Thursday, September 30, 2010

Month 2: Check!

Holy smokes! I can’t believe that tomorrow is October 1st! That will mark my two month anniversary of arriving in Japan and let me tell you, it doesn’t seem like two months at all. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely feels like I’ve been away from my friends and family for two months, but at the same time, my days here just fly by.

This is from outside of the JR (Japan Railways) Gifu Station

This week I finished up my 6 school tour, with a junior high school as my last stop. Current and former ALTs told me that elementary school would be the highlight of my job, I mean, how can you resist cute little second graders talking to you in Japanese at lightening quick speeds and they ALL want to be your friend (yes, it is the ego boost I recommend everyone get at least once in their lifetime!) So it is definitely a toss up between which I like better, JHS or elementary school.

I thought I’d give you all some more detail on the differences between my jobs at the two levels. In elementary school, I am the lead teacher, the homeroom teacher is present and will help with some English to Japanese translation, especially when I don’t know how to explain something in Japanese. So for 1st-4th grade, I plan and run all of the classes, but thanks to my predecessor, my predecessor’s predecessor, and the neighboring town of Kani, the lesson details are pretty well defined as to what the objective of each class will be. Let me tell you, that makes life a lot easier, but then at the same time, when you want to teach the kids something different or interesting, you have to find a way to fit it in. In 5th and 6th grade, I work more hands-on with the homeroom teacher (HRT). This usually includes dialogues, skits, and more interactive lesson planning between myself and the HRT. The benefit of working with these teachers, is that they usually have greater English skills because for each “unit” there is (there are 9 over the course of the year), there are 3 English classes per unit. However, I am only able to attend 2 of these classes per unit, so the HRT must teach the other English lesson.

Then there is JHS. At JHS, I am the Assistant English Teacher (ALT/AET…same thing) That being said, I don’t make the lesson plans and I don’t run the class. The Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) is the lead teacher and decides how to run each class and how we will teach new material to the students. I work with 7 different JHS teachers and how much they “use” me, (for lack of better word) depends on the material being covered and the personalities of the JTE. I’ve definitely played a different role in each JHS classroom, from being a CD player (repeat after me: “a big bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima”) to having discussions with the JTE in front of the class and then quizzing the students on the content of our conversations.

So which one do I like more? Great question and the answer is….it’s too soon to tell, but in the end, both JHS and ES have ups and downs, but together, they make a great mix.

Here is a quick interesting fact: October 1st is Census Day here in Japan. A nice lady came to my door on Monday with a packet, she said some words I didn't understant, and handed me a packet. Lucky for me, my supervisor said they would fill it out for me (although I later found an English translation online and it looked pretty easy). So there you have it, 2010 was a big year for me, literally, I helped add to the world population by being in two countries at once.

School Lunch! I finally remembered to take a picture of the school lunch today. Out of the 18 days of school lunches I had in September, I was only able to eat 4 full meals, due to the incredible amount of pork in each school lunch. So today was a treat, since there was chicken instead of pork! What you see, starting from top left to bottom right: green tea, sweet potatoes, a mixture: of carrots, green beans, eggs, chicken, and something else (this was eventually poured on top of the rice), milk carton, dry seaweed, rice, miso soup, and a mandarin orange. So there you have it, a school lunch in Japan.

The first photo is of tempura veggies that Mrs. Watanabe made and brought to my apartment last week, it was very yummy. I added my own twist to it, and dipped everything in ketchup inside of the sauce you are supposed to dip tempura in. Go me.

This weekend I'm heading to the neighboring prefecture (to the NE) of Nagano...Does that name ring a bell??? Yes, as in the Olympics Nagano. This winter I'm definitely going to make my way up to the actual resort that the Olympics were held at. Guess how much lift tickets are for one day on the weekend.....roughly $35-40. Yes, almost half the price as in the States and it held the Olympics, crazy I know! But returning from my tangent, the reason I'm going to Nagano Prefecture is to play in an ALT soccer tournament. There are 7 teams from the eastern region of Honshu (the largest island of Japan) and you compete in a modified 6 v. 6 match-up with 15 minute halves. I'm quite excited, except we are leaving my lovely apartment very early Saturday morning to make our first match.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday, Monday

What a great start to the week! You know those days when you don’t want to get out of bed? Yes, that was today for me, oh Monday mornings…Well, since I had the luxury of only working 3 days last week, facing a 5 day workweek was daunting. Nevertheless, I made my way to my last junior high school and prepared to give self-introductions #36-40. It amazes me how you can have your day turned around after simple conversations with other people. I thought teaching 5 classes in a row would put me in a bad mood, but not today! The staff members (and other teachers) were incredibly welcoming today. I’ve even planned a date near the end of October to play golf with some other teachers/staff members! And on top of that, the principal took 5 minutes out of his day to learn a little bit about me. The reason I was so surprised is that this was the first time I’ve seen a principal really interact with the staff and it definitely made my first day at this school so much better, and not to mention, a little less stressful! In all, I took a very valuable lesson, which I look forward to applying in my future. There is no person too small or unimportant for you to take 5 minutes out of your day to talk to because you never know how it many change their day. And after 15 days of being passed by the teachers/staff in the teachers’ room, that simple conversation about where I’m from and why I’m in Japan, made my day. And thanks to that conversation, I will be much more excited to return to that junior high in the future.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Back In Time: Kyoto Style

This past weekend was a 3 day weekend (thanks to Respect for the Aged Day)! Since we had a wonderful National Holiday, I decided to use it to my advantage and take a long weekend in the wonderful historic city of Kyoto! On Saturday morning I left Godo Station (my little train station) and 65 minutes later met up with my co-traveler for the weekend in Nagoya. We hopped on a bullet train (aka the Shinkansen Nozomi…the fastest one, approximately 300km/hour, about 180mph I think). It took us 35 minutes to travel 91 miles and in no time, we were walking out of the Kyoto Station. So yes, it is a very convenient way to travel. I heard that Arnold Schwarzenegger was just in Japan/Asia looking at the fast train systems they have here because he wants to put them in California. I would love for the US to have a better rail system, but who knows, it could be too late for that technology, since the Shinkansen was introduced in 1965 in Japan.

Once we arrived in Kyoto, we made a quick trip to the visitors information center and got some handy English maps and bought the greatest 2-day bus/subway pass for about $25.

After checking into our hostel, we went to Nijo-jo Castle. It is commonly referred to as the Nightingale Castle (at least that’s what my lovely mother calls it). Built in 1603 as the official residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the General of the Military (basically). To protect against invasion, the interior of the castle was fitted with ‘nightingale’ floors that squeak when pressure is applied. We couldn’t take pictures inside the residence, but it had 5 buildings with numerous chambers. Outside of the buildings was the Ninomaru Garden/Palace. I did get some pictures of this and it was breathtaking in September, so I can’t imagine what Cherry Blossom season or autumn season would look like.

Here are two pictures from Ni-jo Castle

After Nijo-jo Castle, we walked to Nishi Hongan-ji and Higashi Hongan-ji. As you can tell, they have the same name and they actually looked fairly similar. Nishi means West and Higashi means East. The daughter of the founder of the Buddhist Jodo sect founded the Nishi temple in 1272. The temple we saw was actually built in 1591. Tokugawa Ieyasu wanted to weaken the Jodo sect and therefore, broke off from the faction and formed Higashi Hongan-ji in 1602. After this, the original temple became known as Nishi Hongan and the headquarter of the Hongan branch of Jodo. Now days, this branch has 12 million followers.

Here are some photos from Nishi and Higashi Hongan.

Three historical locations later, we were hungry, so what better place to go than Kyoto Station’s underground shopping mall. There must have been 20-30 different sit down restaurants to choose from, and we settled on an “okonomiyaki” restaurant. They are called Japanese pancakes, but they are not something you would eat for breakfast, it was made of batter, veggies, mochi, cheese, and corn. Very yummy and very filling.


Kyoto Tower:

After dinner we decided to head up to the top of the Kyoto Tower (it reminded me of the Seattle Space needle). It is said to resemble a forever-burning candle. It was quite the view from the top, as we went up right at dusk. With one more stop one our list for the day, we headed to To-ji Temple (this is when I really appreciated my cell phone and its GPS device, I can’t tell you how many times GPS has saved me here). So 20 minutes later, we wound up at To-ji. The temple itself was established in 794 to protect the city.Most of it was destroyed by fire in the 15th century (a VERY common occurrence to historical places in Japan). We just wanted to see the 5-story Goju-no-to Pagoda, as it is the tallest one in Japan. The pagoda is 57 meters high and it has burned down 5 times since it was originally built, but the one we saw has been standing since 1643 (so maybe it’s on a better streak).

To-ji Pagoda:

After our historical lessons we returned back to the hostel and met some people from Sweden, Germany, and actually went to the river bank with our new German friend Niko. I definitely saw the most foreigners I’ve seen since Tokyo Orientation back in August, there must have been over 100 foreigners on the river bank!

On Sunday, we got up and went to find a place with morning service/sets. Morning service is a breakfast special at coffee shops where you can get toast, coffee, salad, fruit, eggs, hot dogs, sandwiches, etc for $3-$10. You get to pick what you want and it is usually quick. With some food in us, we headed to Ginkaku-ji or the Silver Pavilion in NE Kyoto. This temple was originally constructed in 1482, which Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasu used as a retreat. It was supposed to be covered in silver but it never was. The gardens are definitely the highlight, and they were incredible to look at, it was quite peaceful and very beautiful.


Next, we went to Heian-jingu, which was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto. The buildings are replicas, and are actually 2/3’s the size of the original buildings. One day a year they open up the gardens to the public for free, otherwise we would’ve paid $8 to see the gardens. Somehow we picked the right day! Not only were the gardens free, but also there was free green tea and we met 4 college students who were part of an English club giving free tours in English to foreigners. It was our lucky day! As we walked throughout the gardens, we passed Japan’s first electric train, only the second in the world to Boston (at least that’s what I thought they said). To be honest, I have no idea why it is planted in the garden because it doesn't fit the theme. The highlight of this stop was the entrance, very gaudy but an incredible sight. The big orange gate is called a “torii” and its purpose is to serve as the official entrance to the Shinto Shrine.


The final stop on our Kyoto checklist was Kiyomizu-dera. I went here in college and it is one of the few temples/shrines that I can actually remember. To be honest, it is quite hard to forget. It is built on the mountainside and from it, you have a great view of Kyoto. It was first built in 798 and what we saw was built in 1633. A main attraction is the Otowa-no-taki waterfall. Visitors line up to drink this sacred water. There are three types to choose from: wisdom, health, and longevity. The common belief is that you can only drink one, and if you drink from two, you are greedy, and oh man, if you drink all three, you are asking for evil. When I went 4 years ago, I remember lining up and drinking the water, the only problem, is I don’t remember which water I drank. This time, the line was very long (it was a holiday weekend, so everyone was traveling) so we decided to skip the lucky water.


Sunday night we met up with 4 other ALTs (and one husband) for the Kyoto Tower Beer Garden. It was on the 10th floor of the Kyoto Tower Hotel, and it provided great views of the tower itself and Kyoto Station. A beer garden is something special to Japan; it is only during the summer and usually on the roof of a building. For about $30-$35, you get a beer glass and a plate, and for 3 hours, it’s all you can eat and drink. After dinner, we went back to the river bank (same one from the previous night) and met up with 2 German girls from the hostel. As a group, we headed out to find karaoke, a must-do while in Japan.

By Monday, I was tired! Getting up and out of the hostel was definitely a slow process! We went to the same coffee shop for breakfast, as we did on Sunday. After breakfast we decided to do some retail therapy instead of temple hunting. We eventually made our way to the Nishiki Market; it is filled with loads of fresh fish, fruit, veggies, and food in general (it smelled like a nice slice and dice selection of critters from the sea!) After the market we went back to Kyoto Station and called it a weekend and headed home!

Nishiki Market:

So there you have it, my first excursion out of the area, and I would definitely call it a success. There are so many historical sights to see, and you cannot see them all in a three-day weekend! I’m looking forward to seeing Osaka, Kobe, and Nara soon (which are all in the same area).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Amander? No, Amanda..."Ah-man-duh"

Self Introductions
Okay, this may sound like a rant, but after giving your very own self introduction 35 times in 12 days, the equivalent of 26 hours and change, it does get boring. Here’s the “bad” new, I still have to give it 19 (or so) more times! Ah, the wonders of being a new ALT at 6 different schools. It’s not that I’m trying to complain, but I honestly feel bad for the students because let’s be honest, how excited would you be to give your 5th self-introduction of a day in a hot classroom talking about your hobbies or favorite foods using very basic English? (that’s what I thought). In all of this, there is always the highlight of each class when usually one kid either makes a comment or just asks a completely random or funny question, and that makes my day.

Silver Week
This week is known as Silver Week in Japan. In May, there is Golden Week (which basically celebrates children). Silver Week honors the elderly. So this week (9/20-24) I have 3 days of work and 2 National Holidays! On Monday, the 20th, it was Respect for the Aged Day and today (Thursday, 23rd) it is the Autumn Equinox Holiday. Let’s just say that I’m really liking 3 day workweeks! I spent my weekday holiday getting some errands done that I’ve been putting off. I really wanted to golf (I still haven’t!!!), but the crazy-ridiculous-scary-beautiful-noisy-obnoxious rain, thunder, and lightening stopped that plans. Over the next three months, I have 3 more National Holidays (1 in October and 2 in November) and then, I’m very excited to my 19 day trip to Hawaii in December!!!

Oh yes, School Lunch
I’ve been meaning to make a picture of the school lunches. Today was fried pork (I passed), some carrots and other veggies, miso soup, white rice, a carton of milk, and a slice of a Japanese pear. I call it a Japanese pear because the pears here are quite different from what we have in America. It’s a cross between an apple and a pear, think the crunchiness of an apple mixed with the taste of a pear. The subtle differences in fruits is quite intriguing, but I must say, I definitely prefer the Japanese pear to the ones in America. Back on track, school lunches in general. I don’t really remember school lunches in elementary school or middle school, because I’m pretty sure I brought lunch most of the time. So, I’m probably not the best judge on comparing the differences. However, earlier this week I was asked by a fellow teacher if I liked the Japanese school lunch (in English). Now, since I’m always “on” or always being interrogated (or having my words taken for what is and isn’t said), I must stay on my best behavior because as I have learned, word travels fast (super fast). So, I said, yes, then I asked her if she liked the school lunch and she informed me that the reason she became a teacher was for the school lunches. That my friends, struck me as odd...The main reason being the Japanese culture in general isn’t very humorous, they don’t joke and don’t provide or take sarcasm well, or even at all. So, the fact that she wanted to become a teacher because of the lunches, well, yeah, I guess to each their own!?

Amander? No, Amanda

The quirks of my job. This week, a fellow teacher (actually the Japanese Teacher of English) tries to use my name in the English pronunciation form. However, when he does this, it turns out as Amander. I don’t know why or where the confusion comes from, but oh well. Who knew that a nickname from college would turn into my Japanese name. In Japanese, my name is written アマンダ and it sounds like ah-ma-nn-da, so it’s really not far from the English pronunciation, but somehow the “a” at the end gets exchanged with “er”. Aside from my mispronounced name, the varying levels of English spoken by Japanese Teachers of English is astonishing. You would expect some sort of basic conversational skills with certain teachers having more experience with English. I would expect that every teacher of English would have spent sometime abroad in an English speaking country. I guess the requirements are just different here, and I’m not sure how fair it is to the students who deal with great English speaking teachers, and weaker English “speaking” teachers.

Here are some pictures from the weekend of September 11th-12th, I took the train for about 90 minutes and a lovely fellow ALT picked me up for the next 30 minute drive to Ikeda. We spent the afternoon at the river and having a good ol' BBQ Japanese style!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Green Tea, Sports Day, and Real English Lessons!

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day” the wonderful words of the Mamas and the Papas (one of my most listened to artists on my iTunes). Well for me, this Monday (the 13
th) wasn’t such a terrible day. Last week flew by, and after teaching at elementary schools for the last 7 days, I finally am moving onto Junior High School on Wednesday! I think that teaching at JHS would be easier since there is really no preparation on my part because I am a true AET (Assistant English Teacher) in those classrooms. Whereas at ES, I am for the most part in charge of the entire class period.

Last Friday, I was done with classes by 11:30am, awesome right?! Not so much, since my official working hours are from 8:20-4:05pm. So yes, until my job picks up, I sat at my desk until 4, and then, on my off time, I had meetings until 6pm on a Friday night! You would think that would be antagonizing, but no! I spent my Friday afternoon researching my upcoming trip to Kyoto this weekend. The best part about working “overtime” is that we are basically on the honor system to work roughly 35 hours a week. So, when I worked 2 extra hours on Friday, I’m able to leave early another day in return. Personally, I love this idea. You are only scheduled to work a certain number of hours and not expected to do overtime (as ALTs, we are definitely not held to the same standards as a typical Japanese worker is). The honor system here is truly amazing, but I guess living in a small town has its own way of checking in on what the ALT is doing (since I stick out very well).

School Lunches

It should be in my job description to spread the word about Japanese School Lunches to those outside of Japan or unfamiliar with school lunches. Oh man, if you want a high calorie (think high starch/carb diet), this is the one for you. Elementary students will have roughly 650-750 calories per lunch, and JH students will have between 750-950 calories per lunch. It’s kind of scary to think about since when you look down at your tray, it doesn’t seem so bad. On Friday, I got a treat for lunch. The main course was one slice of cold French toast (no syrup), broccoli salad, pork and beans (I passed), an orange slice, and a carton of milk. I remember the story that my grandma told me about a boy (maybe her nephew) who wouldn’t mix his food together during meals. So, if the meal consisted of salad and spaghetti, he would eat all of one before indulging in the other. I loved how my grandma pointed out that it all ends up mixed up in you stomach after you eat it. Well, 10 years later, I understand that boy’s point. How does taking a bite of French toast and then broccoli sound? My point exactly! Let’s just say, when I first look at my lunch I make a strategic plan as to what I want to eat first, second, and third.

Green Tea

Before coming to Japan in August, I had been here 3 times for about 2 weeks each time with the JMP and the University of Idaho. Recently, I was sitting at my desk, drinking my daily cup of cold green tea and I was reminded of my first trip to Japan when I was in the 5th grade. That trip was all about sightseeing and actually witnessing the culture we had spent the last 6 years learning about. I remember being with my dad (who was a chaperone) and the other kids in my group sitting down at a tea house (or something similar). At the time, I remember thinking, oh my gosh, my prayers have been answered, finally something I want to drink…I thought it was apple juice. Now, 11 years ago, I guess it seemed feasible that there was apple juice in the teacup, poured from the teakettle, served at a tea house/restaurant. I guess its like when people are stranded in the desert and they finally see water but in reality its not there, same idea. Well, I remember taking a huge sip of the “apple juice” and having this huge repulsive wave come over my body, starting with my taste buds. It was not apple juice, and I had to do something with this tea that I was not a fan of. I was so disappointed and I didn’t like one bit, so for the rest of the time, I didn’t dare touch the cup of green tea. Finally the time has come where I am mature enough to enjoy the sophistication of green tea or matcha. So far, every day I’ve been at school I’ve had the privilege of having cold green tea. And in the summer, cold green tea is the way to go, as it is incredibly refreshing. Also, going from school to school means I get to try different kinds of green tea, some are weaker than others, or some have real greenish color or some are fairly clear. Lets just say I’m very thankful that my taste buds decided to warm up to green tea before I moved to Japan, or every day could be a challenge (it is fairly difficult to refuse things in Japan, mainly because the response “no, I’m fine” means “yes, I would like some more”)…So there is my wonderful tangent on green tea, my once (or more) daily fix of a true Japanese culture and lifestyle.

Real English Lessons

On Tuesday, I finally moved on from my self-introduction lesson and taught a real English class! I taught 5th and 6th graders about “can/can’t” and “like/don’t like”. Lets just say I knew it was going to be a rough day for two reasons. First, the ES is the toughest of the group, today in one of my 5th grade classes, two boys got in a physical shoving and hitting match, where one finally ended up on the floor and the teacher yelling at them. Second, since school started back up 2 weeks ago, the ES students have been preparing vigourosly for Undokai (Sports Day) which is this weekend. Before my classes, all of the students went through an entire run through of Undokai, literally trying their hardest to win the meets. After you combine those two, well, you get a tough day to teach English. I wouldn’t say I failed by any means, I gave it my all and had plenty of energy (or in Japanese “genki”). I am very thankful for the homeroom teachers, who were able to translate some of my directions into Japanese, or else, then I might have considered it a failure. Overall, it wasn't too bad, it just required more of my voice than I am used to, I think I’m going to buy throat lozenges the next time I’m at the store. On the flipside, I was treated to the full run through of Undokai, which was fun to watch, I even took some pictures so you could all see the excitement in the little 1st and 2nd graders (although, I’m not sure if I was supposed to, oh well).

Here are some pictures from the JHS Undokai Day that I went to this weekend.

That is the entire Junior High School! Only 46 students!

They had some crazy relays.

What kind of Sports Day would it be without Tug of War?

Or a giant jump rope contest, that is the entire second grade.

Here are some highlights from the past week:

- The 3rd graders at the largest ES in the town thought the Statue of Liberty was holding an ice cream cone. THAT was funny.

- A girl in the same 3rd grade class was obsessed with grabbing my stomach (the homeroom teacher was a victim too). She even made some weird noise when she was doing it, like the noise you make when you are saying something to a baby (weird, I know). She tried it 3 times on me, and I swear if she tries it again, I’m going to grab her belly, since it might possibly be larger than mine.

- My upperbody is very sore from spending time with the kids on the playground. Those monkey bars are killer! But, it reminds of a time when working up a sweat was actually fun.

- My face is literally tired and sore from saying hello to every student I pass in the hallway (and from smiling at the cute little kids).

- For all the hassle and requirements to get a drivers license in Japan, they honestly are the worst drivers I have EVER SEEN. No question. I cannot tell you how many accidents I have almost seen happen, or for that matter, almost been a part of. Yes, it’s scary, but thankfully, Japan has a wonderful train system (maybe that’s why it’s so popular?)

- I can pay a lot of my monthly bills at the “combini” or convenience stores, for example, today I went into a combini and paid my home phone bill.

- During cleaning time today and after school, they played Christmas tunes. I heard “We Three Kings” and I started to hum along, no one else even knew that the song was considered a holiday song in other parts of the world.

- Landscaping is done by teachers or faculty members. I have seen the vice principals at two ES doing routine landscaping now. Talk about a different take on cutting costs.

- When teachers or staff members go on vacation, they bring back omiyage, or gifts. The gifts are usually a little food treat, and they are meant as an apology. Literally, they are trying to say I’m sorry for inconveniencing you all by going on vacation. I like them because I have gotten some wonderful treats from teachers or staff members I haven’t even met yet!

- After being completely immersed in the Japanese culture and language for over 6 weeks now, I am shocked about how much my Japanese has improved!

In the words of my ES students: that’s all for today! Wish me luck as I start my JHS teaching adventure tomorrow!

Just for kicks:

Here is my electricity bill. Just got it today. Let's just say, I have no idea what it says, just that I owe a lot more money than they said I should owe (for electricity and water bills, they send out a notice of how much energy or water you used during the previous month, and what you will be expected to pay when the real bill comes.) Well, my real bill and my announcement bill were not the same by any means...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Typhoons and Self-Introductions

Well, it’s almost the end of another week, and the end of my first full week of teaching! It has been a fairly easy and fun week, but there are definitely some points that stick out. Yesterday morning, (Wednesday 8th) I woke up bright and early (5:30am) to a consistent dipping noise outside of my window. I know the sound, drip drop, very well, since every time it rains, I hear the noise. That's what I get for sleeping in the only room with air conditioning. Well, Wednesday morning the dripping was extra loud. The rain continued through my morning routine and my drive to work. When I finally got to work, everyone was talking about the weather, and to think I just thought it was normal rain, ha. I was wrong; we were experiencing a typhoon (typhoon Malou to be specific). Being a landlocked prefecture, we don’t have much concern for typhoons and tsunamis. However, we are not exempt from flooding. About two weeks before I came to Japan, Yaotsu, a town 20 minutes north of me, experienced flooding due to heavy rain, and they had significant damage to the town and they had a few casualties.

The thunder continued throughout the morning and I couldn't help think about what 300 kids were going to do for recess. Yikes. That would be way too much energy to keep inside! Luckily, the rain and thunder passed right before lunch. At recess, we were lucky enough to be in the eye of the typhoon according to my coworkers (that still seems odd to me, but the weather was calm, no rain or wind).

Wednesday was my first day at Fushimi Elementary School. It is the second largest elementary school of the three, with 300 students. It is on the west side of my town, very close to our neighboring town of Kani. That being said, the attitude of students can be a little daunting. Especially when trying to keep their attention for 45 minutes at a time. I only taught 3 classes at Fushimi thanks to the typhoon, which ended school early. Side note: this is how I know I feel more like a student than a teacher, I was really excited for school to get out early, but being a teacher means you stay no matter what. Aside from my three classes, I got to watch the preparation for “Undokai Day” or Sports Day. Sports Day in Japan is a serious thing, real serious. These students prepare for countless hours, during class, between class, at recess, and after school just for this one day, in which teams (usually red, white, sometimes blue if the school is large enough) compete against each other for basically school glory. They take it very seriously in the weeks before, and I was lucky enough to watch the open chant practice. All the students lined up in the gym and sang a chant/song that I believe is the opening ceremony type song. My iffy translation is that it was basically rallying the troops, “red, red, red, go, go, go” then “white, white, white, go, go, go”. They practiced this a few times and the entire staff was there to watch them. It was cute to see the little first and second graders singing this song with all of their might, whereas the fifth and sixth graders would rather be someone else. When the practice was over, 300 students walked by me, and if you’ve ever had 300 eyes stare at you, the feeling is uneasy. It was like the ultimate stare down. I’ve learned to smile, wave, and say hello, it works every time!

The Self-Introduction Lesson

Right about now, about 1400 new ALTs in Japan are giving their self-introduction lesson. This is the only lesson that we can completely plan ourselves and essentially do whatever we want! After this lesson, the education offices around Japan decide upon every part of the curriculum. Therefore, it was stressed to us at orientation that we should really try to make a great self-introduction that will get the students interested in us and in English. Well, I think I’ve done a pretty good job. My self-introduction has lots of pictures, and sometimes I’ve even brought a golf club. After about a 15-minute introduction of saying where I’m from, telling them about my family, my hobbies, favorite foods, colors, animals, etc., it is question time. I wasn’t going to do an entry on a self-introduction because I thought it would be pretty boring, but alas, I was wrong.

Well, here is a list of the questions I’ve been asked (1st-6th grade).

- What’s my: birthday, height, weight, shoe size, age

- What’s my favorite: movie, actor, actress, singer, Japanese singer, American singer, Japanese food, foreign food, food I like to make, sports, Harry Potter character, country

- Where: do I want to go in Japan, where have I been in the world

- Do I: have a boyfriend (EVERY time), like someone ‘a little’, like ~sensei, want to get married, want kids (how many), like ~student, miss my family

- How many toilets are in my house (this kid was funny)

- What was my job before being an English teacher

- 5 most important things I brought from home (this question started with the most important item, and then the little first graders wanted to know more, so then came #2,3,4,5)

- And countless other questions that I couldn't understand and the Japanese Homeroom Teacher wouldn't translate for me, and all the students would laugh about (you get the picture)…

Now you all know about some of the crazy questions these wonderful little kids ask me. I’m sure there are great ones I’m forgetting, but I will be sure to do an update as I’m not even a ¼ of the way through my self-introductions.

Just to throw in some pictures, these are from my commute from my town (Mitake) to the neighboring town of Kani, where the gym I go to is. It’s about a 15 minute drive given “traffic”, so not too bad.

Volkswagen East Kani City

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Month 1: Check!

Well, I finally transitioned from desk work to actual teaching this week. It was definitely a welcomed change! On Monday (30th), the Watanabe’s took me to one of the few remaining portions of the Nakasendo. The Nakasendo “the road through the mountains” was one of five major “roads” during the Edo Period, roughly in 1694. Travelers used this road when they wanted to go from Kyoto to Edo (present day Tokyo). It was 332 miles long and didn’t cross any large rivers, so it was favored by women travelers. There were 69 stops on the journey and 2 were in my area. The stop I visited was the “Mitake-juku” stop, 49th on the journey. This part of the journey is famous for Hiroshige’s rendition of the resting location.

This is the sign for following the Nakasendo. The next stone says how far to each town. The kanjis are read up to down. So the kanjis on the right say, “right, to Kyoto 40….” That's as much as I can read. They did their distances a little different and for every 1 “block” they covered, we would consider it between 5-10 miles.

I love the meaning behind this sign. This part of the trail was quite a bit uphill and so I can imagine it would be very difficult carrying a load up this hill. This sign says that one day a man was getting tired and he decided that singing would be the best way to make it up the hill. So there you have it, when things get tough, sing!

These next 3 photos are from the 49th resting point along the Nakasendo. The first the mural by Hiroshige, the second, the sign describing it, and the third, is the building where travelers would rest/sleep/do housework to pay their stay.

Right outside of the building is this little bath area. If you wanted to get the grime off of you, this is where you would do it! It is quite deep; the picture doesn’t do it justice. Also, along the way the travelers would need to get water for themselves and their animals. This picture is one of the watering holes along the way. I was lucky enough to have the Watanabe’s pose for a picture, so finally there is a face for the name. Humans would drink on the left, and the cattle/horses would drink on the right. Apparently, when the Princess came through Mitake, she drank out of this spot and really raved about how good it tasted.

To wrap up our historical tour (there were SO many mosquitoes out, that being outside of the car was like a war zone) we went to the Christian memorial area. This is a statue of Mary; it’s quite new, built about 12 years ago. However, the land upon which it sits has been dedicated to Christianity for over 200 years (if I understood right). One of Japan’s rulers prohibited all religions except Shintoism or Buddisim, so the few Christians in Japan were left to practice in secret. They created this memorial for her.

On Friday (the 3rd), I officially earned my teacher title. I was at Kaminogo Elementary School, the smallest ES in the area, with 90 students in 6 grades. I started with 2nd grade, then to 4th grade, and then to 3rd grade. It went by so incredibly fast! In 2nd grade, our activity was coloring (my favorite) and in 3rd and 4th grade, we all played Amanda Basket. It is a game where you hand out one card to each person. There are 5 images that could be on the card. So if you are playing with 15 people, 3 people would have the same images. Well, you put all the chairs in a circle and you have one less chair than people playing. There is one person in the middle and they call out of the cards (so I had, golf, baseball, soccer, book, piano, pig) and the people with those cards had to stand up and run to switch to an empty seat. The other option is to yell, “Amanda Basket!” and everyone has to find a new seat. Definitely an entertaining game, and surprisingly violent as well!
So my day was very light compared to the other schools I will be at, 3 classes, 45 minutes each, all in a row from 9:30am-12:15pm. I would say everything went fairly well. For lunch I was invited to the 4th grade classroom. School lunch consisted of: a hot dog (I just had the bun…pork, ick), corn chowder, some cabbage, 2 grapes, and a milk. Let’s just say I might be able to reduce my food intake if I only eat those portions of the school lunch. Out of 18 school days in September, 14 have pork in them. Yippie! I think I’ll start packing a Cliff bar to each school now, just in case. I’ve also learned that I’m going to be showing up in tennis shoes, since kids like to invite the ALT to play sports outside with them. After recess is cleaning time. I was with the 3rd grade class and helped sweep their classroom. They clean for 15 minutes 4 days a week, and that is how the school keeps clean. I’m very impressed with the job that these kids did cleaning their classroom, hallways, AND bathrooms! I’m glad I wasn’t assigned to the bathroom. After that, I was done for the day. So I had about 3 hours to kill before my required 7 hour day was over. I spent the time reorganizaing my self introduction and studying kanji. Too bad this is not going to be my typical day. It was awesome!

This weekend I went to Nagoya to meet other ALTs and we went to Nagashima Spaland. Which is a roller coaster park, water park, and outlet mall right on the ocean. They have the World’s Longest roller coaster, the “Steel Dragon 2000”. It was a fantastic roller coaster and the park was awesome as well. The only negative part? It followed the trend of ridiculously hot weather! I think we decided it was about 35 degrees Celsius, so in mid 90’s! Ick. After the theme park we took the bus back to Nagoya to have dinner at the Hard Rock Café. On Sunday, I went to the Ogaki City Farmers Market. It wasn’t anything like the ones we have in Oregon/Idaho, and I was a pretty sad that I didn't get any good veggies or fruits to bring back with me.