September 25, 2007


Sorry guys. I know it's been a while. I have been pretty busy at school during the week and on the weekends. Two Saturdays ago, I went to Matt's high school's festival which was pretty fun. It was like a school carnival / open house night mixed together. All the clubs and groups had projects or booths to display. There was artwork all over. There were various carnival like games. The band and dance groups performed. It was fun. Then on Sunday was the Ninomiya Elementary Sports Day and I attended that. But since I was told to arrive "sometime before noon", I was sitting at home at 10:30 when I received a call saying that they were waiting on me. Apparently "before noon" meant 8:30. But I got there in time to do this crazy obstacle course with the teachers and other parents and community members. We had to run halfway around the track and at one part stop and chug this bottled drink that was carbonated and had a little glass marble in it that would stop up the drink if you didn't tilt it right. Then, we had to find a candy from a tray filled with flour without using our hands. Meaning we had to blow the powder to find it and then get it out with our teeth. Then, we had to toss a bean bag into a basket lifted into the air about 15 feet on the end of a bamboo pole. Then I tagged off the next person to run the other half of the track. They had to go about 10 meters on stilts and then spin around 5 times with their head on a baseball bat. Then they had to grab a pastry in a plastic wrapper suspended from a pole with string and a clothespin. It was crazy. There were all kinds of other races and games for the kids, parents, community members, and faculty. They had an old people's race as well. I took some pictures and have a video of some of the stuff which I will post when I can.

As well, I've had my first visits to elementaries. Awhile ago I had a welcome party and mini-lesson at my base elementary. Last week I got to work with 1st and 2nd graders and that was some craziness times 40. But I had soo much fun. This week I went back to my base elementary and I actually got to plan my lesson. We were reviewing body parts and I decided to introduce "How many .... do you have?" "I have # ......" And maybe some more actions than they already knew for Simon Says "Kiss your hand", etc. to liven it up a bit. Then, I thought maybe they could do "He has, she has" as compared with "I have". But the teacher thought it would be too difficult, so that's fine. I disagree, but they Japanese seem to have a pretty set idea of what kids are able to understand and when to introduce. I just happen to disagree. But I go along so I don't cause problems. Anyway, of course all that above stuff sounds kind of boring, so to make it more interesting, I created fake body parts for the kids to attach to themselves. Mainly, round balloons for heads and feet, long balloons for arms and legs, blown up plastic gloves for hands, and small felt balls with black dots for eyes. And then they got to go around and ask each other how many such and suches they each had. It was pretty fun. We ended with a crazy body drawing game. It was fun. But still a little awkward. I'm not used to the team teaching thing, and I guess I can't tell when I'm supposed to be taking control and when the other teacher is in charge.

I haven't planned too many other lessons since they all do that for me. It's kind of weird. I feel really underused. I usually just play along and do what they tell me to do. I try to take some freedom where I can and do my own thing and put a my own touch on what they've asked me to do. And I'm trying to put my spare time and energy into studying Japanese which is going OK. It's pretty hard though with the constant reminder of how little I really know. But I am definitely making strides from where I was when I arrived. I thought I would be fine before getting here and then reality hit. And the "basics" I had learned only got me through an introduction. And even then, I was lost at times, as introductions vary. And for some reason, all that filler language is not seen as necessary in beginning chapters of textbooks. But I see it as extremely important since it is used so commonly. You think they are saying complete sentences, when in reality, they are thinking of something to say and just using filler. "Ja, eto ne, ano, eto na, asoka." And none of it means anything really, "Ah, well, um, so, anyways, hmm."

Oh, I think I've mentioned lunch before. The food has been pretty normal, or at least what normal now is for me. It's nothing really to be eating what basically amounts to minnows cooked in various ways, always whole, except at the end when there are just little black eyes and maybe a tail fin or two, maybe a head. Yesterday, we had clam chowder which was pretty good, but the side of minnows was only cooked in some sort of oil with sesame seeds, so it was basically straight fish. I prefer it cooked with nuts and some sort of breading. It masks the fishy flavor a bit better.

What else? Oh we had our own Sports Day at the Junior High. I was applauded for helping to put up the tents. It seems anything I do makes me seem like the hardest worker ever. I think my predecessor had perhaps an aversion to work. The festival was pretty fun even if a little boring at certain parts with a ton of marching. But I entertained myself with all the little elementary kids running around. And afterward was the all important teacher party. We went to this place were low tables were set up in rows with cushions. We sat and had our food on the table in boxes with small drinking glasses and little sake cups and then big beers were passed out. And they announced that speeches would be made, so we poured our drinks. But you can't drink until everyone is done with speeches and the traditional "Kanpai" is shouted. It was interesting to eat the food. Lots of sashimi and unknown substances. I managed to eat most of it, even though I didn't quite find it that appealing. Although, the cooked octopus was good, I like it better than the kind that is soaked in vinegar. The eating and talking lasted for a couple of hours, with some of the teachers getting pretty drunk I think. One guy came over to show me Japanese style. I thought he meant a way of pouring that I already knew about. See at these enkais, it's important to not pour your own drink. You always are on the look out for others' empty glasses and you offer to pour. You hold the bottle with two hands and they lift their glass with two hands. Often, if your glass is empty they reciprocate by then pouring for you. But he meant a different Japanese style, with sake. You do basically the same thing, but you both drink from the same cup, taking turns pouring and drinking. It was funny though because he kept saying Japanese style and re-pouring as if I didn't get it, so I had to keep drinking, but I was kind of done with sake, but I think it's rude to refuse like that. Eventually, he stopped though.

After, the party, some of us went to karaoke. That was pretty fun. I think it helped some of the teachers see me in a different light. Actually, the whole sports day weekend and teacher party and English Speech contest that I've been working on as well have all helped teachers see me as separate from the previous JET and from other JETs from their past experience. Anyway, it just so happened, that Chris from two towns over was at the same place for his Sports Day karaoke fun. So when my teachers finished and went home, I stayed and joined Chris's school. And then when, theirs ended, Chris and I decided to make a night of it and went to Kanon-ji. We tried all night to get people out and to get something happening, but it didn't really work, and we actually ended up at a karaoke bar by ourselves since it's cheaper than getting a taxi home (trains stop at about midnight) and it's cheaper than getting a hotel and less troublesome than trying to wake someone up to crash at their place at 2 30 in the morning. So eventually we made it to the station for the first train home.

And now, I'm back at school. I have the real speech contest today. I'm going with the 4 students to a nearby town to watch them. I hope they do well. They have been working very hard on it. I'm only really worried about one of the students, but I think he will do ok. And then, tonight I have to pack, because tomorrow morning (Friday), I will be going to visit Alana in Osaka!!!!!

We have been trying to work it out all month and it finally is going to work out. I will leave early since I have the day off and will stop in Himeji to see a castle that is supposedly one of the nicest original ones in Japan. And it will soon be closed for something like a 10 year renovation. Then I will head over to Osaka where Alana will be getting off work around 4 and we will make a weekend of it. Anyway, that's everything for the past few weeks in a nutshell.

It's been really busy with Sports Day practice, actually having lessons every day, speech contest practice after school, and then difficult with no internet at home really. But I will try to keep up with posting.

Also, to those who have sent emails, I've been reading them, but again I haven't had much time to respond. I've started trying to send short messages to at least say hi, but I'm still behind. I've got my fingers crossed that internet will be connected by mid-October.

September 14, 2007


Well, until yesterday it had been about two months since my last haircut. So needless today, it was getting a bit shaggy around the ears and there was a forest growing on the back of my neck. Last week, I used a phrase book to work out mostly what I would want to say in the barbershop, but said I would wait to go until I practiced saying the sentences. Then, Tuesday (after not practicing) I drove around Takase looking for a barbershop. I knew I had seen the telltale barber's pole somewhere. I eventually found one. I circled around and looked inside. Then, I thought, maybe I'd just rather get clippers and cut it myself. And I saw the guy smoking inside and thought it would smell really bad and talked myself in heading to Ks Denki to look for electric clippers. I found some, but then talked myself out of that because they were so expensive. Yesterday, I finally decided I don't care if I don't really know how to say what I want, and I don't really care if it's all smoky, it will be a good experience to try to get a haircut.

Well, last night was my first Japanese haircut and also my first completely non-electric haircut (that I remember). Well, I went in and it smelled bad from the smoke, but it was ok. Then I said that I don't speak Japanese and read off the sentence "I would like a haircut, please." And they ushered me to the chair. Then, came the asking of what I wanted done. I pulled out my sheet to read and she ended up just reading everything that I pointed to before I could read it. So, eventually they figured it out. And I just trusted that I had chosen the correct phrases and put them together correctly. The woman sprayed my hair with a lemony smelling liquid and got a hot towel and rubbed my head. Then the guy came over and cut my hair. He tapered in up like I usually get it done but using only scissors and combs. It was pretty amazing how he could get it so close and so even with just scissors. But I thought to myself, "well, my main concern is the vast forest that is creeping down my neck that makes me look the most slovenly." I needn't have worried. When the man was all done, he and the woman asked if I wanted a shave and I said that I didn't. And the woman began removing the towels from around my neck. Then she pointed to my neck and asked something making a motion of evening off the back and so I shook my head yes. Still no electric clippers. She grabbed another hot towel and the straight razor. Yes, folks, she shaved my neck and around my ears. That was a first. It didn't hurt at all. It actually was quite nice, the hot shaving cream and the razor must have been quite sharp.

So, I felt quite triumphant when I left. So much so that I didn't read my watch well and thought I had plenty of time to stop at a store before going home and catching a train to have dinner with people in another city. Alas, I missed the train. But it felt good to finally have a haircut. And it all worked out as everyone was waiting on another person who didn't show up, so when I arrived they were still all waiting.

OH and the food was pretty good. I forget what it was called exactly (Onigomiyakisomethingorrather). Which apparently means 'as you like it'. It's Japanese "pizza." You order a bowl of ingredients that have a raw egg and cheese in it that help combine the ingredients. You mix them together and dump them on a griddle in the table and cook it with sauces and spices. And then you eat it. Pretty straight forward. But it was delicious. I will probably be back.

September 10, 2007

Barbecue Weekend

On Friday, after I got home, I figured I would clean up my apartment since it somehow was once again a disaster area. All my dishes were dirty, I hadn’t done laundry in a week or two and had already reworn at least two shirts, somehow all my possessions were out and on tables, chairs, and the floor in all my rooms. So of course, I got home and settled for a second and then made dinner and started reading Harry Potter. And then I read Harry Potter some more. And then some more. And eventually I went to bed, not cleaning anything.

So the next day, I got up and started reading some more as I ate breakfast. Eventually around 11, I decided I wasn’t going to read anymore until I had cleaned my apartment. So in the next 3 hours or so, I got everything cleaned, I did all my dishes, organized my trash (yes, it has to be organized), and did two loads of laundry. And I did all this knowing I had about 75 pages left to read. It was pretty hard not going back to the book, but it was a good motivator. Then, I got ready and went to Tadotsu, a city not too far from me, where Chris, one of the JETs, was having a barbecue in a park by his apartment. It was pretty fun, but I drank a bit too much. We came back to Takase with a crowd, Nick, Megan, Sam, Matt, Matt’s friend Chris who was visiting from Ehime, Angelina, Tye, and me. I wasn’t in a state to ride my bike, but I tried and failed, and have the slightly skinned knee to prove it. I also wasn’t able to make it the few minutes back to my place apparently and we all slept at Matt’s. I had an unfortunate incident that I’m not going to discuss, but otherwise it was a pretty fun night. The next day for some reason we were up early. Like 8ish. I wasn’t feeling too bad considering. After breakfast, we went on a trip to the antiques store. It’s a nice place to visit occasionally, especially when out of towners are visiting.
Everyone loaded up on old stuff to use or decorate their apartments with. I got a guitar for about 4000 yen ($40) and Matt got another one as well. He said he would teach me. Then we went back and got some food from this hokka hokka tei and ate at Matt’s. That’s when I started feeling the effects of my previous night’s libations. I eventually had to go home, taking my guitar, bookbag, and waste bin containing my reminder to avoid excess.

I tried napping, but that didn’t work. I tried drinking water, orange juice, and CC Lemon, but everything tasted bad. I tried eating eventually, but nothing was appealing. So I just accepted that I was going to feel miserable for a few hours. I also put off finishing HP7 so that I could actually enjoy it. So I tidied up what things I hadn’t already picked up. I got the internet working, so I sent a few messages to people. I accessed a guitar lesson site and began practicing scales and a few notes. Then, I forced myself to eat dinner and drink as much water as I could. I took some vitamins to help and an Aleve. After awhile I started feeling somewhat normal. And then I laid down in bed and finished Harry Potter. It was a good book. I think it ended well. I then tried going to sleep around 9 30 to help aide my recovery. I couldn’t fall asleep so I started reading The Mayan Prophecies, a book that was left in the apartment by some previous JET. It was interesting and eventually I fell asleep.

Now, it’s Monday, and I’m at school. Today and tomorrow, I’m giving my last self-introductions at the middle school. These are to the 9th graders (3rd years). I’m also starting my first actual team teaching lessons. It was awkward at the start because the teacher was yelling at some students for something, I don’t know what. And that took a good five minutes to yell at him and get an apology from him. Other than that, the lesson went fairly well.

I am starving though.

September 7, 2007

Mmmmm.... Natto!

So yesterday, I had the pleasure of trying natto. I’ve been told about this by everyone from Day 1 it seems. It was a long awaited trial of my Japanese transition. The Japanese like to ask about food. All the time. What you like, what you don’t like, what you’ve tried, what you are going to try, can you use chopsticks. They sometimes ask about American foods, but usually they focus on the foreigner trying Japanese foods.

Natto is one that they mentioned often, wondering if I had tried it. Then they go on to describe it in less than complimentary ways, followed by, them telling me how much they like it. They start off simply enough. “It’s beans.” Ok, so I’ve had beans. No big deal. “They are fermented beans.” Hmmm. Interesting. Doesn’t ferment basically mean rot? But then again wine is fermented and that’s not so bad. “They look like beans but when you start to eat them with chopsticks they become like strings that stick together and you have to eat it like this.” [Regular chopsticks hand motion, then twist, twist, twist, twist, twist…. like they are wrapping something around the chopsticks.] Well then. That’s interesting. Not sounding so pleasant anymore. So you have to wrap the stringy part up to eat it? “And they smell bad.” Well, why would someone eat that? “It’s better/easier to eat if you mix in a raw egg.” Wait, what? Since when has anything been easier, let alone better, when you add a raw egg? Then, they say, “I like natto very much.” Are you kidding me? Is this a national joke played on foreigners? And then the other JETs get in on the explanation. “Yeah, it’s kinda like the consistency of snot.” Sounds appealing. “Just mix in mustard and they taste fine.” Great, I hate mustard.”

So, I had all this in my head before even seeing natto for the first time. I translated the lunch menu with the help of a couple of dictionaries the first day I ate with the students. But yesterday, I didn’t do it. I looked at the drawing they had on the lunch menu and everything seemed pretty harmless. But then I arrived in the classroom and I heard “natto,” and I thought, “Well here it is.” It came in a little paper cup with a plastic wrap lid that I peeled off. Inside was another plastic sheet with mustard and some other sauce packets. So I pulled those off with the 2nd plastic sheet and saw the beans. They seemed like fairly normal beans. Think baked beans minus all the sauce. Or maybe with half the sauce but it’s somewhat dried or hardened around the beans so you can see the beans but they look connected. I put the sauce on and the mustard. I didn’t really smell the natto yet. Then I began mixing like I saw the kids do. And that’s when the strings appear. And it really is like snot. It’s like beans in a snot sauce. Seriously. Shiny strings that just grow and grow as you stir the beans with the sauces. I waited to see how the kids ate the natto. Then I gave it a try. I gathered a few beans with my chopsticks and then brought them to my mouth. The flavor wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t altogether bad. More interesting. And then I pulled the chopsticks from my mouth. This is where I found out why you do all the spinning with the chopsticks. It’s not so much to gather the strings but to try and break them. They are like spider web strings, only worse. Spider web strings eventually break and then you can wipe them away. It’s a little troublesome, but after a few seconds you can usually manage to get the spider web off. Not so with natto. The strings are extra sticky and never really break. They just lengthen and become skinnier.

I can’t say I quite have the hang of it. Nor that I have a desire to seek out natto on my own. But I think it’s something I could try again. Maybe even with the raw egg. I did get a better whiff of it as I ate it, and it really was unappealing, but you can manage to eat it without smelling it too much. Actually, I would say I enjoyed the natto more than this weird fried vegetable mixture that they served. It was like carrots and potatoes and maybe some other root vegetables in thin slices that made a loose patty of sorts that was breaded and fried so that the outside bits were somewhat disconnected and you could see the vegetable bits and they were hard and the inside was mushier and not so hard. It was just kind of bland so all you could focus on was the texture which wasn’t very pleasing.

The next thing to try: pregnant fish.

That’s whole pregnant fish, head to tail. I’ve seen the calendar and I noticed a few days with little fish drawn on it. I’m going to try to avoid looking at it again so that it’s a surprise and so I won’t be able to dread it or anything in the days leading up. I promised myself I would try everything at least once. We will see if I can stick to that.

September 5, 2007

Testing day

And now, I’m back at school, just blogging away. I’m on page 11 now. The students are testing all day so I don’t have anything to do really. I think I will start studying Japanese once I get this posted.

Sorry about the time lapse since the last post. I’m really trying. I just got pretty busy last week.

September 4, 2007

First Day of Lessons!

Tuesday was the real deal. My first lesson. I got to school extra early. I actually drove since I knew I would be going to Ninomiya which is at least a 10 minute bike ride and I didn’t want to be stressed about getting there especially with all the posters I had made. Anyway, I didn’t have to do my normal 10 minutes of fanning myself to cool down routine since I didn’t bike to school. So I got out these question word posters I had made and laminated and got them hole-punched and connected them with binder rings. It worked really well. And they magically fit perfectly into this little carrying case that I picked up in Takamatsu. I had also purchased some magnet clips and they were just strong enough to hold up the question words. Then I grabbed my computer and went up to the A/V room and set everything up. Of course, something was wrong and I couldn’t get the sound to work. Then I realized that I had plugged the cord into the microphone jack on my computer instead of the headphone jack. When the class finally did come in, I was a bit nervous. But I greeted them at the door and said good morning to all of them. I had “Georgia on my mind” playing as they sat down. Then, I started right in with my presentation. It was a rocky start. I had been warned, but they were reallllly quiet. Almost totally non-responsive. Even though I was just saying hello and trying to get them to say it back, it took several tries. And then I just had to move on. I didn’t know what they were understanding because there was no response so I just kept repeating and asking questions about what I was saying. But that was pointless as there were maybe one or two people who were trying to answer. When I finished I didn’t have a lot of time for the Jeopardy game. So we didn’t keep score and we didn’t have a winner. We just answered a few of the questions. But it was still fun. I hit my stride about ¾ of the way through the presentation and felt good at the end of it. And then I faltered a bit when I realized the time crunch with Jeopardy, but overall I felt pretty good. The kids left and I said goodbye to them as they walked out.

It was good to finally have taught something. But then I had two periods off. I shut everything down and took my computer back to the office. I thought I would catch up on the blog for an hour and then do a Japanese lesson for an hour since we were supposed to meet Tuesday night for our second study group and I hadn’t completed a single goal we set forth. But the blog ended up taking on a life of it’s own. I typed about 5 pages when it was time to go back up for lesson number two.

This lesson went much more smoothly. I was very comfortable and this class was a bit louder and more engaged with the lesson. I was able to ask questions and actually get answers and move through the presentation more quickly. Occasionally, I would go back and review some of what I explained about myself to check their comprehension and prepare them for the game. We actually had about 20 minutes for the game this time around and it worked a little better. We only did about 7 or 8 questions, but it was good. We had a winning group and I gave them all stickers. Some of them tried to get two stickers which I was surprised at. And also, someone tried to cheat in the game, but I caught them. They tried to change their answer after I revealed the one on the board. But I really liked that class. I felt like they really got what I was saying. The teacher said that she thinks even though the first class was quiet, that they understood most of what I was saying but that they were shy. I’m good with that. It just makes it hard on me to know if I need to slow down or just keep going if they don’t respond.

Afterward we had lunch. Since I had to go the elementary, they served me mine early on my desk. It was curry and rice. Pretty good actually. There was also a bottle of really bad tasting milk. It really tasted rotten even though it wasn’t. And there was a salad of chickpeas, ham, cucumbers, and cabbage. And half a kiwi fruit. I liked everything except the milk. And I’m a big milk drinker.

I had to drive home because at some point during the second Jeopardy game I got some of the red marker they were on the front of my white shirt. So I changed and then went to Ninomiya Elementary. This is my base elementary that I will visit weekly. They are superexcited about English and internationalization. There is another English ALT who comes there (she is actually from Korea but speaks really good English and Japanese. I met her at the barbecue in Nio.). And the 5th grade teacher is a former junior high school English teacher and he has excellent English as well. They have various international connections. One in the US and one in Paraguay that I know of. Anyway, I went there and met with the principal and we went over the schedule. At 1 we went to the gym where the 98 students, grades 1-6 were waiting. First the kochosensei spoke and then I got up and gave my introduction in Japanese. Then I gave it in very simple English using my posters. The 5th grade teacher, Yoshida-sensei, translated most of what I said so they could understand it all. Then they asked questions. I got some about food likes and dislikes, sports, trouble/accidents in Japan, etc. Then we played a game where the students were given a card with a fruit on it and they had to walk around asking “Are you… (peach, apple, etc.) or Do you have…?” to find others with the same fruit until they formed a group of 5 and could sit down. After that, I went back to the kochosensei’s office were we sat and talked in Japenglish over some tea and cookies. Then I went up to the 5th grade class for their English lesson. We did “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” with some Simon Says thrown in there for good measure. It was fun. I also played a game my high schoolers loved for some reason where two students are at the front and you tell them to do something and the fastest one gets a point for their team. At first, they didn’t really understand, but by the end they were in to it.

Oh and I don’t know if I mentioned this. All of these lessons were done with NO AC!!!!! After lesson number 1 at the JHS, my shirt was drenched through. And that was with an undershirt and shortsleeves. By the 2nd lesson, I was completely soaked and if anyone had touched my pants, the would have felt damp. I had to change shirts because of the stain, and I decided to take off the undershirt also. Well, I wasn’t thinking clearly because the new shirt was blue and of course, no AC at the elementary and the sweat was clearly visible as soon as I got out of the car and I just had patches all over for the rest of the day. I guess I’ll get used to it, but it starts feeling really sticky after awhile which is uncomfortable. But I know it’s not just me. One of the teachers was wearing a black shirt and at the end of the day another teacher pointed out the sweat lines on her back. You know how on some fabrics in dark colors you’ll see a whitish line show up where you’ve been sweating? She had a clear one running in a wide circle across her back. So I guess I just need to always remember an undershirt and to get used to it.

When I got back to the JHS, the teachers told me that the kochosensei’s mother-in-law had passed and they were going to visit his home for a few minutes but that I didn’t have to come, but I could if I wanted to. I’ve heard that you get that a lot as a foreigner. “You can do this, but you don’t have to.” And it’s hard to interpret whether they are actually a) asking you to do it, b) suggesting you do it, c) making an exception for you as a foreigner, d) really trying to make your life easier, or e) all of the above. I decided to go. He did come to greet me at the airport for just 10 minutes which was probably a 30-45 minute drive for him one way. I felt even though I don’t know him well, it would be good to pay my respects. After that I went home.

Tye, Matt, and I canceled our study session since none of us had completed our goals and Matt had some trouble with getting his bike on a train to go home with it as well as getting on the wrong train and having to do a lot of work to prepare for his lessons. We will either meet Thursday or just wait until next Tuesday when we’ve had time to complete the goals.

September 3, 2007

Opening Ceremony!

Well Monday was the big day. Opening Ceremony. Don’t let the name confuse you. It is just the reopening of school after summer holiday which is the beginning of second semester. The summer holiday marks the middle of the school year. I got to school early so I would be ready. I hadn’t practiced either of my speeches since they too were in that plastic bag I lost and then when I got it back I was pretty busy with… you know… partying and then …. relaxing….. Ok so I procrastinated and whatever.

But everything went well. In the morning, all the teachers were gathered in the office and the kochosensei spoke and then I went up and introduced myself in Japanese (reading the whole thing). It was funny. There is this one teacher, a music teacher who is really outspoken and energetic and all that. When I got to the part about how I was a high school French teacher for three years, she did one of those Japanese “Ehhhhhhhhhh!?”s really loud. It totally threw me for a second and I just stared at her and then the other teachers were like “Please go on” but in Japanese. Apparently, it’s not common for ALTs to have real teaching experience in an actual school. Usually, they are right out of college. I finished and they clapped. Several teachers came up and said it was very good. So that was nice. Afterward was cleaning time. In Japan, they don’t have custodians in schools. The students and teachers clean up. So I was put to vacuuming the teacher’s office. Not that anything ever gets that dirty. Which makes since, because why would the kids make a mess when they have to clean it up later anyway. Hmm… why can’t we do this in the States? Then, we went to the gym for opening ceremony. No, seats or benches or bleachers for the students and teachers. There was a chair for the kochosensei on the gym floor and one for me on the stage for when he was introducing me. The students came in in lines by grade and class (remember in Japan the students don’t move classrooms, the teachers do, unless it’s a special subject, like art, music, shop, home ec, or lab science). They all lined up in columns facing the stage and then put their arms out in front of themselves to give space between them and the person in front of them. And then sat down. They could either sit on their knees or sit on their butts with their knees bent and their hands around their knees. But I guess the arm spacing part is maybe from the old school, because the teacher yelled some stuff in the microphone and they all got up and looked at the floor where there were little dots in rows and they then spaced themselves according to this. Then the kochosensei and I went to the stage where I sat and he spoke about me. And then I got up and gave my speech in English. Which was basically what the kochosensei just said. And then we went down off the stage and an English teacher translated my speech which was basically what both I and the kochosensei had just said. Then came awards time I presume. I didn’t really know, but they were calling names and students would stand up and some eventually went to the stage where they received certificates. Meanwhile, through all of this the students are sitting silently. And I mean silently. I guess some might have whispered or something, but I didn’t hear it. However, a couple teachers saw some things and they walked up to the students and yelled something really loud in Japanese. Right in the middle of the calling of names and awarding of certificates. It kind of scared me because I wasn’t expecting it at all and it was so loud and literally right in the middle of someone talking. But no one reacted. Things just kept moving along. The teachers were kind of spaced out along the walls of the room either standing, squatting, kneeling, or sitting in some fashion. No chairs for us either. Oh and did I mention no air conditioning? Yeah none of that either. So the windows were open which allowed in a mild breeze from time to time, but it was really hot. I did manage to sit near one and stayed relatively cool. One or two of the students, however, got overheated. One of them was actually taken away by a teacher and the nurse. After that, the students went back to their rooms and had a homeroom and then went home for the day.

I went to lunch with some of the guy teachers. We had udon of course. I got a big hot udon (kake dai) and a fried something or rather. I can’t remember if I’ve described udon. But basically they are big thick noodles that are whitish. They are served in a broth that can be either cold or hot. Generally, you have green onion bits on top and possibly a ginger substance. Some places add seaweed and a fish thing (it’s a little white thing that has a pink design on it that looks like it could be a cookie but is somewhat flexible and mushy and is made of fish bits but doesn’t taste like fish… or anything really). You can also add some spice to it as well. You also have the option to buy a tempura vegetable to add on top of it and also some rice on the side. Usually the rice is formed in a triangle or round and possibly wrapped in seaweed (I think this is called onigiri) so you can pick it up with your chopsticks altogether. Anyway, so I got the kake dai udon and a tempura and it still only cost me 360 yen (about $3.30). It’s a pretty filling meal as well.

Anyway, after lunch the teachers had a meeting that I was exempt from. I found out that yes Japanese teachers have the dreaded teachers meeting that lasts for 3 hours (probably unnecessarily so) just like we do in America. I worked on tidying up my powerpoints and also getting pictures set for making posters to take to the elementaries for my self introductions there. I figured powerpoint wouldn’t have the same effect there, not to mention I have no idea what their facilities are like. So I worked on that the whole time they were gone. It gave me the chance to explore the office a bit as well. I found where a lot of the supplies are in the copy room. I also figured out how to print on to A3 sized paper. A4 is about like our regular 8.5x11/letter sized paper. I think it’s a tad longer. And A3 is basically the size of two A4s sitting next to each other. So, I was able to get my pictures in a word document and print them off really big for the posters. I think they turned out rather nicely. I actually ended up staying at the office until around 6 or 6 30. Most of the teachers were still there as well scurrying back and forth looking really busy and stressed. I asked one of the English teachers what time the school would close since I wasn’t quite done and I wanted to finish before leaving since I would have my first elementary self-introduction on Tuesday. She said, “Oh around 7 or 8.” That’s pretty crazy, but I’ve heard that teachers generally work themselves pretty hard. During summer break you wouldn’t know this, but then again, I did see a couple teachers come in to do one or two things and then leave on their vacation day. And they would stay after hours to do their club activities as well though most had moved their club hours to during their work hours. But apparently once school starts they will be here until quite late. Working on lessons and doing club activities. And when I say club activities, it’s really more like our actual teams in the states. Except they don’t get paid extra. Although, when I was talking with Sachie on the train, she mentioned something about bonuses that teachers get.

Well, I did finish and left and I’m learning the appropriate sayings more and more. They have taught me either a colloquialism or a more informal way (or maybe it’s both) to say goodbye. Something like “Hondarana”. Because they laugh when I say it. And then there is “Tsukaresamadeshita” which I think means something like “We worked hard today, didn’t we.”

Anyway, at home I decided to make something half-way decent for myself and I wanted to get stickers to give as prizes. So I went to the grocery store and I got some cucumbers and a tomato and I thought of making a tricolor salad that I’ve had before. You just slice those up with some mozzarella and olive oil and maybe some spices and that’s it, but it tastes pretty good. Then I remembered I was in Japan where cheese is not very common. Especially something like fresh mozzarella. But I gave it a shot anyway. I bypassed the section marked “Dairy” as that is where they have fresh fish. And went to where they have yogurt. And then I found the cream cheese and the cheese products. And lo and behold, they had fresh mozzarella!! I also found an Italian spice mix which was perfect. I couldn’t find any stickers with English on them there or anywhere else, so I went home and made my salad. I thought about making some pasta, but by this time I was too tired to complete the "halfway decent meal" and I opted for ramen because it was easier. I settled in and read Harry Potter and went to bed.

September 2, 2007

Crazy Weekend - Pirates vs. Ninjas

Matt was nice and had bought us pizza. And even in my mad dash packing, I thought to grab us beers for the ride. So we had a nice meal on the way. We met Tye who was on the same train when we changed trains at station on the way. When we arrived, Matt suggested putting our things in a locker, but I said since we would just be at a beer garden all night and heading straight to Sam’s, we wouldn’t need one (this is also important.). Well we had a great time eating and drinking (nomihodai and tabehodai, of course). Afterward, as people were deciding what to do, I was thinking it would be better if I just went home, but the mention of karaoke made me forget all that. So I went with a bunch of people to karaoke. We sang and drank a bit more that night. It was fun, but I’m not sure it was worth the hazy morning. Anyway, after we finished karaoke, I grabbed by blue bag and my plastic bag and we ate some food. I don’t really recall what it was, but it was good. Then we got a taxi and headed to Takeshi’s place. He is a guy who met us up at the karaoke place and who is married to a former JET. He was letting us crash at his place, so when we got out I grabbed my blue bag and we went in. (Did you notice it?) Apparently, when Takeshi got out his futon, I laid down on it and fell right asleep. I didn’t realize this until the morning. But the odd thing was, I didn’t wake up there, at some point in the night I went down stairs to go to the bathroom, but never made it back up. I was on this really short couch with my legs over the arm. Anyway, as we were getting ready to leave, I grabbed my blue bag and… (did you figure it out?) my plastic bag was NOT there! Let’s make a list, shall we. It contained my:

digital camera (3rd time misplacing/losing/forgetting it)
cell phone
Nintendo DS
apartment keys
car key (Dan’s car)
1300 yen
an apple

So, that was a downer. I was so off for the day. Morgan (one of the new JETs who was out with us) had a car since he lives way out where no trains reach really and Tye, Iain, Morgan, and I left Takeshi’s and went out in search of ninja-wear. The reason being Angie’s Pirates vs. Ninjas party. Angie lives way out east past Sam in a town called Hiketa. And she has an actual house. Well it’s more like a duplex. But she has an upstairs with two rooms and a downstairs with a toilet, bath, kitchen, and living room. It is pretty big. Anyway, she was having a big bash just to get everyone together and bring some life down to her town. So, we guys were out looking for stuff in the hundred yen shops at the malls. We found some pretty good stuff actually. Also, the other three guys are really into either paint ball or air soft. So they got some air soft guns at the mall as well. I may have to invest in one as well. They seem pretty fun. Sort of like BBs but not as painful. And you don’t have to pump the gun a thousand times to make it shoot. I got a nike shirt that just says BALLS on the front. I thought it was funny. And I picked up a kanji dictionary for my Nintendo DS (that I didn’t have at that point since I had lost it). But I was certain that I would get it back… or I would replace it if I had to. Anyway, we drop Iain off and go to Morgan’s to relax for a bit and shower off the previous night. I tried to nap a little, but it didn’t really happen.

Meanwhile, Morgan has been trying to call my cell phone to see if anyone might pick up, but no one is answering. We are going to leave around 4 to pick Iain up and take him to the train station where we will pick up Dan to head to Angie’s. Of course, everything starts happening around that time. I get up and take a shower, Morgan gets a call from a Japanese person that he can barely understand because it’s hard Japanese and about 3 different people keep trying to call him so his phone is beeping the entire time he is talking to the Japanese guy. He is able to understand that the guy has my phone. Something about police. Something about taxi. But that’s it. Then he tries calling all the fluent Japanese speakers we know to get some help and of course no one is answering. I was pretty relieved though. Even though we don’t know where to go exactly we head out because we are late to pick up Iain and get to the station and we will figure out where to get my stuff when we get back in Takamatsu. Right before we get in the car, Morgan gets another call from the guy and this time he is able to understand him. I left my stuff in the taxi and the driver just dropped it off at the police station right near where she dropped us off. The funny thing is, Iain had seen a bag in the taxi and asked the driver if it was hers (in English) and she nodded or something and then he just left it. She probably thought we were really stupid. I’m just glad she dropped it off. But that’s something that is different about Japan. You can be a bit more trusting with your belongings. Not that you should make it a habit, because theft does exist. It’s just that you’re more likely to come across honest good citizens than people who believe finders keepers is a natural law. I’ve been out shopping a number of times when I realize I need to stop at another store and I feel awkward bringing in my bags from another store into this one and I leave them in my bike’s basket. I come out and they are still there. I’ve seen a few items that people have dropped or forgotten that others have put up somewhere so they can be seen and reclaimed. Other people have lost things that have been returned to them. Someone left a cell phone at a hotel, Sam left her passport in a taxi, someone left a computer at a bar (though I haven’t heard if they got that back or not). Anyway, we went back and the police station was literally right across the street from Takeshi’s place.

Eventually we made it down to Hiketa where we grabbed dinner and then provisions and went to the party. It was pretty fun. About 19 people showed up which is a lot for a gathering at someone’s place considering the size of apartments around here. Everyone dressed up so it was a lot of fun. We had demon masks and black head wraps and those shoes that have the big toe separate and that go up the calf most of the way. Oh and plastic swords and throwing stars and rubber nunchucks. Anyway, the partying and talking and drinking lasted until about 2, but I was pretty exhausted from the night before so I was sleeping off and on in the room where everyone settled from noon until 2 and then we all went to bed eventually. For some reason I felt really good and chipper the next day. I was up at around 7 or 7 30 I think. I took a shower and changed and got ready. Eventually the other guys going in Morgan’s car started getting up as well. He was hoping to get back early for a school event. We ate breakfast and tried cleaning up a bit and headed out.

Back in Takamatsu, I went shopping in the shotengai for a few things I had been wanting to get. That dang book bag that I still haven’t found. I’m not sure what kind I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it. I got a kanji game for my DS as well. When I got to the train station I got my ticket and figured out what time I would need to board and then settled on some seats and started to situate all the stuff in my bags because I still had that plastic bag o’ expensive stuff, plus the bags of stuff I had bought in Tak. So I got all that set and was sitting there for a second. I checked the time and it was getting close so I went to grab my ticket….. which was NOT IN MY POCKET. The ticket costs about 9 dollars to get back to Takase. Not a ton, but I didn’t really want to pay it again. So I had to go through all the stuff I had just organized and couldn’t find it. I gathered all my stuff and walked back to the ticket machine and didn’t see it there or anywhere on the way. Then I went back to the seat and decided to grab the bags and trash that I had thrown in the bin and went through those. NO ticket. On the way back to my seat I looked at the ground which was black and barely made out this little square. See the tickets are bright orange on one side with all the info printed on it, and then black on the other side. So it blended in completely. I must have forgotten I had it in my hand when I sat down and just let go of it.

Anyway, I noticed a girl that I thought was someone I had met at the Mexican dinner (actually I met her in Tokushima but I didn’t remember that). I eventually decided it was probably her and called out her name and she looked up. So I sat down over by her and found out that my train was one that would need a transfer whereas if we just sat and waited a bit more then we could take the train that would be direct. So we sat and talked and eventually made it back home. She lives one town over from me in Mino. Her name is Sachie and she has great English. She lived in Colorado for two years working at a university.

Well I made it home where I finally felt tired, but I was resisting napping because I wanted to be on a normal schedule since Monday was opening ceremony. So I watched TV and played the DS and read Harry Potter 7 and cleaned up the place. Oh wait, no I didn’t clean. Ha ha ha. My place is a pig sty right now. Anyway, I did go running though. I made it around this small lake behind the high school near me and then headed over to this small mountain that has a big chunk of it quarried out. I went up it and found this little pond of rain water where they quarried the stone out. It looked pretty cool, like it would be nice for swimming and possibly cliff diving if you could find one low enough (most of them were about 100 feet it seemed which is a bit much) but there was a sign saying not to enter. I made it around and you could look out and see a lot of Takase. I’ll have to go up there again and find a clear view and take a picture so I can point out where I live and where the school is and all that. I swear I’ll start posting pictures soon.

I made it back home and took a nice hot bath, my first since being here. No, I’m not dirty, I’ve just been taking showers. But a hot bath in summer is kind of pointless. Because when you get out, you start sweating right away. So I had to take a cold shower to cool off. But it was actually refreshing all together. I ate some dinner and went to bed after reading Harry Potter for awhile.

So that gets us up to Sunday.