Going to Hawaii

This weekend I visited Hawaii! Well, not really. But I did go to a place called the “Hawaiians” yesterday. It’s a resort park with a Hawaiian theme, and it’s located in Iwaki city, about an hour’s drive from where I live. Our employer generously paid for our team to spend the day there – and it was a lot of fun!

The resort was really big. There was a four-story building containing a huge pool/water slide area, hot spring baths, restaurants, and more; there was also at least one adjoining hotel. I didn’t take many pictures, but I did get a shot of the inside of the building, where the main pool area was:

I tried a water slide for the first time in my life. The black one (above left in the photo) was the scariest; most of it was covered and totally dark, and it took a few unexpected turns and drops. But I loved it! We were also treated to a wonderful buffet meal, and a Hawaiian dance performance.

The water slide wasn’t my only new experience, though. I finally tried – for the first time ever – ONSEN. What is onsen, you ask? It’s the Japanese word for natural hot springs, and it’s a big deal over here. The Japanese have created lots of baths that use the water from the hot springs. The only catch, of course, is that the baths are public and communal…which means you wear the same thing that you wear when you take a bath at home. Which is, basically, nothing. Luckily, at most of the baths (including the one I went to yesterday) the genders are separated!

I’ve always been a little squeamish about the idea of trying public baths, and I’d been able to avoid it on my other trips to Japan. But I knew that this time, it would be inevitable, because I am here for so long, and it is such an integral part of the Japanese culture. Even though I knew ahead of time that there were going to be hot springs at the Hawaiians resort, I still wasn’t sure if I was going to try it. But after lunch, when some of my friends decided they were going to do it, I decided to be adventurous and take the plunge – literally!

Strangely enough, as soon as I entered the women’s bathing area and saw a bunch of naked people milling around, the idea of stripping down didn’t seem quite so terrifying. There’s something about being in a new country and out of my comfort zone that makes me feel less nervous about trying new things. It definitely felt kind of surreal, though, because it’s not something I’m familiar with. “Am I really doing this? Well, I guess so!” And that was that.

Japanese public baths are, of course, not for bathing. They’re for soaking. It’s all about relaxation and chilling out in some hot, steamy water. Therefore, you wash yourself before you get in the tub, at one of the spigots in the washing area. There’s a plastic stool to sit on, a removable shower head to hose off with, and shampoo, conditioner, and body wash provided. After that, you take your pick of the tub you want to relax in. At the onsen I went to, there were three or four indoor tubs, and one outdoors (behind a privacy wall, of course).

So what’s the verdict on bathing in a Japanese onsen? Well, it was definitely a unique cultural experience. Despite my nervousness, it was somewhat relaxing. I’ve got to admit, I don’t get a huge kick out of bathing in general, but it was fun to try the different baths, especially the outdoor one. And I noticed that my skin felt better yesterday, somewhat softer –  maybe not entirely due to the onsen, but still a nice perk. Supposedly bathing at an onsen is good for you. Whether it is or not, it’s a fun thing to try if you really want to immerse yourself in the culture!

Between splashing around in the water park and soaking up the steam in the onsen, I definitely got my fill of fun and adventure this weekend. I wonder what new cultural experiences lie ahead? Bring it on, Japan! I’m ready for you!

 

 

 

 

 

Miscellaneous Wanderings

So this week’s post is another assortment of videos, meant to give a better snapshot of the area where I live. Now that I’m attempting to shoot more videos for the blog, I’ve been trying to get in the habit of bringing my camera more places. I’m still not great at remembering, but in the past week or two I was able to capture some of the places I’ve been. Enjoy the tour!

First, a walk from my house to the nearest (and biggest) elementary school, where we teach classes sometimes.

A walk to one of the grocery stores.

Train ride to Koriyama, the biggest nearby city (about half an hour and 500 yen away):

The Koriyama train station. It’s hard to see, but at the beginning of the video there is a lady in a yukata standing on the opposite platform!

The train station in Funehiki – my town.

Tour of the Town

At first, I didn’t know what to write about this week. We’ve been busy teaching, and haven’t had much excitement going on. Weekends have been mostly filled with cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and resting. However, as I wracked my brain for possible blog topics, I realized that I haven’t showed much of the outside of my apartment and the area surrounding it. Therefore, I spent some time today walking around and taking some footage of places near my house. Below are four videos for your viewing pleasure!

 

Sports Day Videos!

And now, as promised, the videos of Funehiki Elementary School’s Sports Day. Don’t judge my video-taking skills – I’m not into video editing yet, so what I took is what you get. 🙂 Enjoy!

Japan vs. America: Schools

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for awhile, but have been saving for a weekend that I didn’t have any new events to write about. Well, that weekend has come, so here is my first post comparing some of the differences between Japan and America. This time, it’s about schools!

#1: No shoes allowed! Yes, in schools, as in homes, you take off your shoes in the lowered part of the entry way, stepping up onto the main floor before putting on your indoor shoes. That means that when we American teachers visit elementary schools for our morning classes, we have to tote our indoor shoes with us. Slippers are provided for guests, but it’s really not all that comfortable to scuff around school in a pair of slippers. Just sayin’.

#2: Ritualized greetings. There are ritualized phrases for everything here.  When we first arrive at school and step into our office, we greet those inside with a cheerful Ohayou gozaimasu (“good morning”). When we leave mid-morning to go teach at the elementary schools, we say Itte kimasu (“we’re leaving and coming back”) and receive the response of Itte irrasshai (“go and come back”). When we come back after our lunch break, we use Konnichiwa (“good afternoon”) to greet our coworkers again. When we leave at the end of the day, we say to those left in the office Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu (“excuse me for leaving before you”). The usual response is Otsukaresama deshita (“good work” – or, more literally – “you must be tired”).

When you walk into an office that’s not your own, the rules change. That means, every time you step into or out of the office, you have to excuse yourself. Therefore, at the elementary schools we visit, when we go into the principal’s office to visit over a cup of coffee before starting classes, we say Shitsurei shimasu (“excuse my rudeness”) when entering and Shitsurei shimashita (“excuse my past rudeness”) when leaving. The teachers who pop in to go over our lesson plans with us, and the students who come in to pick us up, also abide by the same rules. In other words, there’s a lot of excusing going on. But it’s all a part of the unique culture of politeness.

#3: Ritualized cleaning. First of all, Japanese schools have no janitors. Well, I’m not sure about no janitors, but I know that students and teachers do some of the cleaning.  At the school where I work, we have someone who does a lot of the cleaning, but the other teachers chip in as well. (Students don’t clean at our school because it’s just an after-school program.) On the mornings that we don’t have as many elementary school classes to teach, we American teachers help with the cleaning, too! Usually, the task assigned to us is cleaning windows. The classrooms all have sliding doors with windows on at least one side of the room, so there are a lot of windows to clean. It doesn’t matter whether the windows are clean or dirty – on our days to clean them (usually once or twice a week), we clean them! The mentality seems to be that there is a time for doing certain things, and during that time – you do them.

#4: School lunches. Obviously, there aren’t school lunches at the after-school program where I work. In fact, I haven’t been to any at the elementary schools, either. But we have eaten lunch with the kindergartners a few times. At the kindergarten, they bring their own rice, and then each get a small tray of food to accompany it – usually meat, vegetables, a small piece of fruit, etc. The bento boxes (lunch boxes) here are the cutest things imaginable – some are double decker, and include space in the lid for a fork, spoon, and/or chopsticks.

#5: Cold water, no soap. Ah yes, public restrooms. Although the toilets can be high-tech (the one that I used in the mall yesterday made running water sounds when I sat down), the washing facilities are not what I’m used to in the States. There is often only cold running water, and many times there is no soap. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen paper towels, and hand dryers are rare. In other words, you’re responsible for figuring out how to get the water off your own hands. Generally, I believe people keep a personal towel or tissues with them. Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten into the habit of it, so sometimes I end up shaking off the water and patting my hands on my pants. Also, my school, being small, has a restroom more like a private bathroom than a public one – which means I have to change out of my shoes and into bathroom slippers before entering!  Keeping the dirt compartmentalized is what it’s all about!

#6: Lack of adult supervision. This aspect of Japanese schools has probably been the most surprising to me. After being part of an American school culture that requires constant supervision of all children at all times, it’s a little strange for me to see children with no adult present. Of course, there are always teachers around, but it’s not a given that there will always be a teacher supervising students. For example, at the kindergarten where I work, students often will be playing in the halls with no adult in sight; and at the elementary schools, we will occasionally walk into a classroom where the students are waiting for us without a teacher present. It’s different from what I’m used to, but in some ways I like that the students can be more independent.

Well, that’s the end of my recap of some of the differences that I’ve found between Japanese and American schools. If there are any topics you’d like to see in future Japan vs. America posts, leave me a comment!