Wednesday, December 22, 2010

5th Graders, Go Fish, and Tears

Yes, I know the title of this is quite funny, but the sad part is that it is true. To make class more interesting for 5th graders, the teachers’ book recommends the game “Go Fish”. Simple right? This was the last group of 5th graders to play the game, so I thought I had all kinks figured out. I guess I overlooked the 5th grade boy. All of a sudden, a seemingly easy game of “do you have blue shorts” -> “yes, I do…No, I don’t. GO FISH!” got way more emotional than it should have. It wasn’t my greatest moment, watching this poor 5th grade boy cry because of a card game, but oh well, life must go on!

Last week was my last 5 day week of 2010! I’ve only got 3 more days of school and then I’m America-bound! I’m quite excited to see my family, although packing is going to be tougher than I originally thought (Christmas gifts really add up!).

This weekend I got a double dose of golf, which also meant I got nothing else accomplished. On Saturday, I was lucky enough to play with the Mayor of Mitake again and two other members of the town office. We played at a prestigious golf course, at least that’s what I translated from the conversations on the course. I played well and I must say, I’m really starting to enjoy the after golf onsen (hot spring) time. Every course has it and it really is just part of the routine.

On Sunday, I played with some of the teachers at a JHS in Mitake. This was the second time I played with them, and they are quite the characters. I learned some new Japanese phrases, some of which they said I shouldn’t say when playing with the Mayor. For all of you golf fanatics out there: in Japan, when you sky your tee shot, they call it “tempura”. Yes, like the food. Let’s just say, I couldn’t stop asking if they “tempura-ed” their tee shot for the rest of the day :) Being on the golf topic, I thought I’d clear up some golf differences from Japanese to American golf courses.

- Okay, most golf courses here have two greens.

- On Sunday, we played golf when the ground was still frozen, something that never happens in America.

- In America, you pay for the round before you play. In Japan, you pay after.

- In Japan, the cost includes breakfast, lunch, 2 drinks on the course, the round, the cart, and the onsen. If you think about it, golf is pretty reasonable.

- In Japan, golf cars seat 4 people in Japan and drive itself (pretty awesome).

We were learning country flags, since we are most commonly referred to as America, I asked the 6th graders if they knew USA. They did. Then I asked them what USA stood for…That was amusing. The best response, “The United Super of America”. Personally, I liked it.

As I sit here at my desk, I’m listening to the fighter jets fly overhead, which is fine, but every time I hear them now, I wonder if North Korea is starting a new war. A war I definitely don’t want to be involved in.

On Tuesday, I had the privilege of eating lunch with the special education students. They are by far my favorite, most of them (there are 6-7 of them) will start a conversation with me, whether I understand what they are saying or not. This really doesn't happen in other school lunch situations. There is this one 4th grade girl whose English level astonishes me. We were playing Japanese alphabet Karuta and she would look at a card and think of the word in English, 3 out of 4 times, she knew the word. One that really got me was bicycle. Back in October, the 6th graders couldn’t understand what a bicycle was, I had to draw pictures. And here is the 4th grade girl, just saying bicycle like its no big deal. I love it when simple things like that can brighten my day!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sumo-ing+Afternoon Beers=Ekiden Time!

The Kani River: 30 Feet From My Front Door

Oh Ekiden Day. For those of you who are wondering what Ekiden means, let me help you out. According to the most trusted source on the internet, Wikipedia, Ekiden refers to a long distance relay race. To be honest, I definitely underestimated the hugeness of Ekiden in Japan. I’ve heard the term used in conversation, but it really is a great team-school sport. The students train together for countless hours all year long hoping to bring pride to their school.

Some of the Students

On Friday (my last day at JHS for 2010!), I trained with the girls Ekiden team after school. It was quite a fun way to spend my Friday evening, believe it or not. Something interesting I learned. Students love English outside of the classroom. It’s like, once we are out of school, talking English with Amanda is like the coolest thing ever. I must say, I gained a lot of respect for those students. The coolest part of the practice was the "sumo-ing" activity at the end. You get a partner and you stand side-by-side and try to push each other across the line. Pretty simple, but surprisingly a really good workout.

The Ekiden format is pretty simple. 5 people run a total of 8.7km. I got the honor of starting the race (so the first leg, 2km) for our team. I ran with 4 other women, 2 of which were teachers, and the other two I met the day of the race. The race was over quite quick and I’m so thankful the weather was nice (blue skies and about 45 degrees, little breeze but oh well).

The Finish Line

The Ekiden Team

And of course, a relay race wouldn't be complete without a 2 hour "all you can eat and drink" lunch afterwards. At 7:50am, I didn't realize what I was agreeing to, but I found out a little while later that I agreed to lunch. It was pretty cool, although I only knew 2 people (JHS principals).

Well, there you have it. My first Ekiden.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Shopping + Road Excursions = What’s This...A Catholic Church?

Well, my countdown is at 2 weeks until I’m on Christmas vacation and in the lovely USA! Can you tell I’m excited? Although, in a little more than 2 weeks, Christmas will be over and I will have to retire Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” song for another year, the thought of which makes me pretty bummed.

This week has been pretty boring to tell you the truth. This weekend I went into Nagoya for some Christmas shopping. I’m getting pretty good at finding my way around Nagoya, I just wish it was a little closer so I could go on weekdays.

Osu Kannon Temple in Nagoya

Let The Shopping Begin!

On Sunday, I went on my first car adventure/excursion! Ok, driving 30 minutes isn’t quite an adventure, but when you have no idea where you are going, it definitely gets your heart pumping. I mean think about it, you have to make sure you’re: on the correct side of the road, hitting the blinker and not the windshield wiper (I still do that), not running red lights, not crossing the Japanese equivalent of double yellow lines (although I'm convinced they don’t exist), not getting a speeding ticket (oh wait, I’ve only seen 2 police cars on the road… and the one cop was going to get gas), etc.

So yes, I went on an official adventure. I trekked to the area just SE of me, an area famous for its pottery, hot weather (they set the Japanese record in 2007), and its outlet mall! My first stop was this shopping “center” on the highway. In Japan they have “road stations” (roughly translated), and they offer fresh fruits, veggies, and things special to the area. They usually have restaurants and outside food and local farmers selling goods. I bought some Christmas presents and I actually found an Advent calendar, which was quite expensive at 2100 yen- about 25 dollars, but totally worth it. Instead of turning around and going home, I decided to continue on the road to see where I would end up next. Now of course I would never attempt this without either my phone or a map…I made it to the new town, and then I realized that this was the town with an outlet mall with American brands. Yes, stores that I’ve heard of and carries size 8.5 women’s shoes (I have large feet here!). With my trusty GPS, I charted my path to the outlet mall. Being a rookie at driving in this new town, I missed my exit. So, I kept going looking for a place to turn around (I was on a highway, so not so easy). At the next light, I took a right and turned right into a Catholic Monastery! What are the odds of finding a Catholic church in Japan? Of course, I went in and walked around, even lit a candle. After my little detour, I finally found my way to the outlet mall and treated myself to some shopping. Let’s just say I did more personal shopping than Christmas shopping :)

Yep, That Is A Catholic Church In Japan!

Well, Hello Outlet Mall

This week I’ve been at two different Junior High Schools and I know I’ve said this before, but I truly enjoy the JHS girls. They never cease to amaze me. I was told that it had been 4-5 years since they had a female ALT in the area, so it must be a shock for some of them. I’ve been able to have some interesting conversations with the students about Christmas and their weekend plans. I’m also learning a ton about Japanese pop culture from the students! The big news for this week was that I got to plan/run an entire 1st grade JHS class (7th grade). I was given no restrictions (even games were okay!). Instead, I took an idea from a fellow ALT and had the students write letters to Santa Claus! It was an entire Christmas themed lesson, we started out with brainstorming about what came to mind when they thought about Christmas, to how Christmas in American differs from Christmas in Japan (they eat KFC on Christmas and Christmas cake….do any of you eat xmas cake? Because I’ve never heard of it), and then they wrote to Santa about themselves, their hobbies, they asked Santa some questions, and finally they told Santa what they wanted for Christmas. I must say, it was so much fun reading the letters to Santa (I ended up being Santa)! I was pretty happy with how well the students did writing in English, even using new grammar topics they learned.

This Sunday is the Kani City Marathon and about 2 months ago I agreed to participate. It’s for students and teachers, so I’m on the female teachers' team from the JHS I’m currently at. It is a 5 person event, and I’m running the first leg which is 2 km. I’m a little nervous that the JHS students are going to whiz by me, remember in JHS when running was really easy? Well, tomorrow we are going to practice for it after school, yikes. We will see how fast these kids are!

Well, there you have it. Enjoy the rest of your week!

School Lunch Update: (from top right)-> milk, persimmon, green tea, Mitake miso soup (bomb!), rice, and sweet beans (think of maple syrup/baked beans~ish). There was some pork product, which I passed on.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Month 4: Check!

It’s time for another monthly check in. November brought several changes to Mitake. I rang in my 23rd birthday, not too much jazz or anything. Mitake has been experiencing its weather woes, with lows occasionally dipping into the high 30’s or low 40’s, but daytime highs are still in the high 50’s and low 60’s. Although the weather may sound nice, it really has been a lesson in layering. Every morning, I reluctantly walk out of my only heated room into the mid 50’s temperature of my entire apartment. Yes, we don’t have insulation here or central heat. When you combine low 50’s in the morning and every possible window open at school, you learn very quickly what layers work best. Honestly, it probably isn’t the most flattering look (at the moment I have on a tank top, tee shirt, button up shirt, and sweater) but it does the job. Now that it’s December, I can look forward to the use of heaters in school! Although it still is fairly nice weather, I hear that January and February are the months I’m really going to dislike.

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a lot of cool stories to tell you. I made some day trips to towns in my prefecture or just outside of it. I’ve been more adventurous with driving (I even hit 80km/hr with my car, it was shaking…about 50mph I believe). But that’s about it.

At school, I’ve been making my rotations, I’m currently starting my Junior High School rotation and I’m very excited to give Christmas presentations. Last rotation I made a poster about Thanksgiving in America for the largest JHS (it was pretty cool, I must say). I’m happy to say that the JHS students are warming up to me, especially the girls, which is shocking because they are incredibly quiet in class. I’ve learned that the occasional joke or me making a mistake in Japanese is just what they need to try a little harder in class. At Elementary School, I’ve taught things like colors, numbers, rock-paper-scissors, and more complicated subjects like directions (we played simon says), location names (department store, school, police box…no, not police station), world locations and maps, and how to tell time. I’ve definitely got a better hang of things, which is good since I have been teaching now for 3 months! I’ve had some tough days at school, but generally there isn’t much that recess can’t fix, lots of tag and basketball. I’m really coming to like the balance between JHS and ES because it gives me a little change of pace, which is good for the students and me!

But here we are in December. And what I’m most excited about is Christmas vacation! I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving; so instead, I plan on making Christmas twice as special. As of now, I have less than 3 weeks until I’m in Hawaii and trust me, those days can’t go by fast enough.

Happy Holidays!