Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Re-Visit II (temple nine)

The second re-visit temple on the pilgrimage route that my parents and I visited was number nine, Nan'en-do. My first visit to Nanen-do that I remember was in March of last year (I might have walked through or by it in December of 2010, but I don't have any photos if I did), almost immediately following the March 11th disaster in north Japan.

Back then, I didn't have a book yet, but actually my trip to Nara on March 12th and 13th was what prompted me to buy the book in the first place, so it's kind of connected. If you recall, I had planned to visit Nara for Omizutori, which always takes place on the night of March 12th, but which only sometimes falls on a Saturday. I had decided to book a hostel and take advantage of my timing of being in-country for one such Saturday.

While we were waiting for 2am, T-rav told me about how you can get stamped, sealed, calligraphed pages from the temples as you visit them, how lots of people have a book where they collect these. It was his explanation that prompted me to buy the pilgrimage book without really knowing what it was, because I thought it was a book of all the major temples in the area (not totally wrong) or all the temples of a certain sect or something. Nigatsu-do, the place we visited that night, is not part of the Kannon Kansai 33, but the following morning's wandering did include Nanen-do, which was.

The pagoda for Kofuku-ji, I believe.
The way Nanen-do will be in my pilgrim book reflects the scattered nature of my visit there. On the re-visit, part of my day in Nara with my parents, I remembered too late that I had forgotten my book even though I knew there was a temple in the area. I then thought it was Kofuku-ji, to which Nanen-do is a sort of offshoot; Kofuku-ji is under construction and a bit confusing for that (last March I visited the museum shop without going to the treasure house museum and stocked up on Kofuku-ji postcards for some reason).

From the side.

The style of Nan'en-do makes it different from most of the other stops I've gotten to, as does its location off to the side of Kofuku-ji. I don't have much information to offer about the place, other than it's very photogenic, and that's how it caught my eye back in March.

So we did two re-visits this not-yet-spring, both to temples I had visited without stamping my book for whatever reason, both on the first weekend following one kind of sad event or another.

The Re-Visit I (temple ten)

With my parents recently in town, we had lots of adventures all over Osaka/Nara/south Kyoto area. One of the things we were able to do is visit a couple of the temples on the pilgrimage route, both of them re-visits for me.

One was in Uji, which is a bit south of Kyoto City. Uji is apparently famous for its role in the Tale of Genji, which I scandalously enough have never read (yes despite my interest in old things, Japanese things, and reading things... maybe the overlap of all three is just too much for me). But it's also home to Mimuroto-ji, temple number ten.

Parents by the gate
I first visited Mimuroto-ji (or Mimurodo-ji, I saw it written both ways) last June 12th. It was actually my first weekend out after Shannon died, part of a big excursion that included Kobe, Kyoto, and Tokyo at the week's beginning, a fairly exhausting itinerary, but one that I had planned pretty far in advance. I did not plan in advance to go to Mimuroto-ji, that was Nami and Hiroshi's call. Even when we went I chose not to get my pilgrim book stamped because I still thought, back then, that I would do all the temples in order.

In my attempt to take a semi-candid group shot I insisted, "Hiroshi-san, put the camera DOWN."
 Of my three-city journey, my favorite day was Kyoto with Dre, Nami, and Hiroshi, because between the rain and warmth (of both air and company), I felt very safe, and like it was okay either to be sad or not, so I was and was not. They took us to Mimuroto-ji because it has a famous hydrangea garden, which we enjoyed quite a bit. The recent re-visit was less than spectacular because the grounds are mostly home to the impressive garden, and we had come at a time when it was off-season for almost every feature of their repertoire.

It's still nice at this time of day in the end of winter... but it's not yet spring. it looks a little dead-ish.
Since the cherries were late this year, and the azaleas, hydrangeas, lotus, and autumn foliage are still some time off, there was not much to see but the pines, a few plum trees, and the (modest, compared to the hydrangeas) rock garden. The re-visit was fairly quick, though I did make sure to stop and replace the umbrella I'd bought at the first visit, later stolen from outside our karaoke bar.

Even though they weren't blooming then, the lotus were at least leafy.

In April, I did the incense for family.

In June, I lit one for hers.

For me, Mimuroto-ji is a place of these memories.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

false start

Today is one of the spring days of changes, in which the school assumes, or very nearly, the shape it will be in for the next twelve months or so. In some ways, I've been looking forward to this time because I felt I couldn't start preparing to leave until things were as they would be when I do that.

I can't tell my successor about where and who until the where and who have been set in place, as it were. Now we know.

My desk has been moved to one corner of the room, which I rather like. I don't like having my back to the rest of the room, and now I have a great (some might say commanding) view of the staff room. I can see everything, and to face the front, I need only look up. It's pretty sweet.

Today, MP-sensei is officially leaving, so my successor will never really know her; Twitchy and Mikan are staying, which is a good thing and a bad thing all at once (better the devil you know?). There is a new JTE coming in, whom I have not yet met but who Mikan-sensei said is his teacher. I picture her as an older woman, then, strict but well qualified as any seasoned veteran would be. Also I'm a little intrigued to see what kind of English teacher produced the Mikan-sensei, from a scholastic point of view.

I'm totally jumping the gun by writing this post right now because we're only halfway through the day, but I've kind of been dying to start the "for my successor" tab on this blog. One of the purposes of keeping it has been to pass on some knowledge and helpful info; I'm quite aware that after these three years, the blog (like my apartment) has become too full of stuff for any stranger to usefully sort without an abundance of spare time.

The "for my successor" series will be a lot of retrospectives and info I think might be useful to that person, which I will not expect myself to generate all at once, but to put together over the course of the next few months as I think of things. I have a tendency to just sort of think of things at random times and need to write them down right then. Like right now, even though I hardly have the info I'm trying to convey.

But I will. Today I have my meetings with the elementary school teachers to plot the year's schedule and figure out who the elementary English contact people are this year. It also says on the front board (which I can easily see!) that our new JTE will also be part of this meeting (but not Twitchy-sensei because he's a part-timer I guess).

It's rumored that I will be spending more time at Small Elementary and less at Big Elementary because of class size changes and so on. Rumors rumors!

Here's a mostly-blank diagram of the new desk layout.

The secretary is new, but she handles a lot of the paperwork and the previous one always helped me when I broke (or discovered a problem with) the copy machines. The new lady seems very energetic anyway.

The head teacher makes the schedules and distributes them, and also keeps the schedule for the front board. Sometimes he doesn't get to "tomorrow's" til the end of the day.. I think that is unusual, but he's a really nice guy.

The VP is the person you go to for all your personal scheduling requests (that is, when you want to take time off, or when you aren't sure what is up). He handles a lot of the official business of the school, and is really nice. He occasionally sends me home a little early and is understanding about things. I've heard horror stories about VPs who are super strict with vacation hours (yeah counting hours out for you) and who are loath to let you take vacay when you want to. Our guy seems to have no issues like this whatsoever. He is easily recognizable for his full head of mostly white hair. He speaks to me in Japanese like he has no doubt about my ability to understand, but also doesn't seem surprised when I ask about something I don't understand.

The principal has his own office (the door to it is between his desk and the copy machine, though there is another door to it in the hallway) where he receives guests and I suppose chills out when he wants to be in his own space and not in the crowded staff office. He used to be a PE teacher and looks (to me) like a Japanese Michael Scott. He's very friendly and likes to party; he doesn't know you yet but he would love to get drunk with you. He's good at karaoke and often communicates with me using one or two words and a lot of facial expressions.

Mikan-sensei is now starting his fourth year at this school, and is the JTE for the second year class. He has been the one to be in charge of me here. When I arrived, they (the BOE rep people) brought him along to the bank and cell phone place to help translate for me. He has been making my weekly schedule for me since then, and also attending at least one of every two-day conference, and the entirety of the one-day conferences I have been sent to.

Either because of these conferences, or because of his own personal awesomeness level, he is the best JTE I have ever worked with. He uses activities to teach and knows his students very well; he is very strict and very kind by turns (to the students) and depending on the situation (generally he's kind in class and strict as hell in club activity time) and also on the student in question (he knows who to be disappointed in and who to speak gently to). He has always been very nice to me. Mikan-sensei is in charge of a second year homeroom class and is also the kendo club leader, which means he can become very busy. I've always tried to find the balance between staying out of his way and trying to be helpful.

His wife is also an English teacher in a school further south (not in our city limits), and I hear she is as progressive and excellent as he is (perhaps even more so), and also I believe she has lived abroad in London and also in China at some point in her life. I've only met her like three or four times, but she's awesome too.

Twitchy-sensei is about 26 years old, and is starting his second year (at this school and also of teaching, ever). He spent seven years in Vancouver, Canada (attending high school and University), and his English comprehension is therefore very high. His interest so far has been in grammar and translation, but Mikan-sensei (and now I resolve to rejoin the effort) has been on task to get him out of that habit.

I feel like I just wrote a glowing review of Mikan-sensei in which my respect and admiration are pretty clear, so I feel like an asshole if I follow that with a dour report on Twitchy-sensei. But we must be honest, too. (Heh...) Twitchy tries very hard and is very friendly, so that makes it kind of sad all around when he falls short (which last year happened a good bit). Suffice for now to say that Mikan-sensei will be in charge of both the first year and second year classes, and Twitchy will be "like a TA," according to Twitchy himself. And from today's optimistic point of view, we'll remind ourselves that Mikan has a lot more experience than Twitchy, and maybe in the fullness of time.... or something..

Aaaand .....this is about all I can provide for now.

(Also, just in case it's not obvious, these are not their real names, nor do they [or should they probably] know these nicknames at all. It's just how I like to represent them on the interwebz because of all the biased misinformation I am spouting. Oh and libel. Etc.)