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!
I recently taught a group of first graders for the first time, and as you might imagine they were quite excited to see me. As I introduced myself I taught them about calling me Mr. Dashiell instead of Dashiell sensei, which they were very receptive to as they thought it was hilarious. Then out of no-where this one student pops up and just yells out: “Hello Mr. Dashiell…KUN!” and everyone starts giggling, naturally. “kun” is a word you stick onto boys names familiarily. For girls it’s “chan.”
The students loved this so much I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly rid them of the habit. Which to be perfectly honest I’m OK with because I think it’s adorable. The teachers may not love it too much though, so we’ll see what comes of that.
Anyway, really what I wanted to share is that I finally have gotten my hands on some pictures of me teaching. I know many of you think I just sit around an office doing nothing, but I do actually teach! These following photos are from three “evaluation days” which schools have intermittently not necessarily to judge me but to see English class in action and to learn how it works. These pictures are from June 2010, September 2010 and June 2011. Though I feel weird just posting a bunch of pictures of myself here, I figure some of you would very much like to see them. Also, there are some great series of pictures in here AND they’ve gotten me to realize that I pretty much have the same pose in every class since I started. Which is something I intend to work on!
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:
I joined the local gym when I first got here, convinced that I was going to make the effort to go at least a few times a week. This was of course before classes started. Since they’ve started, I haven’t gone. It doesn’t help that the place is a 20 minute bike ride away, so it’s kind of rough to get myself out of the apartment to bike for 20 minutes, then run around some more, and then bike back again. So instead I bought some weights myself, and have been going out for hour-ish long bike rides every other day. There is a 300 km in 3 days bike ride in March that the Oita JETs organize, and I am planning on participating, so I’m kind of sort of starting to train myself. I’ve always been pretty good on a bike, but 300 km in 3 days is still a pretty hefty workload, so I’ve been going out after work and just picking a direction and biking. The first time I went I biked to one of my schools and then past it, only to find out that about 5 minutes later the bike path ends and a rather large road starts. Not exactly ideal biking conditions. The next time I picked the opposite way and ended up across the river in another prefecture. There was quite a nice bike path there but it only went for about 25 minutes before it ended. I plan on exploring the town more and more like this until I’ve figured out the best places to bike. I may have mentioned this before but there is a 22km bike path that begins in Nakatsu which is supposed to be really pretty. I haven’t made my way to that one yet, but maybe this weekend I’ll check it out. I figure if I can train myself to do alright on the 44 total km back and forth, I should be fine by March for the big ride which I am really looking forward to.
Now onto a few other things. As I’ve settled into my life here I’ve found fewer and fewer things to write about. Expected, surely, but still a little depressing. I’ve also stopped bringing in my computer to school so I simply don’t have enough time to write. I now spend most of my free time at work studying Japanese, which can only be a good thing. I recently received the first month’s lessons from the free JET program correspondence course (advanced) and have been working through that. So far it’s fairly easy, though I do spend a lot of time using my electronic dictionary. My problem with Japanese has always been a lack of vocabulary, but hopefully the copious amounts of readings in the book will remedy that.
It’s always the little things in life that are really profound, isn’t it? Japan is seen as such a strange country, with such strange people, but once you start actually living there it’s the “regular” things that you really start to notice. I want to share two examples on that note. The first happened before classes started, when it was still really hot. It was around 30 degrees, and one of the administrative people at one of my schools was complaining about the air conditioner not being on in the teacher’s room. The school rule was that if it was 30 degrees or above, the air conditioner could be turned on. Noticing that one of the thermometers in the office said 30 degrees, she took it away from the place it was previously hanging and displayed it far more prominently on the wall which the vice principal’s desk was staring at, meaning he had quite a good view at the thermometer from where he was sitting. She then muttered under her breath to a colleague: “Maybe this way he’ll see how hot it is and turn the air conditioner on.” Sure enough when the Vice Principal returned to his desk he looked up and noticed the temperature. He then said: “Oh, it’s 30 degrees! Let’s turn the air conditioner on!” I barely managed to stifle a laugh at that one. In Japan, where people are so often described as hive minded, and doing everything for the good of the group, this was an extraordinary example of one person simply getting her way. Sure, it was sneaky and unobtrusive and extremely passive aggressive, but it still happened! She was not afraid to make it known that she was uncomfortable, and did something to fix it. They are human after all!
The second story I want to tell happened last week at another one of my schools. I was eating lunch with the regular crew of people I eat with: The administrative folks, the principal and vice principal, the nurse, and the science teacher, basically anyone who doesn’t have a class to take care of during lunch time. The science teacher told this story: “Today in class we were working with amonia. And you know how much amonia stinks, right? It smells terrible. So one of the kids slowly moved his nose over the tube with amonia in it and took a whiff. ‘Gross!!!’ He yelled and he pulled his face away. Yet then 10 seconds later his face was slowly but surely creeping back towards the bottle to smell it again.” I have heard and witnessed similar stories so often in America, where one kid will take a whiff of something gross and then instantly move to his friend and say: “Dude, smell this!” or something similar. Yet hearing the story in Japanese was just so weird to me! This is certainly no ground breaking revelation, but hearing the most common stories in the world told in two different countries and in two entirely different languages just really shocked me for some reason. This whole: “human nature” thing, which states that human beings as a people are pretty damn similar regardless of culture or skin color or life experience, was known to me but didn’t really sink in until I heard that story being told. Japanese kids may stand up in class when they answer a question. And they may have all kinds of quirks differences that make them seem alien, but then you hear a story like this and you realize that beneath all that kids are kids whether they are in Japan, America, or somewhere in Africa. They have the same interests, they do the same things, and the feel exactly the same. The same goes with adults. Sometimes I feel like that understanding gets lost in the world where we spend so much time trying to pretend we’re so totally different. Deep down, we’re all pretty similar.
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!
運動会！I had heard so much about it these past few weeks. Everyone talked about it. There were announcements in every single morning teacher meeting in every single one of my schools. So what was this oft-spoken of and never seen “exercise meeting”? Well, I got to experience the Japanese 運動会(undoukai) practice for myself today, so allow me to tell you what exactly happened.
I was supposed to teach the 6th graders at Okidai elementary school today, so I arrived wearing my Tuesday best (whatever that means.) It turns out that today for the first two periods the entire school, instead of taking classes, would be participating in exercise practice. I immediately thought back to the days in Holland when we would have those big sports days instead of having class. Well, this is slightly different. The kids spent the first 25 minutes or so lining up in their groups, and learning how to stand, how to sit, how to stand “at ease” and how to yell “YAAAA!” every time they sat down or stood up. Hmm. Following that, the school (there are about 600 students) split up into three groups and began learning chants. I did not understand a lot of them, but I managed to pick up a few. I’ll translate for you what they said:
One student, the “leader” would yell: “Are we going to do our best?!” and everyone would yell: “WE’LL DO OUR BEST!”
“Are we going to give up?!” “WE’LL NEVER GIVE UP”
“Fight to the last!” “FIGHT TO THE LAST!”
Then the last part I didn’t quite catch, but in response everyone pumped their fist into the air and went: “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
I got chills. If they ever recruited a child army of Japanese children, I would run away and hide in a tall tree. (Because they can’t reach up there, they’re tiny little Japanese kids.)
After this “exercise” exercise, the 5th and 6th graders went to the gym, and I followed them there. In the gym, they spent most of the time learning how to split up into exponentially larger groups. First twos, then threes, then fives, then sixes, then eights. Then, they dissolved these groups and went back into formation. Then they reformed these groups until everything was running with a kind of military precision not even seen in the green beret division of the US army. After this, they practiced how to make human pyramids, human merry go rounds, and (I am not kidding) how to go go dance in a line, you know, the one where you put one leg up and then the other in rapid succession. I’m going to assume this is all in an effort to promote team building and group work, though I’m not sure how go-go dancing fits into the picture.
This “運動会” is important for the school because all of the parents come out and watch, so the school wants to make a good impression. It was quite a change, though, from the general free wheeling attitude I see around school most days, where kids are running around, and allowed to do pretty much what they want within reason, as long as they are being respectful. Discipline in Japanese schools, after all, is done behind the scenes so as not to embarrass anyone. On this occasion though, that is not the case. Kids who misbehave or aren’t doing it right are told off right away, and the teacher involvement is pretty heavy.
It’s interesting how it almost seems like the Japanese school system takes sports and exercise more seriously than school.