Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Okay, Where Did August Go?

Hello Week 4 (Aug 23-29)!

This week started with the Kani City English Speech Contest. About 36 Junior High students gave their speeches in front of 5 Assistant Language Teachers (including me). There were three semifinal speeches, and from each group, the top 4 made it onto the finals that afternoon. From those final 12, 6 were picked to advance to the Gifu Prefecture English Speech Contest Final in about 4 weeks. It was definitely tough to pick the top six, but I am very excited because a future student of mine (who I helped prepare a little bit for the Kani event) made the top 6 and will compete in a few weeks!

I am finally starting my school visits and meeting with the teachers I will be working with all year long (well at least until the end of this school year, which is in March). On Tuesday, I went to Kyowa Junior HS. It has about 200 students and there are 2 teachers and 1 assistant I will work with. Both of the teachers are fairly new to teaching, and one is even my age! The meeting was very beneficial and they even taught me how to send a text message, Japanese style. (It is different from the US. We just send a text to the phone number. Well, here they have to send it as an email message. So you have your phone number, your phone text/email address, and your normal email address. Then, if you are lucky and both people have the same provider, so like ATT or Verizon, but here it’s Softbank, then you can just send the text/email to the phone number! What a confusing system….)

I finally got my first taste of an okonomiyaki restaurant this week! What is “okonomiyaki” you ask? Well, that is what Google is for! But seriously, that might help you get a better idea. Okonomiyaki is like a big pancake/latke, it is made with a batter, vegetables, and assorted meats. I opted for just a plain okonomiyaki, and I know the women were disappointed in my lack of adventurous eating. But oh well, we also had one with cheese (my favorite since cheese is incredibly expensive here, so I don’t buy it very often) and finally we had yakisoba. The food was sooooo amazing and I cannot wait to go back! I had to dine and dash before my lunch break ended, but I am going back there soon! The only thing about going back is that you either need to be really hungry or go with a friend since the portions are HUGE! I was thinking the prices were reasonable for one person, then I saw the portions and it was a nice surprise.

This week I finally had the pleasure of meeting my predecessor Eric, as he is making one final stop in Japan before officially saying sayonara and returning to the states. I also met another ALT and it was so nice talking with people in English! Speaking in Japanese is quite demanding, since I still don’t have my JMP skills back yet (anytime now…) We ate dinner at a yakiniku restaurant, which is just chicken, or meat in general, or veggies, on skewers and grilled. I also had my first introduction to “friendly” conversation…I got asked plenty of awkward questions by the two men I met, but thankfully I could use the “I don't understand” excuse! I had to leave the gathering rather early by American standards because the last train to my area leaves at 11:15, so after a 7 minute ride, I was back home.

On Thursday (the 26th), I got to go with about 20 other teachers new to the Mitake area (as of April) and tour 3 famous sites. First, we went to the Gankoji temple, where I listened to the temple lady speak for 35 minutes, and I was only able to comprehend a few things. But luckily, two JHS teachers I met earlier helped translate some of the more important information for me to understand. I learned that when you look at your hands, your right hand comes from your father, your left comes from your mother, and when you put them together in the praying motion, it symbolizes yourself.

Next, we went to a dam in the Kaminogo area (just a little NE of our town). I was surprised as to how tall the dam was, and it was surrounded by great scenery, I was kind of sad we didn't get to walk around and take pictures, but then again it probably was in the mid to high 90’s. Finally, we drove back through town and went to the west side and up in the mountains where the old coalmines are. They started digging for coal in the 1860’s, but when they started, they neglected to make a map of the locations of the mines. Well, lets just say they haven’t found them all yet. The rumor I heard was that they think one could be below Mitake Elementary School’s playground! That’s kind of scary.

And speaking of scary, I had my first (and hopefully last, but probably not) taste of an earthquake in Japan. At 5am (on the dot!) I woke up thinking my neighbor above me was making a lot of noise and jumping up and down. Well, once I realized that the entire ground was shaking, I figured out what was going on. It lasted maybe 10 seconds and then I went back to bed (thankfully). I bring this up because when we were entering the coalmines, I heard a few ladies ahead of me say something about “jishin” which is earthquake in Japanese. Of course, that is exactly what you want to talk about when you are going underground in a coal mine, and 6 hours earlier there was an earthquake! Overall, it was a great tour that showed me some pretty awesome and surprisingly historic locations all in my town!

Soon enough the work week was over and it was time for some sightseeing! I finally made it into Nagoya, Japan's 4th largest city. I've heard that it's sort of disregarded as a big city, like Tokyo or Yokohama, and referred to as Japan's Detroit because it is relatively new and a large manufacturing port (I've never been to Detroit, so no harm intended...it's just what I've heard). Nagoya was pretty much destroyed by the US during World War II, so that's why I say it has a relatively new infrastructure. I loved my short stay in Nagoya (just Saturday the 28th) and I can't wait to see more of it.

Being a new ALT, some of the Gifu Prefecture returners were gracious enough to give us (myself and another ALT) a tour through the main spots in Nagoya. Most of the shopping is done in the Sakae neighborhood (this is also the area Noelle told me to go, thanks Noelle!). There are way too many awesome stores to name but let's just say, when I go back, that's my first stop. On our way to the Sakae area, we stopped at Osu Kannon Temple. It was built in 1333 and it's quite a site to see in person, the colors are incredibly vivid!

On our way to the Sakae area, we went through these outdoor shopping areas. We didn't have enough time to visit the shops, so that is definitely on my list next time I'm in the area. Randomly, we ran into a festival, yet again. I don't know what they were celebrating but it was all over Nagoya, from the train station to the Sakae area. It was like a parade and teams (in awesome costumes) would sing, chant, dance, and walk their way down the street.

For evening entertainment, about 20 people met up at a rooftop beer garden. It was all you could eat and drink for a little over two hours for about $40. The scenery was amazing, especially as the sun was setting behind all of the tall buildings. After dinner we went to Club ID. Ok, it might have been the coolest layout I've ever seen. It had 5 floors, all with separate DJs and dance floors. The music was awesome, even better, it was in English! Yes!

We left at 11:30pm to make sure we caught the last subway and train. We ran the ENTIRE way to the train station(s). It was unbelievable, but somehow we all made it home. I was lucky enough to stay with another ALT in a closer town, since the trains were done running to my lonely town. On Sunday, we drove across the street (walking is a little unsafe on that road) to Malera Mall, the 3rd largest mall in Japan. And to those who have been to Mall of America, it this mall isn't even close! Thanks to some retail therapy, I was well accompanied on my trip back to Mitake in the afternoon!

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