Wednesday, September 30, 2009

...followed by fail

When I woke up, I wondered idly what time it was, since the alarm wasn't going off yet.

Yet. Because it was never going to. Because although I'd set it, I hadn't actually turned the damn thing on.

It was 7:35. I wasted six precious seconds staring at the clock, asking it, "Really? No, really?" before I threw on some clothes, threw what I hoped was enough stuff to "sell" the second year classes with fake money so they could practice "How much is this?" into a bag, stuck my computer in my backpack, grabbed my umbrella and hit the door. No I didn't brush my hair. That only ever makes it worse when it's raining anyway.

Because it was. Raining. The second bus comes at 7:45. But I totally caught that one. You aren't supposed to use cell phones on the bus, so I sat there wondering how best to notify the school I'd be "late" (I remember my contract saying 8:15, but I'm always there by 8).. and feeling uncommonly grateful that my classes today were 3rd through 6th periods, instead of like, 1st, for example.

I walked briskly up the drive, trying to get there fast, but not wanting to overdo it because I realized I hadn't even put on deodorant, and although I had put some on the night before after I showered in the late afternoon, I didn't really trust it to make it through me running in the steamy (albeit fairly cool) morning.

I changed out my shoes real quick and hurried toward the staff room. My second-year JTE was just exiting the room, so he stopped outside the door to let me know that the schedule was changed and we were to teach first hour. Hahahahaha. I'm sure the look on my face was without price, because the next thing he began to say was "--you need not prepare anything" but I held up the bag of stuff I'd gathered in my rush this morning and, hoping to better the situation, said with a voice full of hope, "I brought some stuff and fake money!"

And so we did it "live," that is, made it up as we went along.

The end. (except it's not, because I bet in a few hours I will smell worse and be really hungry)

Monday, September 28, 2009

As if that were not enough

(a follow up on the entry immediately previous)

The baseball team always salutes teachers as they go past, in the morning, it’s teachers on their way in, and in the afternoon, on their way out. Sometimes they manage to do it all together, all taking off their caps and executing a bow, and other times they catch it in groups as they are doing drills on the field. Either way, I didn’t really know how to handle it the first week or so. I would giggle when they did it because I didn’t understand if they meant it or not, and while all the other kids would just cheerfully chirp “Good morning!” to me, the entire baseball team would do what amounted to (as I saw it) coming to attention and saluting.

I asked Big Brother JET about it and he said they were probably just doing it to show respect. I calmed down then, and inclined my head gravely, or did a little bow of my own (while walking) and then waved hello or goodbye to them, since that was what felt natural to me.

Today, I left a little later than usual, because I thought I would have to just miss the bus and stay one extra hour. I was still getting my materials together for elementary school tomorrow, but I realized I could pack quickly and still make the 4:30 bus, so I was hurrying. I took the short(er) cut that takes you right alongside the baseball field. Today was one of the days the whole team saluted at the same time.

And Awesome-sensei took off his hat and inclined his head toward me, too. I’ve never seen him do that when I walked past, before.

I was absolutely freaking giddy at that point, but trying not to show it (in the same vein as being unwilling to show fear), trying also to catch the bus. I was also kind of high on coffee, since I’d had two cups in the morning and then a bunch of tea from lunchtime on. But if I’d had any doubts about whether I was ‘in,’ that short salute shot them down right there.

As if that hadn’t already made my freaking day, he came over to the fence as I rounded the corner (behind home plate) and spoke to me briefly, to tell me that if I have any questions or anything, it’s okay to ask him. I don’t know whether he meant in general (i.e., “Sumimasen, sensei… I can’t read my mail..”) or pertaining to classes and lesson plans, but it doesn’t really matter, because right then was when my head exploded.

Haha, I know I’m making a big deal out of this, but I think I had distilled all my fears of whether I could be good at this into the concept of impressing Awesome-sensei, and to have accomplished that goal today just makes me feel really good about my job right now, even though I am still trying to figure out exactly how to do it. Having him backing me up makes me feel like there is no question whether I will get there or not, it’s only a matter of time. I tend to look for my personal value in work, and I always have, so it’s really important to me to be doing a job at which I think I am doing pretty well, and also a job that I think is making some kind of difference. Without those things, I start to get really existential and wonder what meaning there is in anything. Melodramatic, but hey, that’s how I roll.

The first test

I just got done with my first real lesson (textbook and all) with the middle school third years, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an unqualified success, it seemed to go pretty damn well.

This is significant because the third-year English teacher, whose first name sounds like a Japanized pronunciation of “awesome,” is a total badass. He’s also a tough nut to crack, insofar as the other two JTEs have done little things like help me read my mail, give me instructions about life in the school, and even occasionally give me rides home from work. I hadn’t talked to Awesome-sensei at all in the early days, and only went into panic mode when JET-L offhandedly asked, “Oh is that the guy who like refused to work with your predecessor, at first?”


Oh. My. God. I’d heard the legends, about English teachers who didn’t want to work with ALTs, who hated their existence, who thought it was stupid to bring crazy young Americans and pay them lots of money to just be American in Japan.. who are filled with contempt for our very presence and who are Always Judging Everything We Do Wrong.

Don’t hate me ‘cause I’m white?

Awesome-sensei is the baseball coach, and the kids have what I believe to be a mix of awe, respect, and fear for him. I say this because that is what I was feeling. Lara had said he was a great teacher. He was at the school long before I arrived, and remained there long after I left. He was always demanding the best from the kids during sports day practice.

And after JET-L’s remark, I was terrified.

But then The Other Georgian came to town. She was a JET here several years ago (and is actually my great-grand-predecessor), and is the girlfriend of my Big Brother JET. Confused yet? Anyway, she had fond memories of working with Awesome-sensei, which she related to me. She told me that with him, you’re either in, or you’re out, and it just takes time to get there. She said he once spent ten minutes every class period giving all the students a stern talking-to about respecting her because she “came all the way from America to teach you punks,” basically.

By contrast, he didn’t even invite my grand-predecessor to class until six months into his contract.

The Other Georgian’s word heartened me considerably. Firstly, they reassured me that he was not against JETs in principle. Secondly, she asked if I had been allowed to go to class with him yet, to which the answer was a surprised “Well, yeah..” Having confidence in my ability to eventually work my way “in” allowed me to relax more, and essentially speed the process. Because being terrified was not helping my teaching game.

So just a minute ago, Awesome-sensei and I walked back from the last class of the day. He thanked me for today’s lesson, and I thanked him for letting me come to class. Because really. Then he reminded me about class Friday.


I have a tendency to do this.. I get all worked up over someone I really want to impress, and then begin to feel like it’s never going to work (because of all the slip-ups and awkward things I do).. and then I work hard, and it happens, and I’m always a little surprised, though I probably need not be. This is how it went with Professor Drews, too, when I first took a class with him at Vandy. He would call on me in class and I’d give such stupid answers.. then we had our first test.

Anyway, today was good, and I hope to continue to work well with all my JTEs.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

For 3rd-years (9th graders)

I just sat here for about and hour looking around, staring at the 3rd-year textbook, surfing over websites, and brainstorming. I have at last come up with what I think would be a really fun idea for the third-year class to use the points I am supposed to cover. For now I'll call it "my-friends Bingo charades" for the first (present active participles - verbal adjectives), and "Dutch auction" for the second (perfect passive participles - more verbal adjectives).

But I really don't think both activities will fit into the time I have, in addition to the reading and translating the lesson.


Now, I may choose one. The problem is, I think I am supposed to teach both points.

For the first game, each student would fill in a 4x4 bingo board with classmates' names (plus me, if not enough kids). Then, each student would draw a random a slip of paper with a command on it, but not show it to the other kids. I would draw one at a time, slips of the same commands.. so I would pull "bow to Nakata-sensei," and the kid with that slip would do the action. Everyone else would mark that kid off their bingo board and we all say "The person bowing to Nakata-sensei is ____." Whoever gets bingo first wins, but has to tell me each of the people's attributes in sentence form (tense notwithstanding). So, "The person bowing to Nakata-sensei is.... the boy reading a book is.... the girl playing a video game is.... " etc.

The Dutch auction is like something I played once at a camp. The "auctioneer" describes an item and then a representative from each group runs that item up, a point going to the first team to bring the correct kind of item. So, I would say "I want a book written by John Buchan," or "I want a pencil made in Japan." The trick should be more about recognizing the differences in similar items.. so I'm bringing in some little books I snagged for free from Tokyo orientation by different authors and giving every group a copy of each of several, so they can't just bring me any old book.. it has to be "written by..." or whatever. Some of them they can produce on the spot, like "I want a student's name written in cursive."

If you have a vote for which of these points is more important, or which of these games is more fun, let me know so I can lean toward that tomorrow morning.

Tourist Mode 2.0

Yesterday, I reverted into tourist mode again and went to the nearby Himeji castle for a look-see. I was determined to take in views of the castle before it gets all covered in scaffolding. I hadn’t thought much about it until last week, when the ex-ALT (a guy who did not recontract, but who has decided to stay in our town anyway) said “Oh yeah, the scaffold thing. They’ve already started that.”


I paged through my planner with vigor, searching for a weekend wherein I could take the 45 minute drive down to this White Crane Castle. I’m pretty booked for the next couple of months, it turns out.. birthday parties, Cirqu du Soleil, international festivals and speech contests.. trips to places like Hiroshima, Kyoto… then Halloween… this is amazing to me, to begin with, but I’ve also fixed “October” in my mind as the time when the castle gets covered up by workmen’s materials.


But then, luckily, fellow JETs informed me that our plans to go to Tajima Car Rally were actually for Sunday only, and that they were kind of iffy anyway. So I sent out a mass email, and went down to Himeji with JET-L. We toured the castle just before closing time, and walked around the adjacent park for a while, before we went to a used bookstore selling books in English and had dinner of Iranian food. Last stop was the three-story hyaku-en store where I bought way too much crap and had to haul it (plates, cups, and bowls) back to the car.

But our touristy Himeji day was nice. If I get a chance to go and do it again, this time without going inside the castle, just visiting the ten “best viewing spots,” I shall. It’ll be a shame when that exterior view is covered for seven years.

They HAD begun to set up scaffolding, but just on one of the outbuildings. No panic.. yet.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fever Watch

There’s a board by the front door of the teachers’ office where they have been keeping track of sick students. Who from what class is absent, and with a fever, or not, influenza, or not.

I’m rather surprised that omgSwineFlu, which had such an impact on my summer experience that we dubbed it “Swine 09” and I have the t-shirt to prove it, is still around and is still a problem. For some reason, I expected the flu to be under control by now, or that no one would be worried about it anymore.

I never knew that remembering the word “fever” in Japanese would be so useful, nor did I imagine I’d hear “in-furu-enza” so often, here.

I thought maybe the fever watch board was just part of the way Japanese schools are so involved in the lives of their students. But, according to my fellow JETs, this is new.. they don’t normally do this.

Oh SwineFlu, why must you make life difficult?

Well I suppose that this, like the typhoon and economy issues, is just further proof that 2012 had to start somewhere, and 2009 was just far enough out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Elementary School

I wrote part of this entry in the office at Kanbe Elementary, having just finished my third partial day of elementary “English activities.” That day, I worked only with 2nd and 3rd grades, because the schedule was all screwed up here in favor of Sports Day, much as it was at the middle school pretty much the previous two weeks.

My elementary teaching experience has been similar to the elementary substitute teaching experience in some ways (I’m totally exhausted by the end, for one), and completely different in others. I remember very clearly deciding that I am not cut out to be a teacher of very young learners (ages 5-7, thereabouts). But, if all you want me to do is sit on the floor and play English games with them, then I’ll be okay.

In reality, being an assistant language teacher in elementary school is totally different from subbing. I design the lessons myself, and am basically left to my own devices on that. The aim of including me at the elementary level is not actually to teach English hardcore. There aren’t tests, and for the most part, no textbooks.

The 5th and 6th graders have textbooks, and that started just earlier this year (school year starts in April). So they may actually have English grades, but even in that case, my job is merely to do “English activities” which will hopefully make the kids more receptive to English for their upcoming middle school (and eventual high school) careers.

I’m not responsible for discipline in the classroom, and so far I’ve relied pretty heavily on the homeroom teachers (or in the case of 5th and 6th grade, the English teacher) to know the students. For all of my elementary lessons, I’ve planned at least three activities. We normally finish about one game in addition to my “self-introduction,” which has become more interactive over time. Instead of just telling them stuff, I hold up my photo cards (and I’m glad, by now, to have laminated them) and ask “What’s this?” or “Who is this?” and have them guess. Usually they shout it out right away in Japanese (I hold up Karma and they say “INU!”) and I try to coax them to say the English word. “Dog.” “Great! Very good. Now, what color is she?” If they don’t know what “color” means, or don’t understand the question, I say “She is shiroi, right? What is shiroi in English?” …Someone will eventually say “white!”

It’s pretty hilarious that almost without fail, every time I get to the second photo (the first being of me and my parents) and ask “Who is this?” there is a huge chorus of “KARESHI!” (boyfriend!).. “No. Family.” Today they were obsessed. This denial was followed by “Koibito?” (another word for boyfriend) and then even “Boifurendo?”

sibsOh, brother.

They all think he is really cool. And don’t really believe that he is younger because he is so freaking tall.

Only a few of the classes have shown the proper amount of shock appreciation for how many cousins, aunts, and uncles I have. The best reaction was today’s third graders.

Their number one favorite picture of all time has turned out (so far) to be this one, from GHP:


They just freaking love Harry Potter and all gather at the front desk once class ends to identify characters and to find me hidden in there as Hermione.

After the self-intro I let them ask questions, and they’ve asked a lot of “what is your favorite…?” types of questions. Usually in Japanese, but I would just reply in English.

After my entirely photo-driven self-intro, we have played a game called “pass the ball.” We all sit in a circle on the floor and pass around this soccer ball thing I got at the hyaku-en (see: dollar) store. When the music (because there’s music playing.. Disney Hits, of course) stops, whoever is holding the ball has to stand up and say “Hello, my name is [your name here].” This is more complicated than it seems, because I have to convey that I want them to say their personal name, the one I will call them.. in America, the “first name.” I sit in the circle and play too, and have the teacher man the CD player. This way, they can control where the ball stops, and maybe have the more outspoken students go first, but also make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.

The kids, regardless of age, have basically freaked out during this game. Whenever the ball stops, they get really excited and laugh and point and often shout out who they think was holding it at the exact moment the music stopped. So, usually I get to hear the kid’s name chanted before they have to say it to me. But on the occasion that I can’t hear them (they tend to say “Hello, my name is” fairly slowly, then their name at like freakin rocket speed) I do have them say it again. It was planned as an attempt to learn their names, but I admit the success rate of my personal mental retention has been really low.

So generally, this game has taken the rest of class. In the first few times I did this, where it did not, we would play a game of changing seats based on the kids’ birthday months. 6th graders have recently (in their textbooks) learned months and birthday information, so we played fruits basket, only it was “months basket,” and if the center person called out the month in which you were born, you had to stand up and try to find another seat.

And that’s been my lesson in elementary, so far. But that’s only part of the experience.

I’m assigned to two different elementary school, which vary vastly in size. Somegochi, which is more remote, has 60 students. This is only six more kids than Kanbe has in the 5th grade alone. Somegochi students, therefore, tend to receive a little more personal attention, as the average class size is about 10. I managed to learn almost all the first graders names within the first five minutes (there are seven kids in that class). On the whole, the student population at Somegochi felt a lot calmer, but that could have just been the sheer overwhelming numbers of Kanbe.

My only day at Somegochi, I taught combined classes (1st and 2nd grade together, 3rd and 4th together, 5th and 6th together). The dynamics of any games I plan for them from here will have to take into account the smaller class size, though, as from here forward, most of them will be taught individually by year.

At lunchtime, I ate with the 5th graders, and played a pick-up game of volleyball with them afterward. The afternoon was slated for Sports Day practice (tell me you’re seeing a theme, here), so after my three classes, I got to watch their preparations. Different in scale from the middle school, of course.


IMG_2723Sports Day Practice at Some

IMG_2724Those are like.. harmonica keyboards. And those be-hatted tiny people in the background are kindergarteners watching.

IMG_2728Inside the gym, the sixth graders are in charge.

IMG_2729    Those two in the middle are a couple of the first graders. Sixth graders still in charge.

All the classes I had at Somegochi were well attended by the HR teachers, who played along with my games and interacted with the students and me together. The first grade teacher there speaks English really well, so if I ever need language help, she’s my go-to. My English-teaching partner, however, being less proficient in English, kept apologizing for not knowing my language. I wanted to be like, “Whaaat? Listen, I came to this freaking country. I should have learned better Japanese first. This was my responsibility, not your fault.” ..but alas, I do not yet know how to say such things in Japanese. You see the irony, I’m sure.

Kanbe students, being more numerous, are also often louder. I still had all the teachers participating, although some of them were more involved than others. The kids’ energy helped carry the introduction forward at a good pace and made the games really fun, though.

My schedule at Kanbe is a bit different. I go in just the mornings on some Thursdays, to teach just 5th and 6th grade. Tuesdays are for grades 1 – 4. So I’ll be there more often than at Somegochi, because there are so many more classes to meet.

Both times I’ve been there so far, this ridiculously adorable first (?) year girl has come up to me in the teachers’ office to tell me I’m cute. The first time she introduced herself in English with the full my-name-is sentence. The second time, which happened to be shortly after the JET upstairs cut my hair, she pointed at my hair and kept saying that it was cute, saying “cute hair,” in Japanese. I had no idea what to do. … “Whaaat? No, man, no. YOU are cute. Not me, you.” Since Kanbe is right next to Minamichu, I have also seen her when I was on my way to the middle school. She said, “Emi-sensei, where are you going?” in Japanese. She is one of the highlights of my plane of work existence.

I’m still not in the flow of elementary school lessons, since I just started and have only done my self-intro thing. I am thinking about trying to create an overview plan of what themes to build into the lessons each month across the board.. like “colors,” “numbers and counting,” “family,” “animals,” “food,” etc. Games for learning vocab, songs, and other such activities to be devised (and/or pirated from Lara’s old plans, the interwebs, and that sweet Planet Eigo book) based on the theme.

I don’t know. Suggestions welcome.

Cultural Interest City Weekend: Kyoto

I began the “weekend” calling it this because almost exactly two years previous, I’d taken the train from Rome to Florence for the weekend (free museum weekend!). That blog entry (sadly, without photos) is here. Part 2 of it is here. And the photos are on facebook, but I don’t know that you can see them if we are not “friends.”

Anyway, I’m going to give a brief overview of the places I went so I can come back later with photos and “moments.” I don’t want to do one massive entry, but rather, shorter little windows into what was a simply magical weekend.

What you should know beforehand is: Kyoto is the ‘old capital’ – Tokyo, of course, is the current capital, so it’s the biggest and has the administrative center.. Kyoto is smaller and is often thought of as the cultural capital. It’s so full of shrines and temples, they just don’t put all of them on the maps. I requested to be placed in Kyoto as JET, and am glad to be fairly close (two hour bus ride, not so bad).

When I was at Vandy, I lived in McTyeire Hall, the language learning dorm (in the Japanese hall, a’course). My first year there, our hall coordinator was Nami-san, our favorite among them. She now lives in Kyoto, which is actually where she grew up.

She set me up a reservation at a “guest house,” although I had no idea what a guest house was, and arranged to meet my bus when it arrived at Kyoto station. There are four buses a day from my town to Kyoto, one at 8am, one at 9:30, one at 11:00, and one at like 4 in the afternoon.

We had an extra long weekend, because three holidays in a row (21st - Respect for the Aged Day, 23rd - Autumnal Equinox Day... the 22nd in between is listed as simply "National Holiday") fell right after a weekend. “Silver Week,” as it’s called, turned out almost like “Golden Week,” which happens in May. Basically, I was off work Monday – Wednesday. I was to spend Sunday – Tuesday in Kyoto.

When I do “moments” entries from this Kyoto trip, I’ll tag them as “Kyoto 1.”

Day 1:

  • Bus to Kyoto, arrives around 12:30 (almost an hour late, because of traffic)
  • Lunch at 536 year old soba shop
  • Tiny temple to King of Heaven (judgement!)
  • Ryoanji Temple
  • Sweets shop for Kyoto omiyage
  • Yasaka Shrine
  • Specialty dinner at restaurant somewhere outside of park behind Yasaka

Day 2:

  • Kinkakuji Temple
  • Small driving tour of Nami-san’s home area
  • Lunch at Saint Marc, bakery kind of place
  • Toji Temple
  • Fushimi Inari Shrine
  • Ramen, gyoza, and donburi dinner

Day 3:

  • Kiyomizudera Temple
  • Gion area
  • Chinese buffet lunch with Nami-san’s mom
  • Walk along Kamo river
  • Kyoto station for maps, coffee at Cafe Veloce
  • Bus back home

All told, the magic was partly Kyoto, partly the company (most of the time, Nami-san and her friend Hiroshi-san, who has a car and was willing to drive us all over town those first two days). Probably largely the company. The pace was perfect, without that desperate tone of those who think they’ll not be back (…the fact that I want to label this “Kyoto 1” should suggest my future plans).. we meandered through our tourist locales, pausing to take photos, or just gaze at whatever happened to be before us. Hiroshi-san was full of knowledge about the sites and Japanese cultural tips in general, and Nami-san was a wonderful translator (she really is bilingual.. I mean, fluent in both English and Japanese!). She is so generous of spirit, and both my guide-companions are good-natured and kind. When you get three laid-back and easygoing, happy people together on a gorgeous, temperate day in a gorgeous, historic city, I don’t know what else one would expect than magic.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sports Day

After my very first morning of teaching classes (the high-powered 5th and 6th graders of Kanbe), I was fairly tired, and looking forward to an afternoon of slow-paced reading of educational theory in my little desk chair, where I’d spent so many long and tedious hours doing that very thing (among others, most of which were work related, I swear).
Unfortunately for me, we had surprise Sports Day practice. I was probably the only one that was surprised; it was probably written on the front board for a week, and the students probably know by rote how these things go. But for me, surprise practice.
They told me this after I’d carefully consumed my entire lunch, whole milk and all, and wanted above all things a nap.
So it began. That first day was a struggle to stay awake as I hid beneath the single tent from the rays of the afternoon sun.
 IMG_2659 They were practicing the march in class formation, although I didn’t know it then. This is exactly as hot and dusty as it looks.
Every afternoon from this day (9/3) forward was occupied by Sports Day practice. And then, from about the 7th on, these were all-day affairs. I quickly learned to equip myself with a hat and sunscreen and even “sportswear” to enable my own personal standing around in the dusty hot sunshine and thus increase my badass points in the eyes of all the rest of the staff and students. If I didn’t suffer with them, what kind of part-of-the-school-family could I ever hope to be?
So I did, and as practice day followed practice day, I began to bear witness to a bunch of games and traditions that blew my mind. It turned out my struggle to stay awake the first day was not going to be unique, but a recurrent after-lunch problem, even when I was standing up. So I got moving and tried to follow along with what they were doing. I learned a little bit of the folk dance. And when they started playing “mass games” (?) I became an avid photographer of what I hope some returning RAs will bring to GHP.
The girls all did a game which I came to call “tug of war without a rope.” It’s actually kind of a strategy game. It starts with these wooden posts (red and blue ends for red and blue teams) all lined up on the ground. At the starting gun, the girls run to tug-of-war style get them back to their side of the field. But they aren’t assigned any particular post, so they just go for whatever they want. And can switch at any time. So, once they’ve wrested one across the line (or lost), they can run back and help their teammates with whatever is still in contention.
IMG_2737Lined up

IMG_2741And.. go!


IMG_2745 Win!
I stared, amazed, at their field day games. The boys have their own game after this one. I called it “Human Pyramid Hat Chicken Fights Without a Pool.”
They form up into these mini and mobile pyramids, the top kid wearing a red or white hat. The first part of the game, they go free-for-all and just try to tear the hats off their foes. Then there is a series of organized matches. I think you win if your opponent either loses his hat, falls off the pyramid, or is pushed out of the ring. It a way I guess it’s like sumo. The free-for-all struck me, in general, as being pretty awesome hilarious.
IMG_2749Red team lined up…
IMG_2750 White team lined up…
IMG_2751They circle…
IMG_2752 And clash! Like titans!
IMG_2753 Victory! (This is my number-one cool guy, by the by)
 IMG_2755 A match is started, refs and all.
IMG_2756 We have a winner!
On the same day I first saw this practice, they did on the field the dance I’d only seen practiced in the gym:
IMG_2760 At most schools, apparently, the girls do the folk dance while the boys do some kind of pyramid. But at my school it’s traditional for them to all do the dance together. Minami gender equality win?
On the 10th, the morning was a lot cooler, thank goodness, thank goodness, amen.
During the mid-morning break, the boys wet the field. I assumed it was to keep down the dust, but they said it was hot. I guess it is hot, if you’re running around and doing the crazy games they were playing.
Speaking of which… I got to see more sweet spectacle Friday, which was kind of a dress rehearsal. More tents appeared, and kids started wearing their team colors. But they did a run-through of all the games.
There was… MASS JUMP ROPE!
IMG_2784Red team
IMG_2783Blue team
Neighborhood relay races!
The "Jump! Duck!” relay… in this one, the kids ran across the field, made this big bamboo pole move like a clock hand around a cone, then a second cone, then everyone in line had to first jump over it as two runners brought it through the line underneath, and then everyone had to duck under it as they ran it back to the front of the line for the next to run. Does that explanation make any sense at all??
IMG_2804     IMG_2801
Next, they trooped out for what I thought was going to be a three-legged race…
IMG_2806 …but it turned out that their legs being tied together was just to make it more difficult for them to run and “become the bridge” for the one kid walking across everyone’s back. Yes really.
Then there was the “Catapult Bucket Relay”
And then my personal favorite, the “Mukade Relay.” That’s it’s real name, and it means centipede. Ten kids all get their legs tied together like so:
IMG_2831  Then, they race. Relay style. The concept is simple, but I’m sad I didn’t have my camera battery charged on the first day they started practicing it. By Friday, they had the timing down so that there were a hell of a lot fewer ten-kid-pileups. So you’ll have to use your imagination when I tell you it was absolutely hilarious whenever they occurred. My very favorite time was when the person in the back somehow fell down (usually, being last was very lucky.. the front guy always got buried beneath the rest of the kids) and got dragged for a very short span, before the drag pulled the feet of everyone else out from under them and they all fell forward.
There is a reason these kids are wearing their long pants for just this event.
Sports Day was Sunday. I didn’t go on Saturday (I had work Tuesday at elementary… there is some kind of rule that I have to have two days off each week, and so they gave me Saturday in addition to Monday), but it rained all. day. long. on Saturday anyway. Which turned out to be a very good thing, because Sunday came and was a lot cooler and less dusty than any of the practice days I’d seen so far.
IMG_2841 There was also a crapload of new tents! And festive decorations!
The events went off mostly as I’d seen them through the morning. I had been periodically included in the practice of the second set of dances, which is why there are never pictures of the “Oklahoma Mixer,” or that other dance. Descriptively named by Lee as “the skippy dance,” and “the clappy dance.” I wasn’t terribly surprised when they put me in them for the real Sports Day.
IMG_2899Announcement and music center.
The band teacher had asked me to do the introduction of the marching segment, playing their medley of Pirates of the Caribbean music. During practice, I announced it regularly, but I had an idea after speaking into the mic, and asked the band teacher if I could do it in a “"pirate voice.” I demonstrated this voice and she said, “Yes please.” in Japanese. I couldn’t tell if she was serious. I polled some other teachers who all thought it would be really cool if I did that.
So, I did. Yarr. And laughed because on Sports Day, there were a bunch of parents and stuff gathered, and I wonder what they thought. “Where the HELL is that new JET from?!”
I was terrified that they would put me into one of the races, maybe just to even up numbers or something, and that I would be beaten soundly by twelve-year-old girls, but they thankfully did not torment me in this way.
They had other, more creative plans.
 IMG_2919 Our hero stands in line wondering what the hell is going on.
I even asked a student walking by what exactly I was supposed to do, because I got roped into this with no idea. The only reason there are photos is because I actually still had my camera in hand and passed it off for safekeeping to one of the other teachers.
IMG_2920Oh, it’s a ring-rolling-relay. Awesome. Our hero prepares.
IMG_2921  That is our hero now, being LAST while this Japanese cameraman watches her struggle.
And, actually, there were more surprise games that involved what I can only assume were parents, neighbors, and PTA members, along with staff (even the ring relay involved the principal of one of my elementary schools..?).
The “Cone-Face Soccer Ramune-Chug Relay” was for adults only, and required those involved to dribble a soccer ball down the field while looking through a cone, chug a ramune (I think it was ramune. It was some kind of drink that has a little ball inside.. to open the drink, you pop the ball into the bottle; then the little ball keeps trying to settle back in and block the opening, if you happen to have it upturned and chugging. Maybe it was a child spill-proofing?), and soccer it back to the next person in line.
IMG_2957The guy in the red shirt with the blue banner is one of my JTEs, whose name sounds to me like “Awesome” and of whom I am a little scared. Everything he does is epic.
Then, the “Jump! Duck!” relay turned out to be something that the kids’ parents did with them, as well as the catapult bucket relay. There was a tug-of war for just the adults. My main JTE’s class actually won the centipede relay, too! I took some video footage of a few events, but I think this is enough for now.
We even had the field cleared in record time. I only missed my bus by five minutes, which means I only had fifty-five minutes to wait for the next one. Nah, Sports Day was pretty fun. And someone even drove me home after only thirty-five.
IMG_3135 Tents, chairs, tape, field markers, food vendors… GONE.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Robin Red

EDIT: I've gotten a good question in the comments which I'd like to answer here. I had intended to answer it in the entry proper, but was in a rush to post it before I went home (...because the last four days or so have been as overprogrammed as my high school and college lives.. seriously, directly from one class/activity to the next, and a little time for homework at the end).

So! Robin is a "rental," or so they call it here. It's more like a lease situation, because it's a rent-by-month instead of the way we rent-a-car for a few days in the US. She's around 150 a month, which includes insurance and all the maintenance, which honestly does wonders for my peace of mind. I was bad enough at stressing over English-speaking Jill, so I'm glad to hear that whenever Robin has any issues, all I have to do is bring her to her home and they'll handle it. They've also told me they will install a CD player soon, and snow tires in the winter.

And, even though she's a K-car, she's 4-wheel-drive. People have commented "you can drive her off-road!" ... sure. But then, I took my 96 Geo Prism off road, too. So..

Got a car. ^_^

On September 8th, actually. Bright red and shiny-new-looking, at least compared to what I’m used to.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the woodland creature beast that Jill became this summer. I miss her, even. But Robin Red has a different kind of charm which I’m still, admittedly, figuring out.

IMG_2736 Pretty!

Yes, in Japan we drive on the left side of the road, which still freaks me out from time to time. And we sit in the right side of the car. Which is even weirder.


People in Japan back into their parking spots A LOT. I did it this time because of the direction I happened to be going when I got home.

Robin is a K-car, which means she has a scooter engine, basically.. not much power. Good brakes though.

But, what a car is, is freedom. And I intend to enjoy mine. I’m one of only a few JETs currently legally allowed to drive…

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I’ve got some sweet entries lined up and half done, about Sports Day and about elementary school.. but right now I’d just like to note that I am currently eating breakfast before my first day of middle school classes.
I don’t think I could truly have felt prepared.. still, I’m freaked out and hoping for the best. My first day happens to be working with the one teacher I haven’t really talked to much this whole month. I have no idea how he’ll be in the classroom.
Frankly, I have no idea how the other two are in class either. There will be four classes, all of around 14 students today (they split the class in half for English, or maybe just for JET days?)… so keeping them in line shouldn’t be an issue.
Okay. I could have prepared better. I could have printed out all the handouts already. And I could have located and tested a projector.
I can do it without the projector.. I just have a much sweeter and larger photo collection when I can include digital shots.
But there’s probably no way we’ll have time for my “activity” if we include all my digital stuff, so… maybe the projector thing won’t work out, and that’ll be okay too.
In conclusion, omg omg omg.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Every day is field day

Well if I haven't been just swamped with nonessential work!

Still, "Sports Day" is Sunday, so perhaps after that, things will settle into some kind of routine. I want to write about elementary school, and also about sports day practice. Unfortunately, things like sports day practice are taking ALL of my time and requiring me to go stand outside for hours on end.

Yes, I remembered to bring sunscreen. Today, anyway. I've totally given up on dressing professional for work and have traded in my skirt and blouse for a t-shirt, yoga pants, and one of my various hats.

After things like sports day practice, which is the opposite of sitting at my desk with free time to lesson-plan, study Japanese, read teaching theory, blog, etc., all I want to do is go home and lie around. But I still have to do those elementary plans, and eikaiwa (Salamander) too! And get ready for my first middle school lesson.. which has yet to occur. It's due up on the 16th. After that, I should be teaching about four classes a day (out of six possible time periods), so I'll find a kind of rhythm.

So if you're expecting a letter, a phone call, a skype date.. keep expecting. It should be better soon. So I tell myself.

In the meantime, I got a car, and am making decisions like, should I go home for Christmas, or to Thailand? Can I do either of those with friends on their way to visit ME? Should I go to Tokyo, Kyoto, or Korea for September break? Should I stay a second year?

All this, and more.. while I stand in the hot sunshine wishing for Sunday.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Real Japanese Karaoke?

Immediately preceding “morning on the mountain” was karaoke night, in which participated almost all the JETs of Shiso, including our two departing (my predecessor Lara, and Ryan’s pred George), our two new high school JETs, and lacking only the guy who is assigned to the most remote of the junior high schools in town.

It was everything you could want it to be.


We were at it for four hours. All screaming along at the top of our lungs.




Aside from the fact that we did DSB faaaar too early, this night was the best karaoke experience I have ever had.




In Japan, karaoke generally happens in a little room you rent with your friends for some period of time. You can input your selections electronically and they play through the system in your room. You only have to hear the songs you and your friends want, and you don’t have to embarrass yourself in front of strangers. These people clearly invented this system a certain way for a reason.

I was proud to note that we were about on par with the rooms I passed on the way to the bathroom, all of them filled with real Japanese people doing real Japanese karaoke. Just because we were singing in English, we were no less loud and no more on key.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Inside my Domicile

In a recent letter, my friend asked why I hadn’t yet put up any photos of the interior of my house. The reasons are simple:
1. I hadn’t really thought about it yet.
2. It’s a work in progress. I don’t have much aside from what Lara left for me.
3. It’s really hard to get a telling angle on anything. Even when Lara sent me photos, I was completely unable to picture the place until I got here and saw it myself.
So I figured I’d go one better. I took a VIDEO TOUR for you!
Let’s watch!

Part two!

And, since my camera was flashing red numbers at me which turned out to be the memory card filling up (for the first time in its history?), here is PART THREE!
Let’s watch more!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Myst and the morning on the mountain

Because of a few photos I’d posted to my facebook profile, one of my friends made the comment that I’d moved to Myst.

In fact, sometimes it feels just like that. As I put together understanding, bit by bit, of my workplace, I begin to discover the many ways that my predecessor Lara left so many clues to help me figure things out.

I feel sort of like she’s Atrus, and has strategically placed information around that only makes sense after certain events have occurred. I don’t know what half of the stuff under my desk is for until I get to elementary school and am suddenly using it.

There are print copies of nearly all her lessons for both elementary and middle school. I put together my first 5th and 6th grade lesson from the notes of her last lessons, her first lesson, and the first lesson of the school year, in April.

As for the Myst pictures, those were from my “morning on the mountain,” the last day before Lara, my predecessor left this town. It was a nice, reflective way to spend a Saturday morning (two weeks ago).

IMG_2555 This is the track that takes you up to the top. It looks like a roller coaster, but don’t get excited. It’s the slowest roller coaster of all time.

IMG_2564Ferns, mountainside.


IMG_2571 Our town from above.


IMG_2594  Contemplation.


IMG_2578 The mountaintop structure, which is sufficiently Myst-like, and which, seen from far below, prompted Lara to wonder, what exactly is that, and how do we get to it? Leading to this lovely morning.



My predecessor and I seem to be alike in a lot of ways. Even our personalities mesh. I wonder if I was hired for her position for that very reason? Or if it’s just coincidence.