was more fun than walking to your friend’s house, having his mother come to the door and asking that classic question “Can insert name come out to play?” You’d hop on your bikes and ride off into the summer sun…the joyful echos of children’s laugher permeating the air…

Germany was a place where you’d be hard-pressed find better candy: Haribo, the best, chewiest gummies in the whole wide world. The Smurf gummies were hands down the best gummy to ever see the light of day, but Germany is the only place I could find them. Kinder eggs were these delectable milk chocolate eggs with a toy that you usually had to construct. So it was a great excuse to get candy. “Mom, Dad, it’s not just the chocolate I’m after, it’s the educational experience, the development of fine motor skills…I need this!” I’m sure that’s what most six-year olds would say to their parents. Germany candy was pretty innovative, too. For example, I had that popping candy (exactly the same thing as Pop Rocks) many years before it became a small craze in the U.S.. There was candy paper, lollipop slide whistles (a candy whistle that had a blue-and-white plastic slide that allowed you to change tone and pitch when you blow into the lollipop). Sigh…what more could a child ask for?

Despite classes being pretty easy to manage, my parents would always tell us to “Do something constructive with your time.” I was always the type of kid who did what his parents told him to do. So constructive it was. Rather it was using Reader Rabbit on the Apple II e that we had back then, reading books, playing math games, or having Bible study with Mom, I tried my best to respect my parents’ wishes. My parents were big proponents of balance, too. So if we were spending to much time on academics (or on that infernally addictive NES), they would tell us to go outside and play.

The Germany years were the times where my siblings and I would squabble/get in trouble from time to time. I was 6, Derrick was 4-and-a-half, Erica was 9, and Adrienne was 11, so I’m sure you can imagine. My favorite story, it sucked at the time though, was when my brother and I overflowed the tub and were running and sliding in the water that spilled into the hallway. That wasn’t fun, was it Derrick? 😉

Germany was a wonderful experience far more ups than downs…it was truly the best of times.

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About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • zoomingjapan says:

    I found your blog through your post on Gaijinpot.
    I’m really glad to hear that you enjoyed your time in Germany as I’m German, though I’ve been living in Japan for what feels like a decade. We’re also the same age!
    I’m going to follow your blog from now on! 🙂

    • Donald Ash says:

      Oh cool! Germany, huh? I found such fond childhood memories of that place. Which city are you from? I really want to go visit sometime. I was there when the Berlin wall was still up. I’d like to see how the country has changed.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • thejapanguy says:

      Thanks for reading! I’m really happy to hear that you’re enjoying my blog. I’m also glad to hear you’re from Germany. Which city? 🙂

  • midorichan says:

    I know I am 2 years late but enjoyed reading your post. I lived in Dorf Gull as an Army Brat and went to school at Butzbach, but back in the early 80s. I was back in Germany recently and went to Dorf Gull – the old neighborhood is still there but is now 100% German. Germany is a beautiful country but Japan is definitely up there!
    Also, lived in Japan (northern) for 6 years and would happily go back.

    Your blog is really funny and entertaining 🙂

    • thejapanguy says:

      WHOA,WHOA, WHOA! Are you serious!?!? Did you really go to Butzbach
      Elementary? I just had a whole flood of great memories. NO WAY!!! You
      were in Dorfugull, too? Can I ask what years you were there? That was a
      really small, tight-knit group. I had older sisters, too, I wonder if
      you may have met them. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR POSTING…BLAST FROM THE

      You made my day. Thanks for the feedback.

      • midorichan says:

        Hi again! Yep, I was in Dorf Gull 1980-1983. Still a little before your
        time, I think. I really loved that place – my best childhood memories
        are there! There is a FB page for Butzbach Elementary that has updates
        on some of the teachers that taught there. I still remember my German
        teacher – she was a crazy, loud, vibrant lady!

        • thejapanguy says:

          That’s awesome! I’ll have to check out that Facebook page. My mother taught at Butzbach Elementary while we were living there so I got to know my teachers pretty well. I don’t know if the German teacher was the same but you’ve unlocked some memories in my brain…no joke. I remember Frau Rushling. Don’t know if the spelling is right, but something tells me it’s the same teacher…can’t really forget teachers like that. I remember this principal being Mr. Shyberg.

          What else do I remember? I remember getting snacks from the embyss stands (hope I’m saying that right): candy paper, strawberry & smurf gummies, the kind of gummies that had enough “chew” to take your teeth out! LOVED THOSE THINGS…STILL DO. Sigh…good times…good times.

          Instant friends, midorichan! 🙂

          • midorichan says:

            Yes, Frau Rushling! My brother had Frau Russ. And Mr. Shyberg was the principal for me too 🙂 My favorite teacher was Ms. Bennett – she taught 4th grade.
            I miss Germany and Dorf Gull – good memories. The backerei is still there but has been turned entirely into a home. I remember the cherry gummies I would get from the backerei and the brotchen was sooo good! Can’t get that in the US.
            So cool to find someone else who lived in Dorf Gull! And now you are in Japan! Another great place to live. Happy for you on that count as my family and have very fond memories of Japan.

            Yes, instant friends or Dorf Gull homies 😛 Take care!

  • Chi says:

    Hi! This is crazy number of years later, but it seems like I’ve been years behind you for a while. I was born in 83 as an army brat to two people from Atlanta. (They just happened to be stationed in KS for the few months surrounding my birth.) We actually went back to Atlanta before being sent to Germany, twice. The first years, I don’t really recall, being younger than 3. We returned to Atlanta, and I started elementary school, but then I went to Butzbach in the late 80s for the second half of 1st grade. I loved my third grade teacher there. Maybe you also had Mrs Froehkle (sp?)? I think my second grade teacher was Ms Brown or Ms White (I just recall her name also being a color, really). We also lived in the Dorfgull duplexes from around 88 to July 91.My memories are so vague, but I do remember it being a beautiful area. And playing with the neighborhood kids in that small playground.
    I just now found out they closed their doors! I was looking for a picture when I found this blog and thought I’d say hi!

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