Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Smallest of Worlds

Ok, first: long time, no posting. Sorry!

On with the show! I've decided that the world seriously gets smaller by the day. Today, I had my first lesson at the smallest elementary school. These kids are awesome, enough said. However, after lunch there was no one left at school, except for two office attendants and me. Lonely indeed. Since a 5-hour workday was too short, I stayed in the office studying Japanese and editing lesson plans. Due to the new school year, there are many faces I don’t know. At the smallest school, only about 3 people changed positions. I was talking with one of the office attendants, and she went on to tell me about her older sister who lives in America after I said I was from America. I told her I was from Oregon, and she said her sister lives near Portland. Wow. She went on to explain that nobody knows Vancouver, Washington, but everyone knows Vancouver, Canada. So her older sister, lives in Vancouver, Wa. Crazy right? 5000 or so miles away from home, and I meet someone whose sister lives in the city next to mine. When was the last time that happened to you? (Not recently, I’m guessing). So, we talked for 20 minutes or so about life in Japan, health insurance, green cards, being a teacher in Japan, etc. I was quite impressed with my Japanese ability. After 8 months in Japan, I was starting to wonder if any Japanese would come back to me.

Aside from that story, I don’t have too much news. I’m studying for a Japanese Language Proficiency Test in July…hopefully I pass! This weekend is the start of the epic, National Holiday bazaar. What does that mean exactly? Well, Friday is a National Holiday, and then next week Tuesday-Thursday are National Holidays! Yippie. Time to do some traveling!

I’ve got some accommodations reserved, which was the most important part (I figure there are plenty of trains…) I’ve decided to make my trip a little shorter than I already planned. I’m going to take the train to just Southwest of Hiroshima, where I will see Miyajima, which is supposed to be one of the top 3 most beautiful views in Japan. Next, I’ll head to Hiroshima, where I will spend the night. And finally, after touring Hiroshima on Saturday, I’ll take the train to Osaka, where I’ll spend the night. On Sunday, seeing the sights of Osaka, and finally returning home Sunday night. Hopefully all goes well! The best part, is that I work Monday, and then have 3 more days off….I should really start planning my Tuesday-Thursday adventure.

Since I haven’t had a lot of things to take pictures of, here are some school lunches to keep you occupied. These were from Monday-Wednesday of this week.

Photo 1: Milk, Chimaki (the green thing, it's mochi...sticky/sweet rice, wrapped in grass), green tea, salad (carrots, burdock root, and other Japanese veggies), fish, rice with chicken, bamboo, and other goodies in it.

Photo 2: Salad (cucumber, corn, daikon, carrots), soy beans covered in cocoa powder (YUM), mini apple jelly for dessert, green tea, milk, spaghetti (pork in the meat sauce, so I mix it with my veggies)

Photo 3: green tea, orange, milk, white rice, salad (cucumber, corn, carrot, daikon). some other pork product too. it got wiped off my plate!

Also, I have to say THANK YOU, to my wonderful Aunt and Uncle, who sent me an Easter Care Package. Holy smokes. You made my Wednesday night.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Ever So Short Life of Cherry Blossoms

The title really tells the whole story. The people in Japan (I couldn’t say Japanese people because that wouldn’t include all of us foreigners!) excitedly await the cherry blossoms every year. There are websites dedicated to tracking the cherry blossom season all across Japan (and yes, timing differs by months). Let’s just say it’s a big deal. This past weekend, I took in about as much cherry blossoms (or sakura) as possible. Saturday I spent the evening at a fellow ALTs apartment, where we played a variety of board games and other games…

Sunday morning I drove back to my apartment (90 minutes, not too bad) and early in the afternoon, the Watanabe’s picked me up and off we went to Inuyama Castle. Does that name ring a bell? Well, yes I went there twice last weekend, so it was a little redundant, but Inuyama has the best cherry blossoms. We walked around the castle, but didn’t go in because the line was 60 minutes long. We stopped and took numerous pictures with the cherry blossoms. Finally, I wasn’t the only person taking pictures all the time! We stopped at a small Italian restaurant directly across the river from the castle for some coffee and a snack. I didn’t know why we were going to an Italian place for coffee until I realized the view of the castle (amazing). After getting back in the car, we headed out to find more cherry blossoms. About 30 minutes later, we had found ourselves a small river that had cherry blossoms going down each side, gorgeous. After that, we made our way back to Mitake and soon enough I was back home.

A little cleaning, gardening, and that about wrapped up my Sunday afternoon.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Let The School Year Begin!


Well, I’ve officially survived 8 straight days at the BOE (or my “head” office/desk). I’ve edited several lesson plans, developed some kick-ass games (or at least, I think so), learned how to make worksheets, crosswords, and word search activities. Basically, I’ve done a lot of preparation for the new school year that I didn't do in August because I had no idea what was going on at the time! The sakura trees have fit full bloom and sadly, they will only be around for a few more days…On Thursday, Mr. Watanabe (his wife speaks English…) picked me up during working hours and took me to a sakura watching/bbq party. There were 5 of us, and all teachers who I had met before. We roasted rice, tofu, chicken, pork, and loads of veggies. Plus, with the rice, we made gohemochi (drilled rice covered in miso sauce…ah-mazing!). We sat and talked for a few hours, or in all honesty, they talked and I tried to comprehend. We discussed the earthquake and tsunami, and if my family and friends in America were worried (I had to admit I went back to America briefly). Of course, the conversation went onto the Fukushima Nuclear Plant…yikes. Eventually, the topic changed and that's about when my involvement in the speaking part of the conversation stopped. Oh well. I did learn new words, as I frantically looked them up on my phone dictionary (thank you i-Phone).

BBQ Party!

So there you have it, lots of work/sitting/planning/waiting/wishing (Jack Johnson reference there). Talking via skype with my roommate from college brightened my Thursday night. Thank god for the internet, I can’t imagine living in Japan 20 years ago, teaching English without any communication to my family and friends. Just after I went to sleep, a 7.4 earthquake rocked NE Japan (again, I know). Thankfully, I’ve read that only 3 people died from that aftershock (as of now). If that would’ve happened in America, I can guarantee you that a lot more than 3 people would’ve died. Best part? Didn’t even feel it! Woo!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring Festival at Inuyama Castle (Part 2)

On Sunday I was greeting with blue skies and about 60 degree weather, a wonderful start to my Sunday. I’ve noticed lately that starting in February and continuing until now, the wind is fairly strong and consistent in my area. In the morning it’s relatively calm, but towards lunchtime and especially in the late afternoon, the wind is whipping about. Sunday morning was devoted to laundry and airing out my futons (you’re supposed to hang them outside for about 4-5 hours every 2 weeks to prevent bugs, or something like that). In the afternoon, one of the JHS English teachers picked me up from my apartment and off we went to Inuyama Castle.

Once we found a place to park, we met up with another JHS English teacher and off we went to the castle. Since there were so many people, there was a 40 minute line to enter the castle. The reason being mainly that the only way to get into the castle is to climb up these huge and scary stairs, however you must go up single file because the stairway is very narrow and steep. Once at the top, we had an amazing view of the river and the festival. I took some pictures, but since I’d been here once before, I wasn’t as photogenic. After the castle, it was time for dinner. We walked to the Inuyama Meitetsu Hotel and sat down for a 7 or 8 course dinner. I totally spaced on taking pictures (sorry). But in true Japanese fashion, the dinner was both delicious to my eyes and stomach. We had sushi, rice, sukiyaki (beef and veggies cooked in front of you in a broth), and other treats. After dinner it was time for the most relaxing part of my day. We went into the public bath/hot spring and had a nice long soak. The water is special because it has a really low Ph level, and it feels a little slimy. However, once out of the bath, my skin felt wonderful. A quick drive home and I was ready for bed (and off to another work week)!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cherry Blossoms + Spring Festivals = One Lovely Weekend (Part 1)

It truly seems like the weekends I enjoy the most are always the ones that go by the fastest. Could you imagine a world where the workweek was only 2 days long and the weekend was 5 days? Oh, all of the things we could accomplish!

On Saturday, a teacher assistant at the largest ES picked me up and took me on a cherry blossom viewing adventure. Last November, I went to the Tea Ceremony festival with her and her husband. First, we went to Kakamigahara City (yes, it’s a mouth full...ka-ka-mi-ga-ha-ra, is how you pronounce it in Japanese, except ‘mi’ sounds like “me” and ‘ra’ sounds likes “la” in English. So, “ka-ka-me-ga-ha-la” is how English speakers would pronounce it).

We went to a cherry blossom tea ceremony at the Kakamigahara Citizens Park. This was my second time at a tea ceremony since arriving in Japan last August, and it’s a new activity that I would like to learn more about. I don’t really understand why they do everything in such an exact and precise order, but it truly fascinates me. After having our tea and wandering around the park, we got back in the car and headed to lunch. We went to an udon (thick noodle) restaurant. It was unique because most udon is served in a clear/white broth, but at this restaurant, it was served in a red broth. Very tasty, but very messy (I wore a white shirt…).

After lunch we headed to the area near Inuyama Castle for the annual Spring Festival. It starts at the train station and winds its way through the small, historic looking streets all the way to the castle, probably about 1.5 miles. Street food vendors and games flanked the entire walk, it reminded me of a state fair. In Inuyama (Dog Mountain), they have these things called “da-i”, which are large towers that are exquisitely decorated. I honestly have no better way of explaining them, but hopefully after looking at the pictures you’ll get an idea. They are really tall and they only have wheels that go straight, so to turn these ancient things, the workers have to literally push/pull them to where they need to go. At the train station, we watched 6 of these “da-i” appear. My favorite part of watching the large, towers-on-wheels, was the little kids inside of the towers that were playing music (drums and flutes). It was adorable, especially their kimonos.

Street Vendors

Since it was only about 4 in the afternoon, we still had plenty of time before dusk, when they would illuminate the “dai’s”. We walked around all of the shops, sampled some street fair delicacies of course. We stopped at a teahouse, where I had zenzai (red beans with mochi, it’s like a hot soup). This is a typical New Years treat, which I had back in January and February. Once dusk set in, we watched the lighting of the “dai’s”. There were 7 dai’s near Inuyama Castle, and 6 near the train station. Since we watched the lighting at the castle, we had to wander back to the train station (the car was there). Finally, we watched the fully lit “towers” as they started their trip back home. Impressive!

Green Tea, Zenzai, Umeboshi (those red sour)


But, the night wasn’t finished. It was about 8pm, but we hadn’t had dinner. We went back to Kani City (right next door to Mitake), and went to a sushi restaurant. This was a new sushi restaurant for me, and I will definitely be going back (I just need to remember where it’s located). I had some tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and other assorted fish. Finally, we ordered egg and natto (those sticky beans, I’ve grown to appreciate) that were rolled up in rice and seaweed, and the sushi masters were kind enough to put a Japanese and Canadian flag on the rolls (no American flag that night).


Natto (left) and Fried Egg (right)

So there you have it. Day 1 of my Inuyama Castle Spring Festival event. The cherry blossoms are about halfway to full bloom, so I think I’ll have to head that way next weekend and see if they are fully bloomed then. I know it will be a spectacular sight.

Spring Break Means…Desk Work

Spring Break is a whole lot of nothing for the lone ALT in my town. I’ve had the opportunity to edit and revise some lesson plans, make new games, and study Japanese, but the time spent at my official desk is pretty boring. However, I realize that I’m very fortunate to have a place to live, food to eat, and clothes on my back, I can’t imagine daily life for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. So, on to happier things!

On Wednesday, I was invited to dinner at the house of my largest JHS Principal. He and his wife speak good English (yes!), so it was much easier to communicate. I was invited along with another English teacher who is transferring schools this week and a Fine Arts teacher who just finished her first year teaching. The dinner was wonderful! We started with green tea and some Japanese pastry-like dish. Next was octopus and cucumber (I couldn’t bring myself to try the octopus). After that was a rapid succession of food, I honestly never thought it would end. It consisted of: lotus root (yummy), tempura, raw tuna and avocado (delicious), spinach and sesame seeds, nabe (mushrooms, cabbage, chicken in a broth), 5 ingredient rice (chicken, mushrooms, and three other ingredients). For dessert: assorted fruits with green tea mousse and azuki bean paste (red bean paste). Yes, if your mouth is watering now, I don’t blame you. The food was delicious and the conversation was even understandable for me! I’m still floored by the kindness of the people around me.

The rest of the week went by uneventfully. Fighting jetlag, working at my desk, and cleaning my neglected apartment (due to my unexpected trip to America) sums up last week. I’ve killed a handful of bugs in my apartment, so I’m currently creating a plan to keep bugs out. *If you have any ideas, please let me know ( I’m open to any and ALL ideas.

Where In The World Is Amanda? + Chiune Sugihara Memorial Park

I wrote this two weeks ago, but due to my recent trip to California, I never posted it. Sorry!

The Elementary School Year is almost over and today was my last day with the sixth graders. In 2 of the 3 classes, they made me cards and a “thank you” necklace (it’s pretty cool). All three classes were awesome, which is a great way to end the school year. It’s kind of sad that the next time I see them; I’ll just be a tape recorder in the corner. The interaction is a lot less in JHS because I’m not the head teacher, but I guess I still get to see them.

Thanks to the Tohoku Earthquake, my cousin canceled her trip to visit Japan. I had taken 2 days of vacation (5 day weekend, woo hoo!) in anticipation of her trip. Since I already had these days off and after talking with my family, I decided to take a trip to California where I met my family in Palm Springs. It was a bit of a last minute trip, but I was really happy to leave the craziness of Japan for 9 days. A few comments from my trip: the check-in line leaving Japan was 1 hour and 5 minutes long, I visited 4 countries in one day, seeing my family and friends was an awesome feeling. Now I’m back from my brief vacation and I’m spending my days at the Board of Education office. What does this mean exactly? It means I sit at my desk, edit lesson plans, study Japanese, blog…You get the drift.

Chiune Sugihara Memorial Park

I’m guessing that you all don’t know who this man is (neither did I). Chiune Sugihara was the Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania who issued travel visas for 6000 people affected by WWII (mostly Jewish people). He was born in the town of Yaotsu, which is 15 minutes North of my town. I visited this memorial on a few Sundays ago, with the Watanabe’s (the lovely older couple in my town, the wife speaks English) and a friend of theirs (who is learning English from Mrs. Watanabe). First we visited the 3 pillars. They are to represent 3 things that I can’t remember (I believe one is heart). There are 3 bells at the top of each pillar and we rang them all. Next, we walked to the actual museum/memorial building. Inside was numerous displays and artifacts from Mr. Sugihara or from the people he rescued from WWII.

Here is a short idea of what he did. He was based in Lithuania and when the Nazis moved into Lithuania, thousands of people, mainly Jewish people were sent fleeing the Nazis. Sugihara wanted to issue visas for these people but the Japanese government said no (which makes sense because they were on the same side as the Nazis). The reason the people wanted travel visas to Japan was because they would take the Siberian Railway, and in order to leave Russia/Soviet Union, you had to have a stamp in your passport accepting you into another country. Basically the stamp Sugihara gave them was their pass to a new, free life in the US and Canada.

So we walked around and viewed the museum, it was a really good story and any of you history buffs would like it, I’m sure!

After the museum we stopped for a light lunch and then I went home.

There you have it, my Sunday adventure (from the middle of March).