I have not done origami in quite some time, so i though it would be nice to do some again. I had promised my students at one of my smaller schools a prize after playing bingo (what’s the point of bingo without prizes??) and I though, “instead of giving out stickers, whxih are SO last year, why don’t i give them some origami?” And so I decided to make each student a origami backpack in the same color of their real backpack! There are only 14 students so it’s not too much work. I have until Monday and am about hapfway done!
First off, yes, my layout is different. I have been looking for some time now for a layout that was wide enough to be able to post multiple photos in a row, and this one looks like it may do the trick. However, because I changed layouts I may or may not have lost my custom banner, so please bear with me as I do my best to fix this up. I may go back to my original one, but the width of the posts on this one is much better.
I have not been keeping up with my past posting, which is unfortunate, and I apologize. The reality is that life (as it usually does) has been getting more and more normal as I live here more and more. There are a few things you all can look forward to in the coming weeks. This weekend I will be going to a sports/fun day organized by the JET association in Oita, and I plan on bringing my camera. Then the weekend after that is Natalie’s birthday party and we will be spending it in Beppu. Also, it’s fall in Japan now, and that only means one thing!
That’s right, it’s time for that! 紅葉(kouyou – Fall colors) is probably the best time in Japan. We have a pretty good foliage season in Massachusetts, especially in the Berkshires, but I don’t think anything compares to what goes on over here. The bright colors are all over the place. I will no doubt be going out and taking pictures of the stuff around me. So fear not, I am here to feed your Japan addiction, even if the fixes are spread out a bit further than they were before.
I am currently in the process of retooling my blog a bit, adding a few things, tightening up a few places, letting some things hang out, all that kind of stuff. I’ll be categorizing my posts better, so if you are just looking for posts with pictures or something like that, you will be able to search by that instead of having to scroll through the admittedly novel-esque blog posts of mine. Or if you just want to read about Elementary schools in Japan, or just about my trips, or just about my random thoughts on linguistics (I don’t know why you would, but I’m all about giving you the choice) you will be able to do so quite easily by checking out the “categories” under the post.
On the photo front, you will have to be content for now with a few pictures from the Halloween party last week, which was a lot of fun. But yes, you are being censored.
Until next time!
So on Friday, to celebrate Halloween I taught some classes not at all related to the books we are supposed to use. To be perfectly honest, I only have my kids use the book once in a blue moon anyway, but Friday was slightly different.
For the sixth graders, I made a worksheet with six monsters on them. I taught them these monsters in English: Witch, Mummy, Vampire, Ghost, Werewolf and Zombie. Then I taught them six adjectives: scary, strong, cute, immortal, real, and old. They then made their own sentences, for example: The witch is old! Or: The zombie is cute! They had a lot of fun with this, and it was quite a rewarding lesson. I think they will probably remember these words quite well, too. After class I handed out candy, but only after they said: “Trick or Treat!” That’s right, I made them say it.
With the fifth graders, I remembered they learned some parts of the body a few weeks ago (head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…and eyes and ears and mouth and nose, head, shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes.) I added to their repertoire with arm, leg, foot, hand, chest and stomach. Please don’t ask me why they learn knees and toes before arm and leg. Well, I know the answer, it’s because there is no good melody for arm and leg. A also taught them directions, right and left. Then, the real fun began. I brought in two packs of toilet paper and split the classes up into groups of four. They played rock paper scissors to determine a winner, and this person got to become a mummy! As I said a part of the body, the remaining kids in the group wrapped up that appendage! They really had a blast with this, and I was able to get some good pictures in the process. Some of these groups did phenomenal jobs wrapping their mummy, as you will see. One group in particular (I am sure you will be able to pick the correct one from the pictures) did an absurdly good job.
I brought in enough candy for all the kids in the school (300+ students) and brought in my cheesecake for the teachers. All in all a great Friday!
Happy Halloween everyone!!!
…as to what kind of lesson I am teaching my 5th and 6th graders tomorrow, and what will be wandering around the school during the day. I give you two hints:
On Sunday I attended the 運動会(うんどうかい – exercise meeting/festival) of the school that is quickly becoming my favorite, 如水小. It is becoming my favorite for a number of reasons, which I will of course list here:
1. It’s a medium sized school.
This is important because there are enough teachers (24) to make things interesting, but not too many as to make things overwhelming.
2. I visit it fairly frequently.
Probably the biggest factor. Out of the four schools, I visit two of them more often than the others. 沖代小 is my most frequented school, but it’s so large that I feel kind of lost by the wayside. 如水小 is my second most frequented school. I go there enough that I get to know the teachers, and because it’s a smaller school I get to know the students a bit more as well.
3. I have been out drinking with the teachers.
Of all four of my schools, this is the only school I have gone to a drinking party with. One of my other schools invited me, but I had already committed to going to 如水小’s drinking party and I could not attend. These drinking parties really are how people at school bond. Because of these parties I feel much closer to them than I do the other school teachers.
4. I play softball with the principal, and have attended a volleyball event with the whole staff
The fact of the matter is, 如水小’s teachers have invited me out to stuff. Other school’s teachers have not.
5. I know the students a lot better
It’s odd. One would think that I would get to know the students at my biggest school better because I spend a lot more time there. However, due to its size I only teach one grade a day, meaning that each grade does not see me more than once every two weeks. Compare this to 如水小, where I see the 5th and 6th graders every week, without fail. I feel much closer to the students, and so I feel much closer to the school.
So now you know: yes, I do have a favorite school. I guess I’m not supposed to do that (kind of like choosing a favorite child? And yes, I’m sure everyone expected that cliché because it’s used to often but there’s a reason why it’s a cliché!) but it happens. You feel closer to some things than you do to others, and there’s not a darned thing you can do about it. So while three out of four of my schools had an 運動会 on the same day, I went to 如水小’s. Oh, I had also practiced for their school dance along with the kids, so that was another factor. This turned out to be very useful, as you will all find out soon enough.
And so, on a Sunday at 8:45 AM I arrived at school. Apparently the 運動会 in Japan is like the fireworks display in Boston. Everyone shows up like two hours in advance to choose the best place to sit. Everyone was already there when I showed up. The teachers had been at school since 6 in the morning preparing the field. I would find out later that they had gone to school on Saturday as well, because there had been torrential downpours on Friday and they had to dry off the field. A pretty typical week for a Japanese teacher I think. Work Monday-Friday, work Saturday, work Sunday. OK, I’m exaggerating of course, but they work hard!
Anyway, once I arrived I spent some time chatting with the groundskeeper about the weather and what-not. (Also about Japanese girls, but that’s such a common conversation it’s barely worth mentioning anymore.) After that I walked around and took a few pictures as the festivities commenced. The 運動会, much more than just a sports or exercise festival, includes the normal events like running and relay, but also dancing, various random games, rope tugging, and a number of synchronized activities such as making a huge flower, a wave, and pyramids out of people. I participated in a few of the events, mostly as a judge, but in one memorable moment I was dragged (quite literally, I was kind of embarrassed) out onto the field to dance the school dance with the rest of the kids! While I had practiced a bit with them, it wasn’t as if I was ready to dance it! I did my best, and the kids seemed to get a kick out of it, so that was fine. The festival began at 9 AM and ended around 2:30 PM. I didn’t leave school until about 3:30 thanks to all the cleanup. My presence was clearly appreciated though, because when I left all the teachers burst out in random and unrehearsed applause.
My principal (校長先生- kouchou sensei) addressing the students.
All of the students lined up listening to a few speeches. Nothing too long though.
Practicing their cheerleading chants
The blue team
Sweet sweet victory! I took a bunch of these pictures!
All the parents surrounding the grounds watching their kids proudly.
Getting ready for a relay race.
Taiko! That’s Miyagaki sensei leading his group of 1st and 2nd graders.
One of a few dances performed.
That gun was quite loud.
Even the kindergarteners got into the action! Here an impressive kid is spinning one of those hoops around his waist. What is not shown, however, is that this kid was doing it in the most chill way I’ve ever seen. He barely moved his hips, he acted like he owned the place out there.
This is actually kind of dangerous…
Too bad that person’s head is in the way
Get em in the baskets!!
The red team won
You won’t understand the writing but you can see the times. That’s their Sunday schedule. the last one in yellow is the drinking party.
As always, more pictures can be seen here
Later on that night there was to be a 飲み会 (のみかい- drinking party) to celebrate the successful conclusion of the 運動会 festivities. The teachers and the students had been rehearsing for this event for the past two months, so I think they were all quite happy to have it all over with, without any major incidents. I was invited along, and although I had school on Monday (unlike the rest of the teachers who were given Monday off as a reward for coming in on Sunday) I tagged along. We ate at a restaurant called “花満” (はなまん.) I had eaten there before, and it was quite tasty. The second time did not disappoint. There was から揚げ（Fried chicken), 海老天（えびてん- breaded shrimp), raw chicken (yes, but this was of the highest quality, so it was OK to eat. I am not sick yet) and lots of beer. It was at this 飲み会 that I experienced my first true Japanese 飲み会 procedure. The beer was brought out in big bottles, and everyone had tiny little glasses, probably three gulps worth. People around you then offer to fill the glass for you, and you return the favor. It is in this way, and this way only, that you get more to drink. Pouring for yourself is quite rude. The way to get someone to notice that your glass is empty is to pour them a drink. They then instinctively offer you a return, and you are once again “beered up.” The reason for having such small glasses is so that your glass is empty quicker, of course. This allows others to pour for you often, enhancing the friendliness of the party, making sure no one is left out, and ensuring that regardless of the tiny glasses, you are drunk within the hour. Theoretically the way to prevent this is to leave your glass full so that no one can pour you more. In practice though, people just offer anyway, and you are forced by social norms to take a big gulp so that you can accept more beer from the person offering. Of course you can refuse, and that’s fine, it’s not like you get kicked out of the party for it, but I don’t like refusing. I did hold back a bit, however, because I (unlike the rest of the teachers) had work on Monday. Everyone else was quite happy within the hour, though.
The way seats were chosen was by random lottery, so I sat next to some teachers whom I had not spoken to much in the past. This was very nice because I was able to get to know them some more. I also remembered one more name! Huzzah! About an hour into the party, the games began. No, not drinking games, just party games. The first game involved a balloon, a piece of tape, and toothpicks. The object was simple: stick as many toothpicks in your balloon as possible without it popping. The practice was not quite so simple: I got one in, but my second one opened up a hole slightly too large, and my balloon fizzled away. My team (the blue team) managed to get a grand total of zero toothpicks in their balloon. The yellow team was able to poke an obscene amount like 12. After this, we played a game involving two toy hammers, a bucket, and rock paper scissors. I know! I liked the sound of this game when I saw it, too! The object of the game was to play rock paper scissors (in Japanese called じゃん・けん・ぽん.) The loser then grabbed the bucket and attempted to protect him or herself, because the winner grabbed a hammer and tried to whack the loser over the head with it. If the loser was fast enough to cover the head, another rock paper scissors is played until someone gets a hammer to the head. Unfortunately, I went first and did not quite understand the rules of the game. I lost in the first round. It was indeed a sad day for the blue team, which lost every single one of its matches, both individually and as a group. One of the players got so excited (or drunk) that she broke one of the hammers while swinging it rather viciously towards the head of the losing player, who literally dove out of the way to avoid the hit.
After dinner the majority of the group decided to go to karaoke afterward. Before this happened, however, and while I was already outside, apparently a group pyramid was made. I am quite sad I missed it, but it sounded pretty fun. We also picked up one of the teachers and tossed him in the air a few times. I’m not entirely sure why this happened, or how, but all of a sudden there we were catching this guy. So, on to karaoke! 17 of us piled into a rather spaceous room and I managed to butcher a number of rather unfortunate English songs, while the rest of my teachers sang quite well. By this point everyone was feeling pretty good, and my vice principal continuously complemented me on my ability to speak English, which seemed a mystery to him. I didn’t get home until about 1, but it was a great time. I spent about $70 on the meal and karaoke, but it was well worth it. I don’t have any pictures from the drinking party because I don’t think that would be very appropriate. You will just have to imagine you are there with me!
It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and written a blog post! I stopped bringing my computer to work because it’s heavy and bothersome, but I have found that if I don’t write at work, I won’t write at all. Last week we had a nice break called “Silver Week.” Silver week is a collection of three national holidays that run back to back to back, giving a nice three day vacation. I’m not entirely sure whether it is like this every year, but this year at least the three Silver Week holidays fell on a Monday-Wednesday, meaning that with the weekend it was a good opportunity to go somewhere! Of course all of Japan felt this way as well, meaning most popular tourist spots would be over run with…well…tourists! Originally Natalie and I had planned to take a trip around Kyushu, making a big loop around the island while visiting all the different prefectures. Our plans changed, however, because she had a few school related festivals to go to over the weekend. So instead, I decided to take the shinkansen (bullet train) up to Osaka for a few days! It would be my first time on the shinkansen, so I was quite excited. I would also be seeing Akiko, whom I had not seen in nearly four years. My two other friends up there, Carl and Rianna, were going to Thailand for this break! Sweet.
The shinkansen ride up there was really nice. It takes (amazingly) only two hours and 10 minutes to get from Kokura (the shinkansen stop in Kyushu closest to me) to Shin Osaka station. Considering it would take, by car, approximately 16 hours, that is an absurdly fast time. The reason for this is that they basically plotted out the quickest way for the train to reach its destination, and built a track, no matter what was in the way. Hence, a lot of the trip is in tunnels under mountains which were unfortunate enough to be in the way. I am certainly not complaining, however, because it’s an incredibly convenient way to travel. The round trip tickets cost me 26,000 yen, about 260 dollars. A plain ticket would have cost me around the same, maybe a little cheaper, but that’s where the upside of flying ends. Technically, the flight time is much shorter, as one might expect. It takes about an hour to fly from Kyushu to Kansai Airport. However, considering you have to be at the airport about 30 minutes in advance, and the airport in Oita is about an hour from where I live, it actually takes longer for me to fly than it does to take the train! Add on to that the fact that airports are generally outside the city, meaning another bus ride into wherever I am meeting people, and you’ve got a nice little three-four hour journey ahead of you! On the contrary, Shin Osaka station, where the shinkansen arrives, is smack dab in the middle of Osaka.
I met Akiko at the station and the first thing we did was find me a hotel! I hadn’t really planned ahead very well, and because finding a hotel in Japanese is kinda hard, I was just kind of planning to wing it. Add to that the fact that it was Silver Week and all of Japan was on the move, and you’ve got a nice little situation where hotels are not quite so easy to find. We found a place in one of the seedier places in Osaka where I could rest my head. It might have been the cheapest hotel in Japan! It cost me 1800 yen for one night, roughly translating into 18 dollars. I didn’t know places like that existed! Even capsule hotels cost more than that, and in capsule hotels you barely get a place to sleep! Indeed the accommodations weren’t much, but there was a futon, and a T.V.. I was not complaining! After dropping off my stuff in the room we headed over to the Nanba area of Osaka.
I just realized that this is not actually Namba. I did not take any pictures of Namba for some reason. But let us just pretend that you all can clearly imagine what it looks like.
Nanba is a massive shopping arcade. It’s literally streets and streets with shops, restaurants, and whatever else you can imagine. It being Silver Week, it was obscenely crowded, but it’s one of those things you just have to see to believe. It houses some of Osaka’s most famous restaurants. The funny thing about this is that of course I don’t know why they are famous, or that they are famous at all. It’s not like they’re world famous, they’re just famous to most Japanese people. So every once in a while a large crowd will gather and take pictures of this random tiny little pushcart that just happens to be the most famous Takoyaki stand in all of Japan. By this time it was already quite late so after grabbing some dinner we parted for the night and I retired to my little 18 dollar hotel room. The plan was to meet up the next day, Monday, and head to Nara.
Nara has a number of reasons why it’s a famous place to go. First of all, it is the very first capital of Japan. Before Tokyo, before Edo (The old name for Tokyo), before Kyoto even, Nara was the place where the emperor lived and ruled. It has, therefore, many quite ancient and quite impressive sights. For example, it houses the world’s largest Buddha, an impressive 17 or so meters tall. And in order to house this massive buddha, there must naturally be the largest wooden structure ever created. One could not have the second largest wooden structure housing the largest buddha! Unacceptable.
Another of Nara’s claims to fame is its deer. Yes, there are deer in Nara, and not just in a petting zoo in one specific area of the city, but everywhere. These are free range deer, my friends, and they go anywhere and everywhere they please.
There are stands everywhere which sell “Senbei”, wafers the deer enjoy eating, so everyone comes to Nara and feeds the deer some senbei and has a great time. The only slight hiccup is that the deer have become so tame that they are teetering on the edge of being pushy. If they even sense that you may have something edible, they form a massive group and follow you around, nudging their heads into whatever part of your body they can reach until you dish out your food. The only way for you to get this group away is to then find some other unlucky soul who has just unwittingly purchased a pack of senbei. You search him out and lead the deer in his direction until they realize that he is far more likely to give up the goods. You can then walk away safely, giggling on the inside at the horde of deer you have just delivered to this poor poor sap. The screams you hear as you walk away are not quite so funny, but you are simply glad it was him, and not you!
On Tuesday I had the day to myself, so I decided to head over to Kobe and take another look around. On the train, I met another American who was traveling to Himeji castle, in the same direction, so we had a nice conversation. I never even asked his name, but he was a nice guy. Once I got to Kobe we parted ways. In Kobe, I had originally planned to retrace the steps I had made in 2006 when I went there.
However, after having lunch on the 24th floor of a skyscraper overlooking the city, I was given some information by some very nice Japanese volunteers who were there “promoting” Kobe.
Leafing through the pamphlets, I noticed first a town nearby called Nada which has a number of sake breweries and a sake museum. This seemed intriguing, but I decided instead to leave that for another time and take a gondola ride up the mountain, and then hike down. This was perhaps not the smartest decision since I was carrying my 10 lb bag of clothes and books and such, but hindsight is 20/20. First, I took the subway (located in the second basement)
to the station where I could take the gondola.
I got to the top of the mountain and began walking.
After a while, I was hopelessly lost. Well, I wasn’t lost! I was on a trail, walking somewhere, it wasn’t like I was in the wilderness with no idea where I was going. I just didn’t know where I was in relation to the mountain I started from!
And so I walked along until I found some other Japanese hikers who seemed to know where they were going. Instead of asking them where I was (where would be the fun in that? I was enjoying my little adventure) I shadowed them (OK, stalked them) for a while until I found some other Japanese hikers, whom I followed at a distance. In this way, three hours later I made my way down the mountain and to the train station. I am certainly planning on going back to Kobe and hiking some more, because there were tons of trails there in the mountains! It was a great time.
I did not get to eat any Kobe beef this time around, although it had been part of the original plan. As I walked back into Kobe, there was this random festival called “Kobe Live” happening, so I stopped to see what was going on for a bit.
I’m not really sure what was going on, but it was some traditional Japanese dance, and it was all synchronized. Collectivist culture much? 😀 After that I headed back to Osaka and went out for some sushi.
On Wednesday in the morning Akiko and I hung out some more, had lunch, and then it was time to head back to Oita. I caught the 3:18 shinkansen back and arrived in Nakatsu in time for dinner with Natalie and the local Indian restaurant. The three nights I spent in Osaka were exhausting. I didn’t sleep all too much, and it barely felt like a vacation when I got back to Nakatsu. However, I had a great time and would love to do it again. Maybe next time I will spend more than 18 dollars on my hotel room, though!
As usual, more photos can be seen online here