Merry Christmas, Japanese Style (Part 2)

As I wrote in last week’s post, the kindergarten at which I work recently had their Christmas program – the three- and four-year-olds one week, and the five-year-olds the following week. Today’s post is about the five-year-olds!

One thing that I did not mention in the last post is that the parents, who have to find a seat on the floor of the gym, line up early to get a seat as close to the front as possible. I found this out the hard way, the first week of the program. My apartment is on the first floor, directly beside the driveway that leads into the kindergarten. That means I can hear the employees, parents, and children talking every morning as they walk past my apartment on their way to school – especially in the summer, when I have my window open!

Anyway, early in the morning on the day of the three- and four-year-olds’ program, I heard loud voices outside my apartment as I slept. Only half awake, I kept trying to figure out why there were voices so early in the morning. I slept for awhile, but the first couple of voices were joined by more voices, until I was finally awakened for good around six thirty. Since I can’t look out my window without being seen, I continued to remain baffled about the voices until I saw my coworker later, who told me that all the people outside had been parents waiting for the program to start.

Well. With that knowledge in mind, I decided to go to bed early the next weekend, so I wouldn’t lose sleep from the five-year-olds’ parents chattering. I forgot all about that plan – until I woke up early Saturday morning by voices outside my wall. I looked at the clock, just for the record. Five fifteen. FIVE FIFTEEN! The program doesn’t start until eight forty-five, people! And it’s COLD out there!

Apparently, when you’re a proud parent of a performing five-year-old whose every move MUST be captured on video with no heads obstructing the view, none of that matters. Fortunately, the parents this week were much quieter than last week’s, so I was able to fall right back asleep and not wake up until my alarm went off.

The format for the five-year-olds’ program was very similar to the previous weekend’s. More singing, dancing, frilly and sparkly costumes, and blowing and banging on various musical instruments. The girls, all dressed in white, did a beautiful rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” which my coworker had taught them. Since we were next to the stage getting ready for our own performance, I regrettably didn’t have my camera on hand to capture it.

There was also a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk:

A couple more plays followed, and then the band performance:

I marveled at all the work and the practicing that must have gone into these programs. Do we put that much effort into our performances in America? Since I didn’t go to kindergarten in America, I don’t have anything to compare it to. But I do feel like that’s one thing this country does well – not being afraid to work hard in order to make an event successful.

As a thank you for participating in the program (singing three carols and reading the Christmas story), we got lunch provided for us both weeks. The first week, we also got a Christmas cake. Yes, Christmas CAKE. Forget the sugar cookies and gingerbread men; here in Japan it’s all about a fluffy, white cake with equally fluffy, white frosting, topped with a strawberry (or two or three) and an edible chocolate decoration. There are other varieties besides white cake, too; I’m still hoping to receive a chocolate cake!

Here’s the small cake I got:

And here is the grocery store’s Christmas flyer, advertising the cakes for sale!

On that note, it’s time to say a temporary goodbye. I’ll be going home for Christmas vacation, so I’ll be taking a short break from blogging so I can spend as much time as possible visiting with my family and stuffing my face with my favorite American food! Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas, Japanese Style (Part 1)

So for the past two weekends, those of us who work at the local kindergarten took part in the school’s Christmas program. Last Saturday morning, the three-year-olds and four-year-olds performed; this past Saturday, it was the five-year-olds’ turn. We American teachers also had to sing several Christmas songs! It was fun, though, and I got some photos and videos of the children’s performances. Hope you enjoy!

The program for all of the age levels followed a similar format. Each involved singing and dancing of some sort, usually part of a play. There were also band performances. I was impressed by how well all of these young children did, although the three- and four-year-olds definitely lacked coordination, which was sometimes amusing!

First up were the three-year-olds. They performed Little Red Riding Hood.

I quickly realized that there are some common movements in the various plays that were performed. Since I’m not very familiar with American children’s drama, I’m not sure if these are unique to Japan or not. First, the dancing involved a lot of swaying forward and backward. It felt like almost every song/dance included that. Why? I wondered. Because it’s easy for young children to do? I also noticed that the “good guys” in the stories often ended up chasing the “bad guys” around in a circle,  and usually when the “bad guys” were defeated, they showed their defeat by either lying face down on the floor, or lying on their backs and flailing their legs back and forth.

Next, there were some dancing Santas, and then the story of Momotarou. This is a popular Japanese folk legend in which a boy comes out of a peach, gets adopted by an elderly couple, then grows up to fight and subdue some Japanese-style devils who are terrorizing the village.

Here is the Peach Boy himself:

Another thing I noticed was that, in these plays, there were often doubles of the main characters. Again, I wondered if it was because of the young age of the children. I guess I need to learn more about drama!

Here is a video of two Peach Boys (you can see a couple of the “devils” peeking out from behind the “island”):

After a couple more performances, the parents of the three-year-olds cleared out, and it was time for the four-year-olds to perform.

There were some dancing ninjas:

The story of Hansel and Gretel. The two girls in the front are the crying Gretels. Yes, there are two, and two Hansels as well.

There was another rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. There was also a performance by the school band. I thought they did pretty well for four-year-olds! The band performance was the last one, and then after some final words, the program was over…at least until the following week, when it was the five-year-olds’ turn to perform. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!


Lots of Onsen-ing

This weekend passed remarkably quickly…is it really Sunday evening already? Yes, it is, and it’s back to work tomorrow! Fortunately, the weekend’s events were all good ones. On Saturday morning, the four of us teachers who work at the kindergarten went to the three- and four-year-olds’ Christmas performance. That was fun – but more about that next week!

The main event that we were looking forward to was a weekend trip to Hana-no-yu, an onsen resort in a nearby town. Our employers had promised us this trip after we completed English camp, the special day programs that we held at elementary schools in October. The senior teachers from our team had all been to this resort multiple times, but it was the first time for us new teachers! We’d heard positive things about it, so we were all excited to go.

In the afternoon, the twelve of us piled into two vans for the drive to Hana-no-yu. About an hour later, we arrived at the resort. Well, I’m not sure that resort is the right word, but it’s basically a hotel complex that has hot spring baths. Upon our arrival, we were instructed that the tenth floor baths were open for women before dinner, and the first floor baths were open for men. After that, they switched. We were also shown our rooms and told what time to meet for dinner. Then we were given free reign until dinnertime.

This was only my third time at a public bath, but when in Japan, do as the Japanese do, right? My coworker and I, who were sharing a room, decided to hit the baths right away. We put on the provided yukata and slippers, and shuffled our way upstairs to the tenth-floor bath. We did the mandatory scrub-down, then explored the several baths that were available.

Fortunately, this experience was nothing like my infamous encounter with the sleazy public bath in September. These baths were clean and spacious. Since they were on the top floor, we were able to look out at the surrounding hills and town. It was very relaxing to soak in the piping hot water and gaze at the clear, dusky sky as the day faded away.

Unfortunately, the water at most of these baths is so hot that I can’t stand it for too long. After a few minutes, my heart rate increases, and my mouth starts feeling dry and metallic. It’s perfectly acceptable to sit on the edge of the tub, or get out altogether for awhile to cool off. And that’s what I did – but after soaking in several different tubs, I knew my body just couldn’t take any more heat. I went back down to my room to relax before dinner.

Dinner was wonderful – a buffet with lots of food choices, both Japanese and otherwise, and my favorite part – ice cream! There were even chocolate chips, sprinkles, and chocolate sauce, so I could make a good old-fashioned American sundae. Delicious!

After dinner, we decided to try the first-floor baths, since they were now open to the women. There was an indoor bath, but there was some outdoor air coming in, so the room was very steamy and it was hard to see. There were also outdoor baths, so we decided to give those a try.

That’s when I found my heaven. One of the outdoor baths was a round wooden tub, filled to the brim with warm water – but not too hot. Although it was nighttime, we could still see some of the aspects of the landscaping in front of the tub, including a small tree that still had most of its leaves intact.  My friend and I sat there for the longest time, enjoying the delicious contrast of the warm water and the chilly November air. (Before anyone freaks out, yes the outdoor baths are walled in and there is complete privacy!)

I spent quite a while trying all the outdoor baths, and soaking for a long time in the ones that were a comfortable temperature. By the time I headed back to my room, I was toasty warm and a bit dehydrated.

The evening ended with an energetic karaoke party held by some of my teammates in one of the hotel’s four karaoke rooms. I’d never done karaoke before, so I just observed for a while, then decided to get some sleep.

In the morning, breakfast was another buffet. There were a lot of Japanese meal options, but since I like having traditional “American” breakfast foods in the morning, I mostly stuck with those. I found some flaky pastries, including some with a chocolate filling. We were told that the bread was handmade – on the premises, I assume. They were truly amazing – I felt like I was at a French patisserie!

After breakfast, it was time to leave. Our relaxing weekend was over! Still, it was a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful that our employers were kind enough to take us!