Only in Japan 5

Hi everyone! It’s been another busy week! Last week we had our first “English camp,” which is a day program that our team holds at local schools every October. This year, we’re doing a different school every Thursday for three consecutive weeks. It’s a lot of work, but it’s always fun!

On Saturday, our city hosted an “International Sports Day” for citizens and international residents. We were invited to be a part of that, so in the spirit of fostering community we went and participated in some team-building events such as rolling a bucket around a post using poles (with a partner), or hitting a ball through a croquet hoop and then snatching a snack from a “clothesline” with our mouths! It was fun to spend time with my team and to see some of the people from the community whom we know, as well as other international residents (this area has a sizable population of other Asians such as Vietnamese).

Due to still recovering from my cold, I was pretty tired on Saturday, but since the Sports Day events ended early I decided to take the afternoon train to Koriyama and run some errands. That’s where I met up with some interesting foods, which are the feature of today’s “Only in Japan” segment. Please refer to the picture below to see if you can guess what I ate for a snack! (Answers below!)

First off is the “melon bread” which I bought at a bakery in the train station. I’m not sure why melon bread is called by that name, except perhaps that it is in the shape of a melon? Anyway, it’s very popular here, and is usually plain white or dotted with mini chocolate chips. It is a sweetened roll covered with a crust of sugar. Occasionally, one can find other flavors of melon bread, such as the one above. This one is a pumpkin melon bread, in honor of fall. The outside was dyed green, with a walnut “stem,” and the inside was orange with a layer of pumpkin filling baked into the bread. I even found a small piece of pumpkin skin! (What they call pumpkins here are more like squash, and the skins seem to be edible once cooked. I guess American squash has edible skin too, only no one ever thinks to eat it.)

OK, onto mystery food number two. The drink in the picture above is a milkshake from McDonald’s, and was a new flavor which was also in honor of fall. And of course, what fall would be complete without one of Japan’s favorite foods…sweet potato! I really like sweet potato, so I actually enjoyed the milkshake quite a bit! Who knows, maybe it will take off in America in the future…?

In the theme of unique melon bread, here is another melon bread I found at the same bakery this summer. It was colored to look like a watermelon, and contained chocolate chips for the “seeds.” I wonder if it’s OK to call it watermelon melon bread?

Well, that’s all for this week. Hope you all have a wonderful week! Don’t forget to partake of your favorite fall foods, and if you try anything new and unusual let me know in the comments below!

Kindergarten Sports Day, Round Two

Hello everyone! It’s another great day in this wonderful and crazy land called Japan!

First, a short update. This weekend was the last of our long weekends for awhile (sniff, sniff). I was rather excited because I had a day trip planned to a random city in the southern part of the prefecture. It wasn’t anything that special, it just looked like an interesting place to visit. I tend to be a homebody (at least compared with some of my teammates!), so I was pleased to be getting out and exploring this country while I’m still in it.

However, my body had other plans.

Last Wednesday, I could feel just a touch of a cold. I seem to have a rather robust immune system which often gets only the hint of a virus, and usually heals after a couple of days. I credit it to getting plenty of sleep and eating lots of vegetables, although that’s really just a hypothesis. Anyway, I mentioned my mini-cold to my coworkers as we sat in the office waiting to teach, remarking that my colds don’t usually get very bad.

Well, that virus must have heard me, and it was mightily offended.

On Thursday, I woke up feeling about the same – just a little bit of an odd feeling in my throat. I felt rather energetic, and was excited that my body was heading back toward good health. Which was why I was very surprised when I woke up Friday and felt some soreness in my throat. Although tired, I pushed through the day, ending it with fatigue and a headache. On Saturday I noticed that my wee little cold had now morphed into an insidious beast that was starting to reside in my sinuses. Fortunately, I thought, I had planned my trip on Sunday, so I had Saturday to recover first.

On Sunday I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and knew that a trip was not a smart idea. Disappointed as I was, I could feel that my throat and sinuses had not significantly improved, and spending a day gallivanting about instead of resting could potentially make things worse. Not to mention the fact that I was probably still contagious. It turned out that staying home was a good plan, because I ended up feeling even worse in the evening.

Today is Monday, and I feel that I’m finally taking a turn for the better. I’ve been a bit frustrated that I had a whole three-day weekend in which I could not do anything that I had planned. However, it’s been very good for me, since I’m used to carefully constructing my life and schedule so that it follows my ideas and plans. It’s healthy (and humbling) for me to have my routine shaken up once in a while!

I’m sorry to report that, despite having three whole days of doing nothing this weekend, I STILL did not manage to write my blog post until the last minute. Therefore, except for this long narrative about my illness, I’ll keep my words to a minimum.

Basically, this week’s topic is about the kindergarten sports day which my coworkers and I attended last weekend. Since I wrote about it last year, I’ll try to post some videos of things I didn’t cover last year.

This year, again, we participated in two events with the parents. One was a ball-bouncing race (using beach balls, which of course fly all over the place), and the other was a jump-rope race (my favorite!). The parents participated in many of the events with the children, but these two were just the parents and us foreigners. Other events featured just the kids.

My favorite part (which I wasn’t able to record last year) was the kindergarteners showing off their gymnastics skills. The next few videos feature that, so enjoy the show!

Part of the gymnastics display was what I call “dominoes.” I’m not sure what they call it, but it’s my favorite part of the exhibition!

Well, that’s all for this week. Hope you all have a happy and productive week!

Samurai Parading and Boat Rowing

Last weekend, on our second long weekend in a row (yay!), our employers took us to Aizu’s annual samurai parade. Since we went last year, and I posted some pictures and videos of it then, I decided to focus on some different aspects of the parade.

First, the food!

The performances were pretty much the same as last year. But I still filmed a couple of my favorites:

In the video below, I didn’t realize until after I filmed that there is an annoying squeaky toy sound throughout. I guess one of the kids seated near us must have found the toy more interesting than the parade. In any case, it’s a good show!

This year, instead of visiting the nearby castle after the parade, our employers took us to Goshikinuma, a group of lakes in the highlands of Mount Bandai. First we ate at an excellent restaurant which served hamburg, which is kind of like meatloaf but less meatloaf-y. I guess we might call it Salisbury steak in the U.S.

Anyway, after our delicious lunch of hamburg, fresh crusty bread, and cake, we went to the lake. Unfortunately, we only had about an hour to spend, but we used our time wisely by going on a rowboat adventure and then hiking for the remaining twenty minutes.

It was a long day, but packed full of good experiences. I came back with a headache but lots of good memories. I’d really wanted to see the Goshikinuma lakes, so it was nice to be able to cross that off my bucket list, even though I didn’t get to spend nearly as long as I’d wanted to! But it was great to enjoy one of the final warm days of the season. It’s only going to keep getting cooler from here, so I’ll take summer while it lasts!

Only in Japan 4

Today’s “Only in Japan” post actually has two segments.

First “only in Japan:” karaoke.

Now, I’ve never done karaoke in America, so I don’t know exactly how it compares to Japan, but here you rent a small room with your friends. The room usually contains a table, seats, a TV screen that shows lyrics, and a couple of handheld devices with which to choose songs. Many places offer food and drink as well.

Last weekend, which was a long weekend, my teammates decided to have a karaoke night. This team seems to really love karaoke. Me, not so much. I like singing, and I usually sing a couple of songs (think: Disney and musicals), but the inner performer in me (if there is one) just doesn’t like to make much of an appearance in public. However, I do like spending time with my friends, so occasionally I’ll tag along on their karaoke trips.

When we went last weekend, we got the unlimited plan. I figured we’d stay maybe three hours while everyone sang their hearts out. Three hours later, everyone was still going strong. Everyone except me, that is. Somewhere after the third hour, the singer in me gave up, and I looked like this:

Photo credit goes to my friend Endia! It’s only true friends who take pictures of you sleeping, right?

Well, even if it’s not my forte, it’s another Japanese experience I can say I’ve tried!

Before the second “Only in Japan” segment for this post, I have a bit of a rabbit trail. Or should I say, a snake trail.

That’s right. *TRIGGER WARNING.* Snakes. (If you don’t like ’em, feel free to skip ahead to the line of asterisks. That’s where it’s safe to start reading again!)

I’ve gone a year and a half in Japan without seeing a single snake, much to my great delight. Then, in the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen three – two of them in one day (that’s today).

WHY????!!!!

Actually, I think I know why. The weather is finally getting cooler and dryer, so my hypothesis is that these cold-blooded creatures are venturing forth to sun themselves and warm their cold little hearts.

But it doesn’t mean it has to make me happy. Not at all.

Today, the weather was so fine that I decided to have a picnic. I trotted off to the grocery store to buy some food to take. On the shortcut path, I heard a rustle and looked down. Yes – there, on the path ahead of me, was a small snake. It was disturbed at my approach, and moved close to the stone wall that borders the path. I stopped and tried to regulate my breathing. I decided to be brave and move past it, even though I was afraid it would decide to move toward me instead of away from me. It didn’t. Crisis averted!

But sadly, my poor little heart didn’t know the danger wasn’t over yet. I brought my picnic to a nearby park, walking up the many cement steps to the grass at the top. I watched my step, not wanting to meet with another slithery creature. There was no sign of any reptiles about, so I walked to a bench and enjoyed my al fresco lunch.

Then, on my way back, as I walked down the cement steps, I heard another rustle. What?? Not again!! I stopped, startled, as another snake, this one larger than the first, reared its head up and looked at me. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Why are you looking at me like that, snake? Are you a cobra? I checked out the black and red pattern covering its back, wondering if this was an unfamiliar Japanese snake that could be poisonous. Doesn’t red and black indicate danger? Wait, no, that’s red and yellow. “Red and black, venom lack.” Or is that an old wives’ tale?

Before I could devise a plan of attack, the snake moved into the grass by the side of the path. I couldn’t see it anymore, but to make sure, I threw a piece of stick in its direction. I could then see that it definitely was moving up the hill and away from me. I continued down the steps, but not without keeping a sharp eye out for any more reptiles.

Much to my shame, I opted not to take the shortcut path home. I looked at it, knowing that I should be brave, but not willing to risk another encounter with a snake. Two is enough for one day. Actually, it’s enough for the rest of my time here. I don’t like winter, but I’m almost glad that soon the ground will freeze and put a little distance between me and slithery things. I try to look at my fear objectively, to remind myself that snakes won’t hurt me, that they’re more afraid of me than I am of them, etc., etc. But still, when I see one slinking along the ground, or even worse, rearing up to glare at me with its beady little eyes, all of my logic flies out the window. I’m sorry, snakes. I know you really don’t mean to appear creepy and evil. You just can’t help yourselves.

Anyway, back to the rest of my post…

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Only in Japan, part two!

Last Monday, which was “Respect for the Aged Day” and a national holiday, one of my Japanese acquaintances took a coworker and I to a European-style coffee shop in a nearby town. It was nice to have the chance to go there, since it’s only accessible by car. On the way, we happened to pass some tanbo art displays. Tanbo art, or rice field art, is made when farmers plant different colored rice in a specific design. When the rice ripens, the design is revealed. Kind of like a corn maze, but…not.

I was actually really excited about the tanbo art, because I’ve heard about it but never seen it. Apparently there are some really large tanbo art displays in some other areas of Japan. These were quite small, but I still enjoyed seeing them. There was a platform set up in front of each display, so I clambered up each one and took some photos.

It’s Doraemon! (He’s one of Japan’s well-loved cartoon characters.)
A cute little pug.
A depiction of Takizakura, the thousand-year-old cherry tree that the town takes pride in.

Well, that’s all for this post. Between karaoke, snakes, and rice art, I think I’ve covered enough topics for one week. Check out my post next week to see about my adventures of this weekend (which happily was another long weekend!).

See you next week!

So Long, Summer

Well, last weekend came and went, and I realized that I did not write a blog post. Oops. This weekend is a long weekend – in honor of “Respect for the Aged Day”- so I really have no excuse.

Work has been normal, but busy. I never seem to have enough time to do everything I want to do, especially Japanese study. But I guess it’s better than being bored.

Last weekend I and the three other Wakakusa teachers participated in the kindergarten “summer” festival. (Originally it was supposed to be held in the summer, but because of the extreme heat this year, it was postponed until September). In keeping with tradition, we offered face painting to the children. Face painting is rather a novelty here, I understand. This year we had a very steady stream of children who wanted to have their faces (or hands) painted. It seemed like there was a lot more interest than last year. In fact, even after we were officially “closed,” some children still kept trickling in.

Since there were only three painting stations, I acted as facilitator, greeting students, keeping my teammates supplied with brushes, and taking photos – as you can see below.

My artistically talented teammate drew this advertisement for our face painting enterprise. She drew each of our faces, along with the four different symbols that we were offering to paint on the children’s faces.

All the students were wearing their yukata (summer kimono), and they were so beautiful!

There were a few lulls, but often we had students lined up waiting for their turn. Two of my coworkers and I also wore our yukata.

Guess who else wore a yukata this year? That’s right, good ol’ Colonel Sanders. This congenial fellow stands beside the KFC counter that’s inside my local grocery store, welcoming the Japanese population of KFC lovers. He seems to have a new outfit every season.

Sadly, yukata season is now coming to an end, and fall is beginning. In fact, I think Mr. Sanders is now sporting a Halloween outfit. It makes me feel melancholy to see summer go, but I shall attempt to look forward to the refreshing fall scenery, more three-day weekends, and the upcoming school events such as English camp and kindergarten Sports Day. I’m sure it will be a good season even if I’m not surrounded with my beloved summer heat…

 

Not About Japan

This has nothing to do with Japan, just something I’ve been thinking about lately in my own life. That deep, deep thirst within us that we try to satisfy with so many other things. It’s true that those things can be satisfying, but only one thing – one Person, rather – can actually touch that underlying craving within us. Why is it so easy for us to be distracted by other things, to ignore something that can so fully complete us?  I guess because we’re just so human…

On Water

Thirsty, so thirsty

We spend our lives

Chasing rivers,

Lakes, and ponds

Oceans of salt,

Puddles, mirages

Sipping, gulping, each

Swallow

Making us more

Parched

Than before.

Not daring

To taste

The one living Spring

Not daring

To drink

From a Fountain

That might set us

Free.

 

“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” – John 4:10, 13a (NIV)

Camping with Kindergartners

View of Lake Inawashiro from the hotel.

Well, this year was a first for us. Our boss asked us four American teachers who work at the kindergarten to join the five-year-olds for their annual overnight camping trip, which was held last weekend. Although we weren’t too excited to have nearly a whole weekend taken away (though we did get some mornings off in exchange), it seemed like a good opportunity to spend quality time with some of our students.

On Saturday morning, the kindergarteners boarded buses and we teachers boarded a van, and away went our caravan to Lake Inawashiro. This, I was told, is the fourth largest lake in Japan. The surrounding area is covered with rice paddies, with Mount Bandai in the background. The rice is getting ready to be harvested, so it made for a pretty sight:

The overnight portion of the “camping” trip was to be spend at a hotel near the foot of the mountain, so that was where we all got off. We gathered in a lodge near the hotel (the hotel and surrounding buildings are used as a ski resort in the winter) and played some games led by the P.E. teacher, then sat on mats for a picnic-style lunch. Instead of sandwiches, we had the classic Japanese finger-food meal – onigiri, or triangular rice balls with different fillings (such as salmon flakes, pickled plum, or seaweed) covered in a wrapper of seaweed. Fried chicken provided some protein, which my American taste buds greatly appreciated.

After lunch, it was time for the kids to get in the pool, although the weather had turned overcast and windy. But the activities went ahead as planned, and since the whole idea of me and my coworkers’ going was to be involved with the children, my friend and I put on our swim gear and joined them. The pool time got cut a bit short when it actually started raining, but we still had the chance to get wet and have some fun with the kids.

The pool time was followed by another game time in the lodge. Some of the many adults in attendance (most of them kindergarten teachers and PTA members) dressed up in costumes and were the “judges” in a competition involving the students’ abilities to answer questions about cartoon characters, play hand games, and more. Dinner, which was held at the hotel, was the good old curry-and-rice standby (a favorite here in Japan!), followed by an outdoor campfire.

The campfire time included some children’s songs, a rather mysterious campfire-lighting by white-robed parents who recited wishes for the children (at least as far as I could understand), and some silly songs and dances which the parents and teachers performed.

Oh, and did I mention we had been asked to participate?

At the beginning of the week, my boss had asked my coworkers and I to figure out something to perform for the children. The winning idea was acting out the story of “The Three Little Pigs,” since it’s fairly easy to understand even across language barriers. We spent several hours that week gathering materials, thinking of lines, and running through the play a couple of times. Though it was quite an amateur job, involving a lot of fumbling and mumbling, we did manage to pull it off and I think at least be partially understood. The kids got a kick out of the “wolf,” played by my friend, who pretended to eat the children before turning on us, the three tasty-looking pigs. Instead of ending with a fall into the fireplace, which our flimsy one-dimensional foam “houses” simply would not accommodate, the wolf met her well-deserved end by huffing and puffing herself into a faint, whilst I (the sensible, brick-house-building pig, as decided by my friends) chased her off with a hammer.

The three demure pigs and one scary-looking wolf. I’m the pig in plaid, with the least artistically designed mask. Oink, oink.

Although I enjoy drama in general, performing is not my strong suit, so I was relieved when it was all over. Fortunately, we were able to have some free time after the campfire, so we polished off the evening with gift-shop and vending-machine snacks and a few rounds of Bananagrams.

Day #2 started off with a morning meeting and breakfast at the hotel. I was hoping for a Western-style breakfast, but was not very surprised to find that it was Japanese-style. The breakfast was a simple one – rice, miso soup, a couple of small sausages and pieces of weakly cooked bacon, and a “salad” consisting of dressing-topped lettuce leaves with a cherry tomato. We did get a cup of yogurt, which I was grateful for, and a carton of milk accompanied our standard glass of green tea.

After breakfast we officially left the hotel, although we spent the rest of the morning in the nearby lodge. Due to iffy weather, we did some exercises and games in the lodge in lieu of a hiking trip at the park, which to me was somewhat disappointing. What’s the point of a camping trip if you don’t spend much time outside? Although the view of the lake from the hotel window was gorgeous, I’d been really hoping, since we were so near it, to have some activities that were actually by the lake. Oh well. We did have the opportunity to “paint” (i.e. draw with markers) on some little traditional bobble-head type dolls, which are shaped in such a way as to always bounce back upwards even if they are pushed over.  I was happy to have a small souvenir to take away from the trip.

Lunch was another “picnic” indoors, at which onigiri was again the featured staple. Baked egg pieces and fried chicken were also provided, and of course, a bottle of green tea! It never ceases to amaze me at the amount of green tea that even the children drink around here. I guess everyone’s bodies must be loaded with antioxidants, or whatever green tea is known for.

Although it had been a good trip, we were all ready for departure time, which came shortly after lunch. It felt good to arrive home in the early afternoon and to be in my own apartment again, with some mental space to relax and decompress. Even though it was a type of “work,” I am glad that we had the opportunity to attend the trip. Every opportunity like this is a chance to learn new things and spend more time with the kids.

The weekend’s experience provided my coworkers and I with a lot of chances to compare and contrast Japanese and American culture. One thing that is hard to wrap our American minds around is the number of meetings that are held here. For this two-day trip, there was a meeting after lunch the first day, a morning meeting before breakfast on the second day, and a farewell meeting after breakfast that same day. The meetings consisted mostly of speeches, which in my opinion are difficult for five-year-olds to concentrate on. However, the students are taught to sit still and listen, and there are even expressions letting them know how to sit and stand. There’s an expression, often used at schools, which means “Let’s have good posture,” and the kids instantly know that they’re supposed to sit (or stand) up straight. I mean, where in the U.S. do schools place such an emphasis on good posture?

On this trip, I realized anew how important it is for the Japanese to have clear-cut beginnings and endings, and to spend almost as much time talking about activities as they do implementing them (or so it seems to me!). Several times over the weekend, the students were reminded either of the upcoming activities or of the ones they had already participated in. “What are some of the activities you did today? That’s right, you had lunch, you went in the pool, you played some fun games, you had a delicious dinner…We have more fun things to do tomorrow, so let’s get some sleep tonight and participate in them energetically tomorrow!” I’m very loosely paraphrasing and melding together bits of the different speeches I heard, but that’s the basic idea. To us Americans, for whom action and forging ahead with life seem to be the standard, taking time to repeatedly review past and future activities and remind students of correct behaviors can seem a bit superfluous to us.

Looking back, I suppose this trip was just as much a learning experience for me as for the kids. Learning about another culture is so fascinating, and even though it can be frustrating to actually live it out and have to deal with the differences on a day-to-day basis, it’s also a good way to widen my one-dimensional point of view and to think about different ways of doing things. There are probably always things I’ll never quite get used to in this culture, but there is so, so much that I appreciate. I’m thankful for the opportunity to participate in every aspect of this culture, meetings and all!

Talk to you next week!

 

 

Hello Home, I’m Back From Home

Hello everyone! Three weeks later (from my last post), I’m finally back in Blog World! It’s been a busy three weeks, stuffed with my all-too-quick trip to the States and my subsequent first week back at work. Time to take a breather!

My trip home was amazing! I got to see my youngest brother get married, and to squeeze in a quick visit to my grandparents who live out of state. I also got to spend quality time with my siblings, and to meet my niece for the first time! Although my visit was a mere seven days, I was thankful for everything I got to experience while I was home. Needless to say, I also ate a fair amount of pizza – my most-missed American food – and blackberry chip and cherry chip ice cream.

The trip out was a bit emotionally stressful, as a typhoon was rolling into Tokyo right around the same date that my flight was supposed to go out. However, when I arrived in Tokyo, it was only a bit rainy and windy, so my flight departed on time and I arrived in the States safe, sound, and on schedule.

On the way back, it appeared to be smooth sailing as well – genial summer weather, with my 5:47 a.m. flight to D.C. making good time and delivering us to the city a bit early. I located my departure gate for Chicago and wandered around, looking for an open spot to sit and charge my laptop. I did some Japanese study online for awhile, then at boarding time got up and made my way to the correct gate – just in time to hear that the flight had been delayed for an hour due to maintenance issues. “Any customers with concerns about missing connecting flights, please go to the service desk,” we were told. Well, I was supposed to have a two-hour layover in Chicago before my Japan flight, so hopefully I’d have time. But still, if I had to switch terminals, it could be a bit tight. I hopped into the customer service line, just in case.

As I was standing in the giant line leading up to the customer service desk (fortunately more toward the front than the back), the gentleman behind me said, “They just delayed the flight by another half hour.” OK, so maybe I WOULD miss my connection. When I got to the desk, the agent told me that he would switch me to the next flight to Japan, which left half an hour later. I agreed and hoped that would be an easy solution. I went back to the gate to wait, snagging some complimentary snacks which the airport personnel kindly put out as an apology for the wait.

At the appointed time to board, there was still no sign of action, and the maintenance workers were still roaming about near our plane. The agents kept announcing that they were waiting to hear what was going on. Finally, about twenty minutes later, we boarded, only to wait for ANOTHER maintenance issue to be dealt with. Finally, we taxiied for a few yards, then stopped for no apparent reason. The pilot announced that there had been another issue they’d had to run by someone or other, and, oh yes, due to weather in Chicago, we might not be allowed to take off. Fortunately, a few minutes later, we began taxiing for real, and finally took off. A crying baby (just a couple of rows behind me) and a jolty landing polished the whole trip off nicely.

Oh, but wait. We were originally supposed to land at 10:50 a.m., and it’s now 3:00 p.m. The airline had already emailed me that I’d been rescheduled for another flight to Japan – at one p.m. THE NEXT DAY. Considering that I had only planned one gap day in between my return to Japan and the start of work, I didn’t really want to waste a full day hanging around in Chicago. I went to the service desk. “Do you have anything earlier?” Well, only the one at 12:40 p.m. tomorrow.

Oh.

I took the hotel voucher and the one meal voucher that they gave me, and picked up a hamburger and M&M McFlurry from McDonald’s before catching a shuttle to my hotel. Disappointed in the turn of events, but thankful to at least have a free hotel stay, I lounged around until the next day, when I finally got on a Japan-bound flight. After 12 hours in the air and another 5 hours on trains (or waiting for them), I made it back to my little Japanese apartment and soon collapsed into bed.

The next day it was back to work, although all things considered, I didn’t feel as bad as I could have. Now, a week later, my body is finally re-adjusting back to Japanese time, and I think my body and mind are back in the swing of things. I’m a bit emotionally tumultuous every time I return home, trying to remember who I am and to re-adjust from being an American living in Japan to just being an American. It doesn’t take me long to slide back into the routine of American life, although I find myself losing the Japanese part of me, which I don’t want either! I guess that will all be stuff to deal with when I go back to America for good and have to deal with all that re-entry and reverse culture shock business.  For now, I’m two people living in two worlds. I think of my little apartment here in Japan as home, and yet my home in America will always be more home than any other home is. At least for now. 🙂

Looking ahead, I’m in the home stretch – the final half-year of my two years here. I never thought I’d say that I’m ready to be back in America after only two years, but oddly, I am. It was really hard for me to leave home (the American one) this time, and I’m already looking forward to things I might do when I get back. However, I know how easy it is to look with longing on past and future lives, and to take for granted the one we’re living now. So my goal for the next seven months is to really capitalize on my time here, learning Japanese, enjoying my friends, and taking advantage of travel and cultural opportunities as they come up.

Here’s to making the most of the now, and to enjoying the next half a year together. Talk to you all next week!

English Camp!

This year, the board of education here in Tamura City asked us to help with a new project – a two-night, three-day English camp. In the past, the English teachers on our team have helped prepare students to stay at British Hills, which is a place here in Japan that has British-style accommodations and activities. For some reason or another, the BOE changed the program this year, and instead chose to send the students to a lodge up on the top of a nearby mountain. They also asked us American teachers to actually participate in the camp, instead of just being trainers like we were before.

After thinking about and planning the camp for weeks, last week was finally “the weekend.” Almost all of us American teachers participated, so there were eight of us, along with some BOE staff members and some students from Waseda University, who run similar programs around the country and who did most of the planning and implementation for our camp. Twenty-three students participated, so there was a very high teacher-to-student ratio!

Even though participating in the camp meant extra work, I’d been looking forward to it, and it turned out to be quite a bit of fun. I had been hoping for a bit more of an outdoor camping experience, but unfortunately most of the activities were inside. However, the facility was very nice, and the views were amazing!!

The weekend was filled with discussions, games, and other activities. On the second day, the students were able to experience tree climbing using ropes, and to watch a drone being flown out over the valley. They also practiced flying small drones inside. On the third and final day, we split into groups and helped the students come up with original skits using a known fairy tale and adding a plot twist. My group chose Cinderella as the main story, and we drew a paper asking us to include an alien in the story. The group of students I worked with was incredibly creative, and ended up coming up with a lot of the skit on their own. They decided that, when the prince went to retrieve Cinderella’s left-behind shoe at midnight, an alien would swoop in and snatch it, and Cinderella would fall in love with him instead of the prince! It was pretty funny!

Here are the groups of students preparing for the play:

One of my favorite parts of our play was when a male student (who had volunteered to play the part of the evil stepmother), brandishing a folding fan, told Cinderella, “Shut up!” (a line he thought of himself!) in response to her question about why she couldn’t go to the ball. The students were even creative with their names. They named the girl who played the stepsister “Blossom,” because her Japanese name is the word for cherry blossom, and the girl who played the prince was “Prince Sky” because her real name includes the word for sky! We didn’t have much in the way of props or costumes, but our “prince” took off her skirt and wore her school shorts instead, and “Cinderella” completed her dress transformation by wearing her jersey over her uniform and taking it off to symbolize her transfiguration by the fairy godmother.

The “alien” also did a good job, although he had a lot of difficulty interacting comfortably with Cinderella. When he put her shoe back on, he couldn’t look her in the face, and he had a hard time pretending to be romantic. When one of the other teachers in my group asked if he would put his hand on Cinderella’s shoulder and waist during the final dance, he freaked out. “Zettai muri!” he said, which basically means, “That’s completely impossible!” So we had to settle for a mere holding of hands. 🙂

Since I generally don’t work with middle school students, it was very interesting for me to get a chance to interact with them. As is customary for middle school students participating in school activities, all the students wore their uniforms to the camp, although on the second day they wore their school athletic wear instead of the formal uniform. Each school also has a different style of uniform, so I really enjoyed learning more about the different schools’ uniforms and how to recognize them.

English camp turned out to be a busy three days, but it was fun and went quickly. On Wednesday, it was back to my regular work at the after-school program, which doesn’t let out until this coming Thursday. I’ve been busy writing term reports, but I finally have that wrapped up, and can now focus on what I’m really excited about – packing for a trip home this week! Next weekend, I’ll be in the States, so there will be a bit of a lull in posting for the next couple of weeks while I take some time off and get to do one of the most important things in life – spend time with family! Talk to you in a few weeks!

 

Only in Japan 3

Well, this weekend, starting on Sunday, I and six of my co-workers will be participating in an English camp for a couple dozen of the area’s junior high school students. That means this week’s post will be short – another segment of the “Only in Japan” series. But boy, have I got a post for you!

This weekend’s topic is about everybody’s favorite subject…bugs!

If you’re a Japanese child, that is.

Apparently, collecting bugs is a thing here. In the summer, my first and second graders occasionally come in with plastic cases containing various living creatures that they’ve collected. Last year, it was crickets, which made for a somewhat disruptive class when some of them started chirping. This year, one of my students had a lizard.

And the beetles. Always the beetles.

I suppose in other parts of the United States, they probably have giant bugs, but in the cold-winter climate where I come from, our bugs and living creatures stay a reasonable size. Here, though, some of the spiders and beetles are much bigger than what I’m used to, and some of these large creatures are what the students like to tote around in their carrying cases.

Take a few weeks ago, for instance. Before classes had started, I heard some shrieking coming from one of my classrooms. I went in to investigate, and saw that several of my second-grade boys had taken their beetles out of their carrying cases. One of the boys, who was either afraid of the beetles or was pretending to be, was a few feet away, ducking behind a desk and making loud noises. I started a conversation with the boys, reminding them to use quiet voices, and trying to show interest in their bug escapade. One of my boys said something to me, and I looked down to see that he had placed one of the beetles on my sleeve! Luckily, I’m not terrified of bugs, but it did startle me to have one perched on my arm!

I thought those beetles (probably stag or rhinoceros beetles) were big – until I saw the ones my students brought in the week after. I think they were the same kind, but they were like the granddaddy version! Fortunately, I thought to grab my phone so I could take a few pictures!

Here’s a pair of beetles peering out the sides of their plastic bug case:

Below, one of my second grade girls holding a bug. I trimmed the photo to protect her privacy, but you can still see her slightly-weirded-out smile!

And, in case you want to learn about raising your own pet beetle, here’s a link for your reading pleasure: “How to Care for Your Beetle”. (Note to those with weak stomachs; there are a couple pictures of “baby beetles,” which are, yes, grubs.)

Well, that’s all for this week’s “Only in Japan.” If today’s topic grossed you out and you want to read about something different – or if you liked it and want more posts about strange and disgusting topics – leave me a comment with your thoughts and suggestions below! 🙂