Monday, October 26, 2009

The Aki Matsuri IS kind of weird

but also all kinds of awesome.

I had been hearing about this festival for a while before it happened (October 16th). There were little colored poles along the road to work from about October 1st, and someone told me they were showing the routes of the different colors. That the different colors each carried a portable shrine called Omikoshi through the streets of Ichinomiya.

I was also told they pelt the onlookers with mochi, and that even though I couldn’t go down to the shrine, being at work all day, I would see Omikoshi because they would carry it up to our school.

They did not tell me I would get to see all five, nor that the entire day would be rife with anticipation because you can hear their drums from afar. Nor that the Omikoshi are so freaking huge that four dudes sit inside (they are the drummers).

All morning, you could hear the sound of drums in the distance, a stead thump-thumping. I think that was maybe my favorite part, because it meant something was about to happen.

After the first period class, Awesome-sensei told me I could go down to see the festival, when it came to the school. I asked when that would be, but even as he answered “Maybe in about five minutes,” I saw through the window behind him the first couple of dudes, wearing bright orange jackets in the morning light, coming up the path.

I basically dashed down the hallway to get my shoes and my camera, and met most of the school population outside as the rest of the orange guys followed these scouts, toting the omikoshi.

IMG_4643The kindergarteners from across the way were out and ready. I thought this was really cute: this is one of our students with, I think, his younger sibling.


The orange guys drafted a few of our students to be part of their omikoshi lifting excercise dance thingy. When they moved toward the kindergarteners, there was a high pitched squeal of terror and glee. Basically, some kind of Halloween was happening.


Did I mention that the dudes carrying this thing are basically naked? Nah, they’re not. But they are wearing fundoshi, which is a traditional piece of clothing, kind of like what sumo guys wear for matches. At 9:30 in the morning, this is a cold idea.


IMG_4674You can kind of see one of the four drummers in this one.

Well, eventually orange guys left so our students could have broom-water fights. I went back to class, happy that we were on the orange route.

You could still hear the drums. They got louder. I thought maybe the dudes did a sort of circuit of the neighborhood and were passing back by, because the drums were getting really close and loud. The next thing I knew, Awesome-sensei was giving the class the nod and saying “Oh, just go.” So we all took off down the hall again, grabbed our outside shoes again, and this time it was yellow.


One of the drummers hangs out.

IMG_4704They all had on those sweet ninja shoes.


Then before yellow had even left, green showed up! And for a second I thought there was going to be a brawl, Sharks-and-Jets style, only with teams hefting and crashing omikoshi.

But no, that only happens in Himeji, not Ichinomiya.

So the green guys did their thing, and it was cool too. Some of our students had discovered I was toting a camera, so they got me to take their picture on the omikoshi.


Then pink showed up too, shortly after.


Their shirts say “Aguro” which makes me think of ex-roommate. Because the first kanji means kind, and the second means black.


Lastly, there was blue.

IMG_4769 The guys with pants on are some of our students who are actually part of the team. Pretty sweet, eh?

I missed out on being pelted with mochi, because apparently that happens down at the actual shrine/festival area. My bus took an extra half hour to get through that area. I wish I’d had my camera ready when I watched a dude saunter across the road in front of the bus, pantsless, a cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where Your Feet Are

Be where your feet are.
Wait, does that sound familiar to anyone else?

I've been more than a little distracted for a while now. I'll give you more details in person or something, but for now suffice to say that the sitcom that is my personal life had some kind of epic season finale (complete with potential cliffhangers) this weekend. At the same time, it was a working weekend (Sunday was International Festival, Monday afternoon speech contest, Monday night was the Sequim farewell party, etc.)... so I and my cohort have been extraordinarily busy even just with that.

And when I wasn't busy with work, I was busy complaining about work, preparing for work, or bitching about that sitcom bullshit that all happened in a row (seriously, it's great.. my life = ridiculous, squared). I had basically no time to do things like wash my dishes, put away the laundry that has been dry since Saturday, clear off the table, etc.

Today started out in an existential funk, the kind of day where you don't really know what anything is worth. I spent the whole morning hating life for no reason and pretending to be super excited and genki for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders about Halloween.

Try explaining to kids who don't speak your language that one night a year, all the kids in your country put on ridiculous clothes, go knock on other people's doors, yell "Trick or treat" at them and expect to receive candy. And you thought the akimatsuri was weird (okay, you haven't had a chance yet to think it's weird because that was last Friday and I haven't had a chance to post the photos yet... haha).

Anyway, after lunch I put my face down on my desk and zoned out completely until it was cleaning time. I wordlessly swept almost the entire genkan (students' entrance) and left piles of dust for the kids around me to dustpan. Somehow, my last class of the day was the best (again, even though last time I was at the Small Elementary, and today I was at the Big Elementary).. I suspect their awesome homeroom teacher. At the end, they gave me stuff they made for my birthday. It was pretty much the most amazing birthday card(s) I have ever seen. And I was thinking.. there are kids here, and they want my attention too.

And then it was dismissal time, and kids were literally crawling all over me, and I was giving them hugs and high-fives, and they were.. like.. hitting my arms too (I gave blood Sunday, and one of them kept hitting me right in the crook of my elbow.. ow, kid!), but then I was laughing, and looking at the way the sun was cast over the mountains, and the trees in the background were reddening as fall deepens, and all of that sitcom crap seemed very far away (because, um, it is far away. Freaking America), and there were these kids, and they loved me. And the one of them was dragging me across the field, and I wasn't wearing good shoes to be jogging after her, and I didn't know where we were going, or if we had time before we had to line up and dismiss, but we got to the edge of the field and she said, "Look. It's probably the last cherry blossoms of the year," and it was so cool, these little flowers here and there on this otherwise totally barren tree. And then my heart was in the same town as my feet, and I felt a lot better.

Because yeah, I did need to spend some time being upset about the drama. But for better or worse, this is where I am. Yamasaki town and Ichinomiya town are my towns. It does me no good for my confused heart to wander anywhere far from my feet. It only leaves me spaced out and sad.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hiroshima Weekend

Spent another weekend on the travel-side. This time, Hiroshima.

Here is the breakdown of how that went:

Day 1 (Saturday):

Once we’ve got gas and directions, we leave by about 10. This is a roadtrip, so we caravan because we can’t all fit into one car. We take the expressway, which is like a hella expensive toll road (4750 to get to Hiroshima from our town), but cheaper than taking the Shinkansen (bullet train), especially when we split the cost. The mountain drive is absolutely gorgeous in the bright cool morning sunshine. After a few rest-area stops, caravan-style, we were in Hiroshima.

We arrived in the early afternoon, and quickly made our way to the sake festival outside of town, which is the reason we’ve gone this weekend. It was already in full-swing. We eat our way down the sidewalk (various meats on sticks, fried junk foods, etc.) to the actual sake-sample park, and some people inside are already passed out on the ground. It’s like 4pm or something. We start drinking sake, but I personally take it slow, partly because I don’t love the taste of sake and never have. Partly because, um, it’s like 4pm and I don’t want to be drunk.

There were a lot of foreigners at the festival (surprise?), and it was a beautiful afternoon. Half our group disappeared for a bit, but Jacquel (a girl from our Nashville departing group) turned up, so Heke and I talked to her for a bit. Then I was somehow eating udon by myself (it got chilly, so I grabbed a warm bite) and two Japanese guys invited me to share their table. They turned out to be medical students in Hiroshima, and really nice guys. Heke and I invited them to karaoke with us later, once the festival was over at 9 or so. Eventually we found our compatriots and made our various-states-of-sober way up to the train station. The train ride back was hard, being totally full of loud drunken foreigners. Our Japanese friends ended up having to go home, but they didn’t really fit in with the new group that had formed (our girls plus like four or five Marines). We went to karaoke with the Marines instead.

Day 2 (Sunday):

The next day, we went to Miyajima. Another bright and clear day, this time we spent it traversing the island and taking photos of its famous Tori. The rest of our group opted to take ropeway cars up the mountain, but I declared that I wanted to walk. I wandered around and found what I figured was the trail. Next to it, I found a much smaller trail headed in basically the same direction. So, I figured I’d take the one less travelled by.

It made a difference, but not the kind I was hoping for. I meant to meet my friends on the top (they’d given me a head start.. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, even without my.. um.. detour). I walked down the secluded path for quite a while, snapping photos as I went. I remembered JET-L saying the path was next to the water, along the river, and I was near a small stream. Eventually, though, my little path ended. I looked up the mountain and thought, maybe the real path is up there. And even though there isn’t an established way to climb, I could probably make it. I could hear voices above of other hikers on their merry ways.

So I began to climb. Using trees and clawing my way, up and up. I got to where I thought the path must be, and looked up again. Just a bit more, of course. Just a bit more. I clawed my way up farther. Finally, I looked directly up to see a ropeway car passing over my head. The voices were coming from the ropeway above me. The path may or may not be anywhere near me after all. Awesome.

At that point I had no choice but to turn back. Sweaty and dirty as I was, it was about to get worse. Of course going up is strenuous when you are basically arm-over-arming it from tree to tree. But coming down is more or less a barely-controlled ass-slide experience. I got to the “path” I’d been on completely hot, tired, covered in spiderwebs, and dirtier than I think I’ve been since I was like twelve.

Frustrated, I made my way back. I picked up the walking trail again, which was going to be 2.5 kilometers. Whatever, I could do a mile and a half or whatever that was. Then the trail got steeper. And basically became a magical stairway of stone, through an enchanted forest.

I stopped for breaks, mostly to make myself calm the ef down, lest I waste my hiking experience being upset I got lost. I eventually came to the top of Mt. Misen and it was gorgeous.

We shopped our way back to the boat to get back to Hiroshima, indulging in some oysters, leaf-shaped pastry, and beer. There was clubbing on tap that night (after some delicious effing okonomiyaki, Hiroshima-style), but I opted out and became a midnight pumpkin so I could be fresh for our morning plans and the path home.

Day 3 (Monday, Columbus Day, I mean Canadian Thanksgiving, I mean Health and Sports Day?):

I got up earlier than everyone else and went to see this little garden park Heke had been to the day before. It was really sweet, and nice to wander around by myself again, only this time not on a steep incline. I then went to Atomic Bomb Dome and met the rest of the team there after walking around a bit and looking at the Sadako statue and peace park.

It was in general a difficult place to be. Even from my first sight of the dome, I was choked up. I’ll post photos soon, but for now just know that it was upsetting. The Peace Park is equally hard. And the museum. Difficult but important.

The three of us that stayed for the museum, having never been before, grabbed some lunch at a cute cafe and then got off at the wrong stop trying to take a shortcut back to the hotel to meet the others. We got to the cars at about 3:15, and the battery was dead in one. Turns out, the seatbelt had caught in the passenger door, so it hadn’t closed, so the dome light was on while the car was in storage (in this suspension storage unit thing.. kinda weird) for the three days we were in Hiroshima. Totally dead.

But, JET-L had jumper cables. She didn’t know how to use them (no one did, turns out.. no one but me, of course. Can I get a hey-yeah for jumping Jill forty zillion times when it was just the alarm system freaking out?)… but at this point I can positive-positive negative-ground like a pro, so I hooked tiny engine to tiny engine right there on the platform of the car storage unit and within moments, bam, we were on the road.

Not the right one, not at first. We accidentally got on the wrong highway and had to backtrack.. essentially putting us about three and a half hours behind schedule, all told (but this is for museum, lunch, car troubles, and all)… the drive home through the dusky mountains was alright. The sake festival felt like it had been a week before.

And that was my Hiroshima weekend.

Let’s Play Again

Back when I wasn’t actually teaching, just sitting at my desk reading about the various things my job might become, I remember seeing something about elementary school to the effect of “End every class with a game, so the kids will have a good parting memory of English and they will be excited for next time.”

I think elementary school is doing that to me. Not all of my classes today were stellar, but the last one of the day (4th graders.. I’m at The Small Elementary) was wonderful. The kids (all eleven of them) were into it, the teachers (there are two because one of the kids in the class is special needs) think I’m awesome, and everyone earned a sticker (karuta champions receiving two). This, for my inner seven-year-old, is enough to turn a whole day of "oh man I kind of suck, and even if I don’t, I don’t want to be in elementary today…” into “Yay! Let’s play again!”

Friday, October 9, 2009


Today I had another class with Awesome-sensei. I was totally bewildered to discover that our second class, he expected me to pretty much lead by myself. (Our first 'real' lesson together, we were kind of a tag-team) I managed to make my way through that. This time, he told me he was going to explain the grammar, and basically do it by himself. Which was cool. I tagged along anyway, just to spectate and "help the students with their worksheets," which turned out to be a small scale but fairly important job.

The worksheet part reminded me of being a sub in elementary school, attempting to get a handle on the material myself enough to present it to thirty squirming elementary schoolers... wishing I or anyone had a spare second to explain it in two different ways and walk the slow kids through it. But I couldn't abandon the class as a whole for that one kid. Here, though, Awesome-sensei and I were a fair team again. He would point out which students would be needing the most help, and I'd step-by-step them through the questions until the lightbulbs went off and they could just do it.

It made me really happy, to see the kids getting it right. One reason they were getting it right was because Awesome-sensei explains the hell out of that grammar.

It's fascinating to me to watch him teach. I honestly feel like I'm learning on both fronts.. first, I'm learning Japanese. I keep getting reminded of stuff I learned, and occasionally stuff I've heard around Japan. It's amazing to see it going the other way, as I recall what life was like in my Japanese class years back. I keep reminding myself, I was in college then, not middle school, so the atmosphere is different. Still, learning a new language brings you to about toddler level anyway, so there we all go. Secondly, I'm learning how language gets taught here, how teachers interact with the students and the material, and make the students interact with the material. It's really fascinating to see him using those colors of chalk like a champion. And everything he's explaining is right (teachers occasionally make mistakes). Even the stuff not in the textbook.

Seriously. He taught them the word "whom," briefly, and then moved right on to "that." Because we don't really say whom all that often. But it's good to know it exists.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Reflections on Field Day: Request for Photos

Hello dear readers.

I am trying to figure out what to do with my bulletin boards this month, since I reckon each thing I put up there has a shelf life of about one month. I was thinking of doing a board about Field Day in the US and how it’s different from Sports Day in Japan. But I would want photos from field day stuff in America, and I really have no idea how to get that.

I could probably get some random things from the interwebs, though. So, this is a request to any reader who happens to have memories of field day back in school. Give me some events and stuff we did so I can put something together. Please leave any memories in comments, and if you happen to have photos (wow!) please send them to my email.

Monday, October 5, 2009

omgswineflu alert

The board has a cluster, like five students from class 2-1 are out with the omgswineflu. Apparently, if two more kids go down (I am not sure if they have to be in 2-1 or just any two kids from our school) we will be closed for the rest of the week.

Masks are everywhere! Don’t touch anything! But I’ll start wearing a mask when Awesome-sensei does, because I am also a badass, and I am not scared of the flu.

Apparently, at least judging by last night’s awful dream, I am afraid of zombies with sewing scissors, instead.