December 25, 2008

December 14, 2008

It's December!

Sorry, sorry, sorry! It's been too long since I last posted. The first week of December I was putting most of my time into work, which got really busy, and studying, which was taking up the rest of my time. I took the JLPT test on the 7th. Then I let myself relax a bit this past week. But it wasn't really a good idea. I function much better when I'm busy and feel like I don't have enough time for everything. I make time to get it done. But when I feel relaxed I tend to waste time.

I think I have a 1 in 10 chance of having passed the test. I'll find out sometime in mid-February or so. (Which I don't understand so much since it's a multiple choice test that will be graded by machine. Then again it didn't make sense for a test that is 2 1/2 hours long to last from 9:45 until 3:00.) The reason I say that is because of the several practice tests I took, I only got a passing score on one of them. I just don't have the Japanese ability to pass that level of the test. I went for the 2nd highest level out of the 4. And I refused to totally change my way of studying fit the test. Maybe silly, but I didn't want to try to cram junk in my head only to forget it. Needless to say learning Japanese has given me lots to think about in terms of language teaching.

お知らせ (FYI)

I'm staying in Japan this winter break. No plans yet for Christmas day. Maybe I'll just go to work. I'm going to have a traditional Japanese New Year though. I'm looking forward to it. I'm not sure, but if I feel like actually getting it together, I may visit Korea after the New Year.

November 30, 2008

Snowboarding!

I went snowboarding yesterday morning with a couple of my teachers. It was pretty great. I hadn't been to ski or snowboard since my year in France when I went on a ski/snowboard trip with friends there. Being in Shikoku which has similar weather to Georgia, it was obviously not real snow. We drove to the very tippy top of a mountain in Tokushima where the ski park had made a slope about 30 meters wide and 800 or so meters long. Not big at all, but they just opened recently for the season. They're adding more snow every day. It's not far and the teachers had club activities in the afternoon, so we only went for the morning. I felt bad because

Anyway, I'm sore as hell today but I'm glad I went. There is talk of a whole weekend long ski trip with some JETs and possibly a trip with some of the young teachers at my school. I was able to practice enough so that I can feel confident the next time I go. I was falling the first 4 or 5 times I went down. Then I asked Mr. Ishikawa, one of the school's gym teachers (who happens to be 50), to tell me how to turn correctly and from then on I was able to manage myself pretty well and my falls were more or less limited to when I hit a bump or hit some softer snow and not because I couldn't turn. Ms. Takahashi is the young English teacher I work with. She came but she got carsick on the way and didn't enjoy herself. She was pretty bad off. We stopped at least 5 times in the last 45 minutes of the trip. She still went snowboarding at least 7 or 8 times though. And then still had to go back and coach her gymnastics club. Pretty tough cookie.

Anyway, today I'm planning on going to one of my elementary's school fair. One grade is performing "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." Should be cute.

Udon Shop

I forgot to mention. I went out with Megumi and Chie, the people my age in my Eikaiwa, for udon on Wednesday. Chie asked her friend to open up his shop for us that night. He usually only is open for lunch. It was good fun. It was just the three of us and him. His shop was in a part of the movie called "Udon" which was a big deal in Kagawa since it was centered around their food specialty. He also is a rakugo performer. Rakugo is the traditional form of Japanese stand-up comedy, except it's always performed sitting in the traditional Japanese seiza position, so maybe sit-down comedy. I think I mentioned rakugo before when I went to see a performance and when I went to see an explanation of it. One man sits on a raised zabuton (floor cushion for sitting) wearing kimono or yukata. He usually has a traditional fan as well. I think there might be another tool to use as well. I forget. But the comedy is in the form of a longer discourse with minor punchlines or comic situations supported by gestures and the use of the fan always culminating in a final punchline.

Anyway, he didn't do a performance or anything on Wednesday, but he is just a really funny guy which is probably why he is good at rakugo. He kept telling funny little stories or taking things we said and making stories out of them. We were there for probably 2 or 3 hours. He will be performing at Megumi's family's Buddhist temple/home on the 21st. I think I'll try to go.

Then we went to the new mall in the area and had some of Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors. MMMM. There's also a Mr. Donut. I'm glad that the mall isn't closer than the 20 minute bike ride otherwise I might start having a weight problem. At least I can count on the journey itself to counteract some of the effects of whatever sweets I buy there.

November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Well it's Turkey day back home. Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I thought I would take a minute and say a quick hello to everyone. I miss you all so much. I can feel it especially around this season of holidays. I had my own Thanksgiving with friends last Saturday. We had a turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, candied yams, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing, and of course pumpkin pie. It was great. I made my grandpap's recipe for hariata again this year as well as a fruit salad. All the other things were claimed and I was really slammed last week leading up to the dinner day so cooking something was really out of the question. I had eikaiwa on Thursday like usual and the girls came over afterward. Friday I had a major workshop/demonstration lesson day at an elementary school. Over 100 teachers came, and I taught one lesson with one teacher and did a participation workshop with 2 other teachers. After that I jumped on a train to Takamatsu to celebrate a friends birthday only to make the hour trip back so I could have time to even make something as simple as fruit salad in the morning before taking the hour+ trip to my other friend's for Thanksgiving dinner.

This week has been a bit better but still isogashii! (busy!) I just keep having way more things I want to do than I have time to do. Today, I had about 50 different things I wanted to do. I've had to prioritize and cut out some things. It just stinks that so many of them have to be done at the same time and I couldn't use all the free time I had at school since it's testing time. (I can't really cook food at school.)

That brings me to what I'm doing now. It's eikaiwa night. So we are going to have a mini-Thanksgiving celebration and we'll talk about the holiday and our traditions. We'll also eat some foods. I encouraged the people to make traditional dishes, but many will probably bring their own style dishes. But I think that's appropriate since each family in America has it's own traditions apart from the basics of Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (in some form), cranberry sauce, green beans (in some form), and pumpkin pie. Those seem to be the absolute basics that most everyone has. My family always had spumoni for dessert in addition to the pies. We all LOVED my mom's spumoni even though it's fairly easy to make: fruit cocktail, crushed pineapple, cherry pie filling, cool whip and freeze. We never did figure out that we could make it anytime of the year. But isn't that the joy and purpose of traditions? Something to mark a season and the passage of time. Something to look forward to and be able to share with the people you care about. I guess that's why this season, so full of traditions, is more difficult to live through when living half a world away from many of the people I care about.

Know that I love and miss you all!

(Wish me luck--I'm making mashed potatoes which aren't too hard, but the dressing I'm trying to make from scratch is a new one for me. We usually use the stuff from the box back home. I hope it tastes right.)

November 18, 2008

JLPT

Well, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test or 日本語能力試験 is just around the corner. December 7th is the big day. I decided to challenge myself by going for level 2 (there are 4 levels with 1 the highest). I did a trial test for the 3rd level back in August and passed (with a 76%) so it seemed silly at the time to take a test I knew I could pass. But now, it seems silly to be going for a test that will be almost impossible to pass. We will see.

This past weekend, I tried a practice level 2 test minus the listening section. I got a 51%. This gives me hope. The passing cut-off is 60%. So, I have just a bit less than 3 weeks to close that 9% gap. It just may be possible. I've just finished this book of grammatical phrases that account for a good chunk of the grammar section (which I did very poorly on and which is worth 2 points per question). Even though I had already finished most of the book at the time of the practice test, I hadn't reviewed any of it. So, now having finished, if I can focus on reviewing those grammar phrases and getting them in my head, I perhaps have a chance at passing.

And yes, I know that passing this test won't prove I'm fluent or anything. But goals can can be good to have. Also, up to this point, I haven't let my method of study be corrupted by studying for the test (as I just argued against doing such a thing in my last post). But having had this test in my mind has gotten me to do a lot more reading and living in Japanese than I was doing previously. And almost as a favor to it and because I don't want a poor showing, I don't think I mind doing some studying strictly for the test over the remaining weeks(in the form of memorizing those damn grammatical phrases, going over past test questions, doing practice listening tests).

November 15, 2008

Teaching to the Test

I think it's very important to realize that for any subject, teaching with the goal of passing a test is 100% wrong. Tests should be measures of progress. Tests these days are, on the whole, poorly constructed, and their standardization generally weakens their effectiveness. And because of these problems it is possible to strictly prepare students for the test (as opposed to teaching students solely for mastery of a subject). But should we do it? Should we teach to the test? I say NO.

But because of high accountability on teachers and the high pressures of students to get high test scores and the subsequent high pressure from parents on teachers to prepare students for the tests, all focus is lost!

In Japan, English is especially easy to ignore while preparing for the tests. It amazes me that teachers can continue to teach (to the test) while evidence that their students can say and understand very little natural English (even natural English limited to grammar and vocabulary that have been "taught") appears daily in front of them.

In America, the same testing trend is sadly occurring. As a French teacher, I was able to avoid the stress involved with teaching to a test. So far, most states are focused only on math and English as far as federal school accountability tests are concerned. Many states are adopting their own tests for high school graduation in all subjects. Some more advanced states, New York for example, have already created tests for foreign languages. (Sidenote: I've seen the New York tests. They are very good proficiency based tests. But even good tests can be misused, i.e. used as a goal rather than a measure of progress/ability.)

The best tests for language are skill/performance based tests which are not easily standardized and require time and real-time adaptability. But these types of tests require a trained language expert to holistically evaluate a student's abilities. This seems subjective and isn't mass producible making them undesirable.

So what do we do? How can we have tests while not teaching to them? Is it possible? Is this having our cake and eating it too? Is standardization helpful or problematic? And as a lowly ALT am I ever going to have an impact on this problem in Japan?

November 4, 2008

GRE

I got my results back for the test. I already had the math and verbal scores and I did well there. But I was worried about the analytical writing section. And rightly so. I got a 4.5 out of 6 on their holistic grading scale. That was at the 58th percentile. So really not good at all. I should have done some actual prep work for it.

For completely separate reasons, I've been considering not entering graduate school next fall. That would give me time to retake the test to raise the writing score. But I'm not all that worried about it. Just disappointed that I didn't prepare well enough for it. Well at all really. I didn't do any practice essays. I didn't even fully grasp what the writing section was until a couple days before when I finally read a description and started looking at the topic pool. I was hoping I would edge by with a 5 which doesn't look quite so bad I don't think. But oh well. Better luck next time.

By the way, I'm trying to do better about keeping in touch with family and friends back home. So if you haven't heard from me in a while, please leave a comment, send an email, find me on skype (usually on in the evenings Eastern Standard), or call me on my cell phone (which might be a bit expensive for you, unless you use skype where it's only about 2 cents a minute) - you can email me for the number.

October 31, 2008

LOL

I just looked at the titles of my October posts. That has got to be the most eclectic mix ever. 面白い! Oh and Beyoncé was just on TV here in Japan. Even funnier, there's this recent group that's become somewhat popular. It's a joke kind of. I think. You never know. But it's three Japanese guys dressed up Dream Girls style in matching sequin dresses with big wigs and big makeup. They pretend that they are American girls from a Las Vegas act (I think). It was just funny to see them getting introduced after Beyoncé. But they actually sing an actual song on the show and are treated basically like all the other acts. I bet you can find it at karaoke by now.

日本語でのブロギング

今から時々日本語でのポストをする。何を言うんかなぁ。。。もちろん間違ってるところが多と思うけど。いい練習と思う。それで今日のことについて書こう。


最近とても疲れた。よく寝られないからだね。ちょっと病気な気持ち最近は。昨晩も2,3時まで寝られなかった。それから頭もお腹も痛くて学校へ行った。JTEと英語の授業が二回教えた。そうでも、本当に大変だった。給食の後で小学校の授業ある。あのハロウィーンのものをかばんに置いて自転車に乗っていった。小の先生僕を迎えた。今日は二年生だった。すごい準備できた。みんな変装して本当のジャッコランターンがあってハロウィーンの言葉も覚えた。びっくりした。一緒にtrick or treatingの会話を練習した。その後で子供たちが回ってキャンディーをもらった。それからフルーツバスケットした。楽しかった。でもその後で本当に疲れた。普通の時間に仕事から帰った。ついでにレデイで薬を買って西村ジョイで植物をかった。

今晩休むと思う。日本語でもちろん。明日アパートの掃除やガーデニングなど。

PS. To English speakers. Sometimes I'm going to start posting here in Japanese to give me a place to practice. Sometimes I'll translate what I wrote or give a synopsis. Today I wrote about feeling a bit sick and tired this week and not have a great day until I went to elementary school and had a great Halloween lesson. But afterwards I was even more tired. So now I'm home relaxing. ;)

October 27, 2008

Language is more than copying

I've been attempting to follow the self-study method described throughout the website alljapaneseallthetime.com. The creator of the site, Khatzumoto, is currently living in Japan and working on acquiring Cantonese. He continues to post his thoughts and ideas related to language learning, motivation, and general self-improvement. I like to comment occasionally.

Recently, he posted a video that he participated in. I disagreed with part of it and left a comment about it and someone else disagreed with me. You can find this below the video. I wrote a response but it ended up being 2 pages long. So I only posted part of it there and said I would put the rest here. So it may be boring for some of you. But this is the kind of stuff I get passionate about. Hence the 2 page response.


I think you missed my point. Yes, it was an ad hoc video. Yes, his answers were off the cuff. But I figured the fact that he stuck with the copying/mimicking connection long enough to leave an impression on me was enough for me to post as I did. If you take a better look, you'll see that I too agreed with his general point and I simply took issue with calling it copying/mimicking. Language is much more complicated than that.

I thought maybe I should have rewatched the video before posting, but I gave listening to Japanese priority to watching another 30 minutes of an English interview. I also figured it would be unfair to rewatch to nitpick it given that it was unrehearsed, unplanned, and unedited. Given your comments I decided to rewatch it to see if I was off base, and I actually found I disagree in whole with Khatz’s relating language acquisition with copying in the way he did. Language is not copying. It is actually highly creative.

(It's not really fair to Khatz to analyze what he said too closely considering it was an unexpected interview and he might not have stated everything he wanted to just as he wanted to. So the rest can just be taken as my take on language acquisition vs. copying rather than a criticism of what he said. That's all it is after all. Just me expanding on my previous comment which I still agree with.)

If we're looking to somewhat recreate a child's experience acquiring their first language through input, then let's look at their baby step's towards fluency.

"Want ball"

If that's not creativity, I don't know what is. And it's not copying. It seems redundant to say so, but I think it's important considering Khatz's statements about mixing and matching the copied parts creatively. Statements I agreed with above but, after thinking about them, have come to disagree with now.

If you are copying, then you are trying to be conscious about your language use (this is different from being conscious about the content of your language). If you are being conscious about your language use, then you are not speaking with fluency. The definition of fluency is not thinking about the language when you are using it. It simply falls out of your mouth and sounds natural/good/correct to native speakers while expressing the ideas you want to express.

If we look at what someone has said, we probably will be able to see how the different parts of the sentence have come from this or that source of input, and maybe this grammatical structure was "copied" but used with this other "copied" structure and used with different vocabulary, etc, etc. But it's actually not copying. This is descriptive linguistics. This is looking at language after the fact and analyzing it and describing it. Language looks like a bunch copied and interchanged parts. But this is not how language works in the brain. And this is not how language is created in a given utterance.

I do understand Khatz's warning about not producing on your own or being creative with the language. It's because you're not a native speaker and you'll like create unnatural phrases. This is at the beginning of your acquisition phase. Eventually, you'll hopefully have had enough input to trust your brain's ability to put together the language in natural sounding ways that correctly represent your ideas.

And I think I just got what perhaps went unsaid or was implied but I didn't catch in the interview. Maybe Khatz can clarify. At the beginning of your acquisition process, you should resist being "too creative" with the language. You're not a native and you haven't had enough input to just produce the language. If you want to talk, try copying what you've heard. If you have to use Japanese in your life, this maybe this is a good idea. But if you don't, then it's probably a better idea to not speak until the words fall effortlessly from your mouth. (Just like your native language.) Until that point, you might have fun or get by using copied phrases. By copying correct phrases you won't be risking the fossilization of incorrect grammar or unnatural wording. But eventually you shouldn't be copying. And you should be able to use the language creatively. That's what being native or near-native is.

Speaking to your nash equilibrium (I had to look that up... I'm not a gamer) time and today's political boundaries and high mobility have created language barriers where they once rarely existed if at all. We have identifiable, distinct languages. Take a look at all the dictionaries and grammars. They're so tangible. But language is not tangible. The fact is, even with something as tangible as a spoon, your spoon is not the same as my spoon. Language, after all, is the imperfect representation of one's ideas. And my mental image and definition of a spoon are not the same as yours. We use the same word and can get along in a conversation about a spoon because our mental images and definitions overlap enough to have mutual comprehension. But if you were at my house and you heard "get the spoon" you might be confused since no soup is in sight, but I would know that one of my siblings was talking about getting a whooping like when we were kids. We got the cooking spoon at my house. To sum up, depending on how you define it, every person speaks a different language from everyone else. It's just that there's enough of an overlap for almost 100% comprehension for everyone who lives within a certain community that we recognize what they're speaking as a single, distinct language. If the meanings of words were copied from person to person, then there would be no difference in meaning at all from person to person and there would be no change in meaning over time and space. This is not so.

"A building site" vs. "A building place". Good example of grammatically correct and dictionary-ly correct, but dead wrong. Again, to come to a level of ability to make the correct word choice here you need to have lots of input. It's not copying. If it was copying, then it means you've memorized this phrase. And unless your willing to memorize a million other such phrases to sound natural, copying won't work for competence in the whole language. Input, input, input.

In a movie, you may consciously take note of a certain phrasing. You hear it later in a conversation. You make a mental note to use that phrase just the same way next time you need it. A week later you have a natural opportunity in a conversation and you think to use the phrase. Great! Good for you. That's one phrase. Assuming that the rest of your conversation went smoothly and wasn't entirely made up of copied phrases, you can thank your input for your ability to get by in the conversation and not your ability to copy.

Sorry, I'm a big old dork and I like linguistics and feel strongly about good methodologies in language teaching/study. Basically, I took issue with calling language acquisition copying. I don't comment all that often here. Sometimes, to agree, sometimes to say thanks, sometimes to expand on a point with my own point of view, and sometimes to disagree. The reason I comment, even when disagreeing, is to keep an intellectual dialog going or to create one. Khatz asks us to comment, after all.

October 21, 2008

Octopus Fishing!!

Well, I never thought I would do it. Well, to be honest, I don't think any of us Americans ever really have it cross our minds. But I went octopus fishing on Sunday! We took a boat from Tadotsu, a town not too far from me, out into the Setonaikai (inland sea) and dropped our hooks in the water and snagged up some of those eight-legged creatures.



Pretty fun day in all. We left around 10 30 in the morning and stayed out until 2 or so. I would have thought that you catch octopuses with traps at the bottom of the ocean. But nope. We all were given rod and reel to catch them. We didn't even need bait. Apparently, fall is the season for fishing for them. And they must be just crawling along the bottom in the thousands upon thousands. Seriously.



The hook is weighted and has several upward pointing hooks. (It actually looks like an octopus itself, but not so much to fool octopuses but probably because it's cute and actually effective.) And once it hits bottom, the octopuses will crawl on it and get snagged. Then you yank it up and reel it in. I think there's a certain feel to it. I caught 6 or 7, but some of the more experienced people caught at least 40 each. And seriously there were more than a hundred boats in our area each with 3 or more people fishing for octopuses. So tons of octopuses. Or tako, as they say in Japanese, pronounced like the mexican food.



And when we were done, all the octopuses were put together and divvied out. So I came home with 25 of the little buggers. We were given a quick demo of how to remove the ink sac by driving your thumb in and ripping it out. (By the way, the demo was done with a live octopus.) So, I had to do this 25 times. At least mine were dead by the time I got home. At least I think so. Some of them were still changing color, like they do. Then I boiled them up and invited my friend Matthew over to enjoy some tako tacos. Yes, I'm even corny with my food.

Here you can see just how easy it was to catch them. These three guys all snag them up in this minute long video. Crazy.

video

This video is after about 15 or 20 minutes of trying to take the ink sacs out. It was really hard and you can hear me getting frustrated. I would have posted all the videos but it takes so long to get them uploaded. I just chose a few to give you the idea of the whole process. WARNING: Gross video! If you don't like dead things or are squeamish, you might not want to watch this!

video

Here you can see me finally done de-inking them and boiling them. WARNING: Again dead things. General ickiness. Beware.
video

And here is the result of boiling them for 20 minutes. They look pretty cute. Like little dancing octopuses.









And voila! The tako tacos! Well not really tacos, but best I could manage in Japan. Even though they look like Pringles, they are corn chips and have the right taste. See if you can spot some tentacles!!

It was quite delicious. I did cheat and mix in some beef, but I didn't think just octopus meat would be enough or have quite the right flavor.

October 15, 2008

GRE

Well. It's already time to start thinking about my plans for the future. My original thoughts were to come here for 2 years. When the decision to re-sign or return home came last year, I had some trouble, but ended up staying, obviously. The truth is I'm not so certain about where my life is heading at this point. But I've started making some preparations for returning home. One of them is taking the GRE to have the option of returning home and starting graduate school.

About two and a half weeks ago, I talked with another JET at a party who I knew was planning on taking the test and she said that it she was taking it in a week (so, last Saturday in September). This got me thinking about the application process timeline. And I realized deadlines are already approaching. I think many schools are already accepting applications with deadlines sometime in the winter. I've got to think about having my test scores ready as well as all the accompanying application materials. My friend Alana who lives in Osaka where one can take the GRE was already asking me to come up for the weekend of the 11th (this past Saturday) since another friend of hers was coming to visit. So I decided to check if I could manage a test appointment and luckily there was a spot on Saturday morning, so I could get it out of the way early and enjoy the weekend with Alana and her friend.

I had bought a book for preparing for the GRE back in March I think. But of course I hadn't really started studying with it other than taking a practice test and starting to look at the strategies they suggest for a couple days before getting distracted and putting it aside. But I figured if I waited to sign up for the test until after I'd prepared, I would never get it done. So, I gave myself two weeks to prepare and that was it.

I think I did ok. I'm pretty happy with the score the computer showed for the verbal and math sections. The official scores will come in a few weeks and will include a score for the essay portion. That section was a bit of a mess. There are two parts. The first is an essay in which you analyze a quote of some sort and explain your position related to it giving support with details from your knowledge of the world, literature, history, current events, etc. etc. The second part is an analysis of a brief paragraph usually describing someone's idea for a plan of action or a change in a given situation. You must analyze the quality of the reasoning behind the idea. You have to point out the faults while explaining what sort of information would strengthen the argument.

I think I did fine on the second essay. You have less time, but you're just working with information that's provided. The only stuff you have to come up with is how to make it better. But the first essay, I was stumped. They have two quotes to choose from and I made myself choose quickly. A good step. But then I spent 15 minutes staring at the quote and making a few notes on paper and then typing a few ideas on the screen. Not a good step. Finally with only 2/3 of the time left, 30 minutes, I started really typing. But unfortunately, I only got 2 full paragraphs done and a sad excuse for a third clearly unfinished paragraph. Later when I was thinking about what I wrote, it seems that I had been making a connection in my head (a connection between what I was writing and the original quote) that I don't think I very clearly defined. They say that it's not just about great writing given the short time. But I really don't know if I showed enough of the kind of analytical and academic thinking that they're also looking for in my writing. We'll see.

Anyway, this is the first step to graduate school. But I'm not sure that's where I'll be, come next August. The possibility of staying in Japan a 3rd year has crossed my mind more than once. Right now I'm trying to keep my options open. I don't know if that's good. I think I'd do best to make a definite decision soon and work to accomplish whatever goal I set, rather than half-heartedly go through the motions just to "keep my options open". Being wishy-washy will just have wishy-washy results.

October 5, 2008

A hair.

Did I tell you? The other day I was at school. I was washing my hands after a messy lunch, you know, picking bones out of fish with chopsticks which doesn't really work so I end up using my fingers. Anyway, I look in the mirror and there's something on my ear. So I wipe it off. But it's still there.

It's a hair. On my earlobe. Just one hair. But it's a peachfuzz hair. So it's light blondish. But it's freaking an inch long! Sticking straight out from my ear. I only saw it cause the light hit it just right.

Of course I plucked it. And of course I was wondering just how long it had been growing to such a grotesque length. Thought you might like to know.

That and I went to my second bonsai lesson. I didn't really learn anymore. Just finished up clipping the tree I started last week. And then I started a new tree. Well it's Matt 1's tree. He couldn't take it home with him.

Then I met Hashizume-sensei for dinner. She's the music teacher who retired. But guess what, she's working again! I knew she would find something to get her out and working. She likes being busy. She is filling in for an elementary music teacher on maternity leave. She'll be there for a year she said. But she also has to teach math. So she wakes up at 4 in the morning.

I know, she's crazy. She spends the time getting dressed and then studying the math assignments since she isn't good at them. (Even though, she co-teaches math and the other teacher is the one who takes the lead.) Then at 5 she prepares her and her husbands breakfasts/lunches. I think at 5 30 is her 1st year NHK radio English lesson for a half hour followed at 6 by the 2nd year lesson. Then, she finishes up and heads to school. She cooks 4 nights of dinners and freezes them on Sundays, so when she gets home (maybe around 7 30 or 8) she only has to defrost them. Her husband has taken over some of the cleaning and laundry that she had been taking care of. And she goes to bed at 10 30.

I would say this isn't an uncommon schedule for many Japanese people. They work a LOT. I often hear about teachers who are trying to finish this or that and stay up until 2 in the morning only to get up at the normal time. And there isn't really any sleeping-in ever. That's why there's so much sleeping on the train, I guess. And for the women, it's perhaps a bit tougher, because even they've moved into the workplace as much as in the states, they still are VERY much the person in charge of the kitchen and many inside household duties. And even if some of the responsibilities are shared, it's almost universal that they are expected to get up early to cook breakfast and make dinner when they get home after work. The kitchen is the woman's place. Men here in general have no interest in cooking and never cook (unless they are in the restaurant business).

Well, I guess that post grew longer than I meant to. But yeah. A freaking inch-long hair! Sticking straight out of the side of my ear lobe.

September 28, 2008

My first bonsai lesson!

Well, after visiting the place over a month ago, I finally had a weekend to go back and have my first bonsai lesson.

It was great. Nothing big, but a lot of fun. There's a nice couple, Yoichi and Kana, who are running the family business. I saw Yoichi's father today, so he's still working around the shop. And then there are the other staff, including a Frenchman, Xavier. He's actually the only other person I've met who works there. I think more people work out in the bonsai fields.

So anyway, I showed up and they weren't expecting me because they hadn't understood my text message and it was so late (sent this morning). But anyway, we started off working with a white pine, goyoumatsu (specifically ginyattsufusa). Yoichi ran through the basic yearly care cycle for the white pine. How often to water, when to change the pot, when to prune the dead leaves, and when to wire it. October is when you usually prune it, so that's what he showed me how to do.

It looked simple enough. You look for the older needles, generally lower than the newer ones and a little yellowed, and snip them off with some scissors. At first, I said, "This is nervewracking." But mainly because he was pretty quick with the demonstration pruning and I was slow and Yoichi and Kana were right there watching my every snip. But after several snips, I started getting the hang of it, and they felt satisfied enough to walk away and before long I spontaneously said, "This is relaxing." It took a second for me to realize how opposite that was from my first statement.

It really was nice. I got into a nice snipping mood. And that was all I did for about 2 hours. I didn't finish the tree, so I will follow up next time. I wish I had taken a picture so you could see. But next time.

They have a website. And before you freak out, click the English link. And they also have a blog. They posted a picture of when I went last time with the other Matt. (Matt from Kanonji who has already returned to the States in preparation for his new job in Singapore, I think.) By the way, I'm マット2. (That means Matt 2.)

September 17, 2008

What a trip!

Back already from the Okinawa adventure. I'm at work. We got in this morning to Kagawa and went our separate ways in Takamatsu. I managed to check my emails and do a load of laundry this morning before work. I'll have to sort through the mess of baggage that I brought home with me. Of course, that will be after 3 classes (more if I decide to help with Sports Day stuff) and speech contest practice. I've got to check on what elementaries I have coming up so I know if I have any planning to do. I've got to figure out who gets what omiyage (souvenirs) because at the end I remembered lots of people, but it was too late to run back and get stuff in the airport stores. Luckily I think I got enough small stuff to last for lots of people and can rearrange other things that I got for me. And I remembered all the big gifts for people I had wanted to get. So no worries.

It's already back into the old routine. (Get to school barely on time, remind the teachers I have class with them, find out what we're doing while we walk to class, etc.) It feels as if I haven't even been gone. But during the trip it felt like time was stopped. In a good way of course. It was one of those trips where our days were just so long and filled that we thought two had passed in one.

Anyway, I'll update again with pictures when I get a chance to breathe.

Whew!

September 13, 2008

Okinawa

Woohoo for being on vacation. Boo for it raining on vacation.

Already got caught in a downpour. Bought cheesy souvenirs. Ate goya champuru. Drank shiquasa or shiquasur.

Still need to get out and see some sights and eat some other well-known foods and drink some awamori, the lethal okinawan sake.

No ferries out to the island we wanted to get to due to the typhoon. So we're playing it by ear on the main island. Wish us luck!

September 8, 2008

School's Back in for the Year

Thanks friends for keeping on me. I've been neglectful once again. But I've been having a pretty great time and been pretty active. And now that I [don't really] have the time, I'll take a quick moment to update on a few things.

Not even sure where I last left off. Well, August was 夏休み (summer vacation) but, as you know, that just means kids had no class. Everyone was still at school doing stuff. I had grand plans to study Japanese everyday, organize my desk, do some lesson planning for the new semester, get back into working out, go to some club activities, take a couple trips, etc. Not very much of that happened. I took a couple trips. But a lot of my time (and mostly my energy) went into saying goodbye to my friends who were heading home and then very quickly after, saying hello to all the new friends that were coming. Dinners, parties, nights out, short train rides here and there, out til all hours. I just never had the energy to do much when I was "at work". I studied 漢字 (kanji) each day, but that was about all the studying I did.

On to the trips. I went to Osaka for a week to hang out with Alana and our friend Erin (my friend through Alana who had moved from Atlanta to New York and was visiting for a couple weeks). I was there for the last 5 days of her trip in Japan. It was great fun hanging out together and exploring Osaka. Erin and I took a trip to Arashiyama and the monkey mountain when Alana had work one day. We ate Mexican and Indian and Mexican and American and Combini. We went to a city pool. We laid in a park and read books and drank a beer. We rode a red ferris wheel on top of a building. Alana and I had grand plans for a trip to Hokkaido after Erin left, but due to our utter lack of real planning and an unforeseen lack of energy due to Alana's crazy schedule leading up to that point, we opted for hanging in Osaka. Had a couple lazy days watching movies and hanging out. Took a trip to a beach which was a lot of fun. Then I headed home.

Actually, it went like this. Night out on Friday in Osaka which went until after midnight (not quite sure of the time... probably later). Up before 7 maybe for my 4.5 hour bus/train rides + 10 minute walk home. Showered and had maybe 3 hours to myself and then took an hour ride with the music teacher down to Awaikeda in the neighboring prefecture for a festival. They dance the Awaodori there. The same dance as in the big city, but just a small town festival. We were meeting some of my friends (and friends of friends) before the festival to get ready. The teacher had brought traditional festival clothes for me to wear. She helped me and my friends get out our clothes. She pretty much took over that part of the evening. When I get a sec, I'll post the picture. I had on a yukata (what we would call a kimono probably) and geta, the raised wooden sandals. I carried my traditional bag and a fan. I was styling. I even got a "かっこいい" (cool) from this restaurant owner.

Let's see. After that we went home. The teacher said she would maybe sew me a yukata. (At this point, she's already bought the fabric and will probably have started on it. She said it might take a whole year though.) She's a handful. I need to talk to her. It's been a while.

The next weekend, I went to basically the same city, just one town over, for a friend's house party. That was quite a night. I was up til maybe 5 or 5 30. Got up at 9 the next day and (barely) made the train (are you surprised). I literally broke into a sprint for the last 3 minutes. The train wasn't taking me home, but to the other side of Kagawa where there was a festival. It was on the beach, so some of us met early to enjoy the beach and swimming and a lot of others joined later throughout the afternoon and evening. Eventually we had probably more than 30 people in our group. It was a crazy night. I couldn't quite enjoy all of it since I was soooo tired. I ended up crashing at a friends around 1. Then made my way home the next morning. (By the way, I had found out at the party Friday night that my friend Sandra's goodbye dinner with the teacher would be that Sunday around 5.) So anyway, I was up in the morning early enough to get the train that would arrive at 12. Guess who called me right at 12. Yes, my friend, the music teacher. She wanted me to come over then to help make a cake. I absolutely couldn't. I had to get home and decompress for a moment, maybe take a nap. Definitely a shower. I managed to be ready to go over at 3 to help prepare. The cake couldn't happen since I wasn't able to help because she had everything else to prepare. :( But it was a great night. It lasted forever and of course ended in tears when the teacher gave Sandra a handmade apron with Japanese fabrics. It was really beautiful.

Since then...
Sandra had her hands-down-best-party-ever goodbye party. We went to an izakaya followed by karaoke. We had 20 people? more? Insane. Insane. And tearful at the end. She was really gone the next day. :(
School has started up again (last Monday) with my list above of things I wanted to do still looking about the same.
Planned a trip to Okinawa which leaves in 4 days.
Registered for the fall ALT tournament for the following weekend.
Spending my afternoons helping students for the speech contest.
Restarted my Japanese tutoring.


Today I got home and did a lot of cleaning and work and still only got through half my to-do list. Trying to get ready for my trip. Leaving Thursday night in preparation to get to the airport for the flight on Friday. I have elementary classes every afternoon starting tomorrow through Thursday. Speech contest practice every afternoon after elementary (which means biking hurriedly back to the junior high). Tutoring tomorrow for 2 hours. Wednesday packing/preparing plants for my absence. Maybe racing for a train on Thursday.

Anyway, that brings us up today. And I even got a picture up (despite my computer trying to foil me by not producing any text in my file browsing windows whenever I really want to use them).

I hope all is well with everyone. Mwah! Miss you all!

August 6, 2008

1 YEAR!!!

I can't believe I let the day pass without posting! It has officially been a year since I came to Japan. (As of July 29th)

Time really flies.

People I run into keep asking if I'll stay another year and I say yes. And then they ask why. It's funny because I don't really know why. JETs who knew that I was wavering on my decision back in January/February ask me if I regret signing on for another year. It's hard to answer. Parts of me wish I was already back in the US but other parts are perfectly happy being here and have plenty of things to do before leaving next year. Sometimes I have pangs of "Why did I decide to stay!!!" But just as often, I think... "Maybe I could stay for 3rd year."

Well, most of you know, but just to set the record straight, I won't be coming home this summer. It would really be a major expense and wipe out all of the savings I have managed to accumulate (since I started saving in December after I realized I had spent more money that I had made in Japan by that point). Not to mention my family and friends are now all over the map and just traveling to Atlanta wouldn't provide me with the opportunity to see everyone. I'd want to go to Arizona, Savannah, Pennsylvania, London, Sweden, etc. and that just can't happen. Plus summer is the easiest time to travel home for an extended period, but it's also the time when I have to say goodbye to the leaving JETs and I get to welcome the new JETs. And if you recall from last year, it's the time when there are summer festivals EVERY weekend. I'm getting to see ones that I didn't get to see last year. And I'm going to travel up to a big music festival in Osaka and possibly Hokkaido!?! Still working on those plans. I'm a little upset because I'll be missing Tokushima's Awa Odori Festival. But I did get to go last year and I don't get to see my Osaka friend Alana very often. She's a blast to travel with.

I'm still working on getting pictures up on the blog and picasa and facebook. My friends here are always mad at me because they see me take lots of pictures, but I never put them up on facebook like everyone else. I just need to start making it a habit. I think I may try to use mainly the picasa albums online and just link to them rather than trying to post on all three sites. I'll let you know when that gets started.

By the way, I just took over the eikaiwa (English Conversation Class) in Takase that Dan used to teach. He's gone home now and so I've got the job. It didn't go how I thought it would last week. They have been doing it a certain way for 2 years and they don't really want it to change much. Every time I try to stretch my teaching wings here, it seems someone is there trying to cage me back up.

Anyway, It may be a while before I post again. I've got a lot of cleaning and packing to do before Friday. That's when I head to Osaka and who knows where, after that. I'll be gone until the 18th or 19th. Then a couple more weeks of summer vacation and then 2nd term starts at the beginning of September.

Good luck to all my teaching buddies back in Cherokee who are starting a new school year!

July 16, 2008

Me on a webpage!

Oh yeah, I forgot. This is me with one of my elementary principals. We are at the Furosatomatsuri. It's a tea festival. In the picture, you can see the kanji (Japanese character) for tea made with tea bushes. It's pretty cool. Good luck reading the page! ;)

http://www.city.mitoyo.lg.jp/forms/info/info.aspx?info_id=4004

2 weeks later...

It seems that I'm destined to not keep up with this as often as I did when I first got here. Gomen ne. (Sorry).

The day of that last post, I actually tried to get pictures off my camera to post on here. But my computer is messed up. After it's been running for a while, all the programs get a glitch. The glitch involves the pop-up windows within a program. Like when you click for options or tools or something. The window will open, but all text is missing so I don't know which buttons are which and or in some cases the box is completely misshapen and unusable. I can sometimes get things back to normal by simply rebooting the computer, but it's not a definite fix.

Anyway, hopefully pictures to come soon. Not tonight, though. I'm tired.

Let me tell you that I am better though! It was about 2 weeks of unpleasantness. But by last Friday I was feeling almost normal again. Which was good since Saturday was our Sayonara Party. It was pretty fun, especially after being cooped up in my apartment for 2 weeks. We basically take over an island for a couple days. I got there around 2pm and left at 1pm the next day. It's just a great beach day with most of the JETs in the prefecture. Grilling, swimming, talking, dancing, drinking, bonfire, fireworks, etc. I finally got to use my underwater camera feature again. I'll try and post some of those on here. I didn't get to sleep until about 3 and even then the really drunk people who stayed up all night kept me up. And then in the morning around 5 or so, it was quiet and winding down. But that's when the crows or something started cawing right above the tent. I couldn't believe it. And then the whole sleeping on a slant started getting to me and I was up at about 7 I think. But I stayed and enjoyed some swimming and frisbee until about 1. It was sooooo nice to be outside and on the beach. I LOVE the beach and swimming and being out and active. I really need to do it more. Since the soccer tournament I haven't really been running and working out. I need to get back into it.

Hope all is well with everyone back home. Love and miss you all!

July 1, 2008

Sick Day

So I'm sick and decided it was best to stay home. It's a stomach thing. Maybe best not to describe. But anyway, I have the time to update my blog finally.

I'm really sorry for not posting a lot. When I first got here I was posting at least 3 or 4 times a week it seemed. Now it's been a month since my last post. I've been thinking it might be easiest for me to just do a sort of update through pictures instead of writing about all the stuff that's been going on. You guys know how long winded I can be. But even that's going to take time. I haven't uploaded pictures from my camera in a while. But I think I'll get started on that in a bit. I'm just moving slowly today, not having slept really the past two nights.

Anyway, I'll just get started by doing a post about the past weekend. Which really started on Thursday night. And, of course, is probably the cause of me being sick now.

Thursday I had class at the closest elementary in the afternoon. But when I got back the young new teachers were learning the school's sports day dances. (It was weird I thought that the new teachers to the school that are older don't have to learn the dance). I never got to learn them last year. So I went in and tried learning them, too. But they had already been going for an hour so I didn't really get it. Afterward, us young teachers played a few games of badminton which was surprisingly fun. That evening we all went out to an izakaya. It was pretty fun. One of the young new teachers is an English teacher, but I didn't have to ask her to translate everything for me. I was able to mostly follow along and even participate sometimes in the conversation. It was nice. This place we were at is called Yamacho, 'mountain bird'. It's probably because they specialize in sashimi chicken. Yes, that's raw chicken. And of course, I had to try some. I had breast, thigh, heart, and liver. The liver had a very complex flavor that was amazing. The thigh was the easiest to eat and tasted good.

Friday was a long day since we were out until midnight and I had had 5 drinks. On top of that, I had a special lesson at an elementary and I had to ride my bike there and back. Then, in the afternoon, I had my regular elementary lesson. By the way, these elementaries are the 2 farthest and most uphill of the 5. After, that 2nd lesson, I went out to another izakaya with some of the teachers from the first elementary for an otsukare (good work) dinner. I wasn't going to drink but then was convinced by the principal to have a beer. I only had two though. She was also determined to "challenge" me with different foods. So, I had sashimi (fish, this time) which I've had before. I tried some raw squid that had been in this weird sauce. Not that good. I also had whale for the first time. (For you save the whale types, apparently, there is a time period when it's ok to kill certain types of whales, and usually the meat comes from whales that have been collected by scientists for testing, etc.)

Saturday morning, I went to my friend's apartment and she helped me buzz my head into a mohawk. I'd been wanting to buzz my head, and why not have a mohawk for the weekend. (A mohawk wouldn't go down well at school, or I might have kept it.) After that, I went to a friend's photography exhibition closing party. I even got the retired music teacher who cooks for me sometimes to come with me. But she was shy about speaking in English and didn't really try. But we had a great time anyway. Lots of people were there. Afterwards, we went to an izakaya. The teacher was quite the center of attention there. She kind of does that. She went home and the rest of us went out to karaoke. By the end of the night, I kind of wished I had gone home. I had a great time, but I was regretting having stayed out so late and that I wouldn't get to sleep in my own bed. Sunday, I was up early and already feeling a bit sick and so went home, but I felt well enough to meet everyone again to see the new Indiana Jones movie. It was ok. Didn't like the ending so much. Then did some shopping. By the time I was heading home I was really feeling tired. And that night is when I started feeling really sick.

I went to work yesterday because I felt fine in the morning. But after a couple hours, I could tell I wasn't well. But I was lucky because it worked out that I had only one class. So I figured I'd tough it out. But just after lunch I started feeling really hot. Near the end of school I asked the school nurse to take my temperature and it was 38.7 C (101.6 F). I didn't really know what that meant at the time, but she said it was a fever and so one of the assistant principals took me to the hospital and I got some medicine to get me better. But last night was no better than Sunday night so that's why I'm home today. No real sleep in two days (actually three since I only got about 4 hours Saturday night) really sucks.

Anyway, so obviously this past weekend was really busy. If you can imagine, about the past 4 or 5 have been this busy. And during the week I've managed to stay busy as well. Hence, the slip in posting. I'll try and do better though. I love and miss everyone back home.

May 30, 2008

Soccer Tournament

I'm about to head out of town for a soccer tournament on Awajishima. It's a tournament put on by JETs for JETs to play in. It should be fun. We don't have enough players in our prefecture to make a team so we are combining with the prefecture next to us since they had more than enough players and we'll make two teams. I've been practicing in the mornings for about a week. I know, not much. But it's something. The only bad thing is that the first day, being uncoordinated from lack of practice, when I went to kick the ball, I kicked the ground... twice... harder the second time. And so I pulled the muscle on my shin. And it's been bothering me all week. And then today, I woke up with the worst backache ever. It's a weird pain. But it hurts. We'll see if I can manage to play through it.

As usual, sorry for not keeping up like I should. And sorry for not staying in touch via email and real mail and calls like I should. I'm trying to get that into my habits.

Also, I don't really need to do the kanji countdown anymore. I finished. I did all 2042. But the last few hundred are still quite shaky as usual. It would take about a week or two as I went along for the kanji to really stick. And unfortunately it's been the busiest week ever right after finishing the book of kanji and I haven't been reviewing like I should be. So I will have to relearn a bunch. But I have gone ahead and started my first novel. I'm trying to keep it mostly in Japanese. I'm trying to consult my children's Japanese/Japanese dictionary first before using my Japanese/English dictionary. I've gone about 2.5 pages in about 2-3 hours. A lot of that time is taken up by looking up definitions and then looking up definitions for the words in the definition and on and on. It's kind of fun. And it's really helpful because eventually you get a circle and you can use that to create connections in your mind for the various words. It's exciting to find entire sentences that I can read and understand without the help of a dictionary, too.

Anyway, I really gotta get going. Train leaves in 15 minutes.

By the way, I'm driving a rental car to the island. That should be interesting.

May 13, 2008

All Japanese, All the Time

Just got finished with our weekly Japanese lesson. It was actually our sensei's birthday, so we had a pretty big dinner before studying. We had tacos and coronas and wine and cake. It was a lot of fun. Anyway, I got back home at 11 and instead of going to bed like I should have, I decided to post a comment on the All Japanese, All the Time (AJATT) site. Here's what I posted:

Enjoyed this post. Am still enjoying exploring the vast reaches of this site.

I’ve been in Japan since last August. I came on the JET Program.. somewhat on a whim. (How much of a whim considering the 9 month long application->arrival period.) My real goal was to live abroad and learn a new language. (I studied French high school to university and taught it for 3 years.) But then I got here and some culture shock set in. I think a big part of it was the “what have I gotten myself into” factor since I never really fully considered the consequences of such a move.

Anyway, my studies thus far:
- 8 week community class for business Japanese (cost $300, got through 5/6 lessons of Japanese for Busy People, learned a few counters, basic greetings, and a very simple understanding of how the grammar works, ie particles, sentence-final verbs, etc. - oh in addition to the cost was having all my CDs stolen and paying for a broken window - the class was in downtown Atlanta.)
- Learning the kana on my own before arriving.
- Self-study since then - mainly through a semi-decent beginning text provided by JET

In October, I was recommended Heisig’s kanji method, and I jumped on it after reading the forward. I made it pretty strong through 500 in a couple of months. In December, around 600 or so, I started fading. Then I made the decision that I wanted to focus on input (what I based my teaching of French on). That didn’t really work. The problem was a lack of comprehensible input (and I think I was just stuck in some winter blues and lost motivation. This was also the time when I had to decide if I wanted to recontract, and it was a difficult decision.) In March, I got back on the ball. I got a library card, and I’ve been devouring the children’s books. (Written mostly in hiragana, occasional furigana-ed kanji) End of March or so, I was recommended your site. I was wary at the description at first. There are lot of programs out there that claim a lot but deliver little.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that you were basing your study habits off of the same research that I based my pedagogy on. Most prominently, Krashen’s input hypothesis. (The method I used was TPRS, or more commonly storytelling. You might check it out.) After finding your site, I was actually really upset at myself for simply complaining that I didn’t have access to a teacher who used the method I used so that I could acquire Japanese the “right” way. I knew I needed input, but I didn’t really know how to go about it. And the whole needing kanji to access most things written in Japanese was a huge obstacle of course. Duh, on my own, without a teacher, I’m going to have to put more effort forth, and I’m going to need to find already translated input or establish meaning of the input on my own.

Well, since the beginning of April, I’ve been back on the kanji train. My goal is to finish by June 1st so I can start mining sentences in earnest. I was at 670ish beginning of April. I’m at 1340ish as of today. できるかな?I’m still reading the children’s books. It’s helping my kana fluency at least. That’s something. And it’s helping me get a feel for the grammar and flow of sentences. In the meantime, I’m continuing with the JET text though I’m more just skimming the grammar points, using the dialogues for input, and attempting the exercises without really thinking too hard.

Also, I’ve got my first J-J dictionary, one for 小学生. When reading the kids books, I try to be sure to check there first and only if I’m stumped resort to a bilingual dictionary.

The only thing I’ve yet to do is be 100% AJATT. I’m growing my music list, I’m searching for audio, I’m watching more J-TV (which I’ve fallen in love with!), and I’m re-organizing my bookmarks with all Japanese websites right at top.

Basically, me saying “hey look at all the stuff I’m doing” is really my way of saying 本当にありがとう。While I knew about input and was trying my best to get it, your site has provided me with confidence. Your words have shown me what true dedication and self-discipline are. You have reminded me that acquiring a language is really difficult and requires many hours of work (that can be fun) and that if you want to acquire quickly, you must change the way you live. I’ve had access to all the Japanese I could ever want all around me, and I’ve been living in an English speaking bubble. It’s time to pop it.

By the way, I’m never concise. ごめんね。

May 11, 2008

日本のテレビ (Japanese TV)

Have I told you how much I LOVE Japanese TV. It’s so crazy. Right now I’m watching this show where they sent a famous Japanese TV personality to Europe to get people’s moms to cook for her. They had to cook the national favorite home meal. She’s been to Portugal, Spain, France, and the Czech Republic. She’s got an interpreter, but other than that, it’s up to her to stop people in the street to ask them to cook for her.

It’s for a mother’s day special. But the thing is, they have show’s like this alllll the time. They aren’t doing it here, but often, they’ll have a famous person go out and experience something and film it. Later, they’ll play it for a bunch of other famous people to watch and comment on. And that’s the show. Sometimes, they make it a game, like showing a sequence and then pausing it and asking them what will happen next.

I just love it. I still don’t understand all the Japanese but I usually can catch enough and with the actions get a good understanding of what’s happening. And I can justify sitting around watching TV as my study time. Except when I’m watching the movies. They show dubbed English language movies fairly often on TV. But all TVs now have buttons that allow for them to be heard in Japanese, Japanese over top of the English, or English (or whatever the original language is; I just watched Shaolin Soccer the other day which is a Chinese movie). And you can watch certain news shows with English translations. It makes life a little easier when I need it to be. Except, oh yeah, I’m going all Japanese all the time. By the way, kanji countdown: 800 to go.

Anyway, I’m really going to miss Japanese TV when I leave. Maybe I’ll import it somehow.

(((((Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!!!!)))))

May 5, 2008

Japanese Study 日本語の勉強

So I'm back into studying Japanese pretty hardcore. After winter vacation, I really dropped the ball. Since then, I had a few false starts, but since the spring break (end of March), I've been going steady and strong.

It's sometimes frustrating, because I'd like to learn from a teacher using the method that I used to use in class. But that's just not available. And that method isn't really adaptable to self-study. So I've just been going the traditional route with textbooks, etc. Also, lots of listening to the Japanese spoken around me (but most of it is still out of reach).

I was recently suggested this website, alljapaneseallthetime.com (which is actually based on this website ). The method described there is based on the research that the method I want to learn by is based on. It's not the same and isn't ideal, but it looks like through a lot of hard work, it can be effective and much more interesting than a textbook and grammar exercises (even though I secretly love that stuff).

The first step is learning all 2000 or so common-use kanji. Remember, kanji are the Japanese written characters. (They are actually from Chinese, but I hate it when people call them Chinese characters because they are really different at this point.) Anyway, you need to memorize how to write and recognize them and attach a single meaning to the character. In reality, each kanji represents a general idea that might have several different words in the actual language that it can be used for. But the first step is just knowing a single meaning and the writing. The next step is just getting out there and reading as much as you can and taking the time to figure out the various readings for the kanji as you go. You also will pick out various sentences from what you read and input them into a computerized flashcard program that you use daily to reread the sentences and slowly absorb the grammar and the readings of the kanji. Though you start with reading, once your vocabulary is advanced enough, you move to listening to music, news, TV, radio, etc. from which you can also pull sentences. The goal is about 10,000 sentences. Once achieved, your language skills should have developed "like magic"with no real need for studying explicit grammar rules. Of course, it's not magic and will take a LOT of work. But I think I'm up for the challenge.

I had started the process with the kanji back in October or so. I can't remember. But by December I had decided to put it on the back burner and just do a textbook lesson once a week and just pick up the language from hearing it. So when I decided to get going again, I just had to review the ones I had done and then move from there. It took about a week I think, to work back through the 600ish that I had done. Now I'm around 950. My goal is to finish by June. (Well that was my goal when I counted up the days on my calendar and found that I could reach that goal by doing 30 a day. Not very difficult and a pace that I kept up with for more than a week. And then, the other day, May 1st actually, I realized that I had counted that overlap week that shows up at the end of April and the beginning of may as two weeks instead of just one. So, while I'd like to finish by June 1st still, since that's what I told people my goal was, I'd be ok with June 15th. I know that's more than the week I miscounted by, but I don't want to feel totally stressed to finish. I want to keep a nice pace, but not feel like I have to rush. )

Anyway, in the meantime, while I'm working on learning all these kanji, I've been checking out children's books at the library. They usually contain no kanji or only a few kanji with the pronunciation printed just above (furigana). It's been a great confidence booster to go from real picture books with maybe 5-10 words on a page to books with smaller pictures and 5 to 10 sentences per page. I still need to have a dictionary at hand, but I'm often able to grasp the story without the dictionary. I just use it to make certain and to help add more vocabulary.

Oh and I also just got a children's Japanese dictionary. So Japanese-Japanese. All kanji have furigana and there are sample sentences for many words. This gives me lots of examples to put into my computer to study from and helps me stay all in Japanese even when I'm reading. Though I'll often have to resort to my Japanese-English dictionary.

I'm just excited about learning Japanese again. If you couldn't tell.

Hackey Sack with the priests

Well, it's amazing how much fun life can be when you stop worrying so much and just get out and do stuff.

Friday night went out for drinks and karaoke. We did a nomihodai (all you can drink) for 78 minutes. It was about 10 bucks if you ordered a certain amount of food. Good times all around.

Major headache Saturday morning. Not really sure why though. (facetious) Anyway, ended up going to a castle festival in Marugame with Dan. It was fun. Your average festival. Highlights: seeing the black and white Great Dane and saying "Ushi mitai" and making a Japanese woman laugh. ("Looks like a cow") Saying to Dan, should I get a beer? followed by oh if you see some of those fans, I wanna get one as a souvenir. 3 minutes later a man who was with a dancing group walked up to Dan and me to give us each a fan and a beer.

Afterward, we took a nice car ride up to the mountains for the sunset. There's some pretty amazing landscapes around here.

Sunday: up early and did some laundry and studying. I invited Sandra on a bike ride with me. It was supposed to be a nice jaunt out where I was for the Furosatomatsuri last Tuesday (sorry, didn't post about that... maybe later). We did this walking course that day and I wanted to do it again to take my time and enjoy the view more peacefully and to maybe dig up some plants for my ever-expanding apartment garden. Well, when you're walking at a slow pace and stopping every 10 or 15 minutes for pictures or activities, it's different than biking. I also remembered slighter inclines. Needless to say, we got a major workout. We were out for a few hours and picnicked and took pictures. It was nice. Then back to town. She went home to clean up while I got all my plants situated. Then, Dan picked me up and we met Sandra and Brent at Marufuku in Kanonji. Afterward we went back to Brent's for some Futurama episodes. A nice evening.

This morning: up early and studied kanji. Brent trained to Takase and Dan picked us up to go to Konpirasan for kemari. I wasn't sure what it was about. I just knew it was a soccer-like ball game played by priests that Dan just had to see. So we went. By the way, konpirasan is one of the most famous temples in Japan and is more of a series of temples and shrines all the way up the side of a mountain. So we hiked up about halfway to where the kemari games were held. We were early and got some seats up front.

We waited a bit and made friends with the people around us sort of. There was a couple from Kyoto and they helped us understand what we were there to see. One interesting aspect was the court. It was outlined with stone or concrete-a big square. In the corners were four trees. A cherry, a willow, a maple, and a pine. They represent the four seasons. Then, the priests appeared walking through the gate in their traditional clothes carrying a white ball, slightly smaller than a soccer ball with some stitching and a purple tab.

The game consisted of 6 priests entering the court with a ball. Then they stood in a circle to see how many times they could kick the ball while keeping it in the air. Hence, the hackey sack reference in the title. That's what it most closely resembles, even though the Japanese will call it "Japanese soccer".

The only rule was to kick with the right foot only. No left foot. But as with all Japanese culture, special attention must be paid to form and style. You should kick your leg up very high. The ideal trajectory is high and forward. Also, when serving, you step right, left and then kick with your right. You hold the ball between both hands with the purple tab held by your right hand. You must drop the ball and not toss it.

The reason I know these rules so well now is because after they played a few games, they had several people from the crowd play, including me and Dan. It was a great experience. We didn't think they would let people join in, but they were very friendly and insistent that people try it. They helped us figure it out and played with us for awhile. Then, the 6 of us were left to play together. We managed 9 kicks in a row. When the priests were playing, the highest they got was 30 or 31.

After we finished our game, the priest called Dan and I over and this younger female priest and had her explain that this game is played for world peace and happiness and to please come and play again and share our experience with others. It was very nice. There were many pictures taken and they may even send us a book that may have our pictures in it eventually.

Well, as usual, I don't have the pictures and videos uploaded yet. And I'd like to get a bit of studying done before bed. I hope this is the start of more posts. By the way, this week is called Golden Week. This year, it's not actually a week because two of the holidays fell on the weekend. But Saturday through Tuesday are 4 Japanese national holidays. It is a time when almost everyone in Japan who works in traditional companies get time off. These days, 2 or 3 in August for Obon, and 2 or 3 around the New Year are the only holidays they really ever get. So there are many, many events at all major tourists areas all over Japan. And thus my having Monday off for kemari.

May 2, 2008

Random

Well, I know I said I would be updating more often now. Ha. I really need to make it a part of my daily routine. Post something even when there's nothing to post really. Just random stuff.

Like today. Just an average day. But I did get a chuckle just a bit ago. All the teachers and students wear aprons for lunchtime. When I was getting my lunch, I passed the assistant principal. He doesn't usually wear an apron because he doesn't eat with the students and doesn't help prepare the lunch. But today he had on a playboy apron. It didn't have the bunny. Just some black and white design and a very clear PLAYBOY written at the top.

It almost stopped me in my tracks. I thought it was an interesting choice for a school apron.

April 24, 2008

Today's Laugh

The faculty has one big office that they all work in at my school. This includes the teachers, the counselor, the lunch lady, the principals, the nurse. Well, the students often have to come find a teacher before and after school and between classes. There’s a set protocol for announcing themselves and asking for who or what they need. Sometimes, it’s just to get a key off the rack in which case they only have to say “Excuse me (Literally, I’m being rude). I’m taking the key for such and such room. I’m leaving (Literally, I was rude. [the past tense of the first thing they said]).” If they need a teacher, they have to do the same thing and ask if the teacher is there.

Today, a student came to the door and said, “Excuse me. I’ve forgotten the name of the teacher I need.” Needless to say, everyone started cracking up. Poor kid. It’s understandable though, since it’s the beginning of the school year. I still don’t know the names of all the teachers that I work with.

Anyway, what was awesome for me was that I was finally able to enjoy something funny WITH all the teachers. I didn’t have to hear everyone laugh, and then ask “What is so funny?” And it’s all the more impressive (to myself anyway) since I was sitting at my desk on the other side of the room working on something and only overheard the Japanese. I wasn’t paying special attention or anything. Anyway, with the constant reminders that my Japanese still sucks (ie, not understanding what’s going on EVER), I have to relish the moments when I have hard evidence of improvement.

April 13, 2008

歌舞伎!!!

Wow! I am soooo exhausted, and I've already had a chance to sleep through the night. So yesterday was Kabuki Day for me. My Japanese parents took me to Kotohira for my very first Kabuki experience. It was quite a day. While there was nothing spectacular that happened really, it was just an all-around great Japanese cultural experience. But boy was it a long day and boy am I tired.


I woke up around 6:30 but laid in bed until 7:30 or so. Then I got up and cleaned my apartment a bit since it's been sorely needing it. Dishes, laundry, general pick-up. Then, I finally shaved my beard. (I don't know if I ever posted a picture with my beard at its longest. Or with my hair at it's longest. I finally got it cut.) Anyway, then I showered and Hashizume-sensei was there to pick me up at 9:30 (actually she was a bit early). She was in a kimono, which I wasn't expecting. I was in jeans. So I offered the change. At first she said no, but then I said it would be easy and she paused and thought. So, I knew the answer. After I put on slacks, we went back to her house and got her husband and our lunch for the day. When we got to Kotohira there were lots of people already there. So Mr. Hashizume dropped us off to go get good seats. We were actually some of the last people in our section, so we didn't get great seats. We didn't get any of the bench seats, only some floor seats where you have to sit "seiza", which means on your knees with your bum on your feet. Though, you could go Indian style, but with all the people, it's kind of difficult. And we were pretty jammed in there. But when her husband arrived, he noticed 3 seats at the end that were where the steps were. It was right in the foot traffic, but it allowed two of us to hang our legs down. So, we moved. And an added benefit was the fact that we no longer had a huge column blocking the middle of our view. We actually had a pretty awesome view.

I've got to explain a view things about kabuki, and this actually goes back a few weeks. (I should have already blogged about this but I was too busy at the time.) Hashizume-sensei made me a "Kabuki How-to" packet a few weeks ago. She typed up some paragraphs and worked on translating some key parts into English (even surreptitiously using me to help at times). She printed off and meticulously cut out colorful pictures to help demonstrate key concepts. Then she sat down with me when she handed it to me and helped me understand parts of it. I couldn't believe the time she put into it. Anyway, so this is where my knowledge of Kabuki began.

One special aspect of Kabuki is the way actors enter and exit. They use the "hanamichi". It's an elevated walkway that runs through the audience starting stage right and going straight to the back of the audience. And we were up in the balcony all the way to the right so that the "hanamichi" was on the opposite side of the theater from us. It made it so that it formed a nice open L shape with the stage and when the characters were entering and leaving we could see everything as one big scene. Basically, I'm saying even though we were in the cheap seats, we really had a nice view. And we didn't have cramped legs.

Anyway, so we got settled in and then Mr. Hashizume took me outside and pointed out various parts of the theater and we talked as much as we could in Japanese. And he made me stand for several pictures.

Back inside, the plays began. I was actually confused at first. I thought it was one show with an intermission. But there were three different stories with 2 intermissions. After the first show which I didn't understand, but was interesting and funny enough, we got out the "bento" that Hashizume-sensei had prepared. She had made some sandwiches and onigiri and pickles. All homemade of course. The second show was a little easier to understand. There were more actions and I actually could catch a few words. It was about two men fighting over a sword whose ownership was eventually to be decided by an elder. And if I understood the end (which was the only confusing part) the bad guy took the sword and knocked down all the other guys and ran off with the real owner chasing him. The guys who got knocked down meanwhile were laying on their backs with their hands and feet in the air doing what looked like a doggie paddle. The third show was the grandest one with the biggest costumes, a more elevated stage, a bigger cast, and the "shibaraku" which this style of Kabuki is famous for. I, of course, couldn't understand any of the details of this story. There were not very many actions that went with the dialogue. It was a love story where the hero arrives and beheads some guys and takes the woman away with him. Yes you see the heads on stage and the guys running off with blood spewing (red cloth) spewing from their necks. But before that happens, the story goes along with not much movement. People just talking. Then, when all is explained, the hero makes his entrance. "Shibaraku" ~ Wait a minute! He comes in wearing platform sandals and about 15 layers of costume to make him larger than life. His outer robe sort of ends in pant legs that are so long that he is actually walking on them inside them. Which I don't know how that works. Especially in platform sandals. Meanwhile his sleeves are about a meter and a half long with rods in them to hold them taut, like a kite, but square. He has two white feathers in his hair as well and his face is painted with red blood lines. He, of course, saves the day. But not before three stagehands help him remove three layers of kimono to reveal his belt and take apart the super-sleeves and help him get his sword out. All on stage.

Afterward, we stayed back a minute and snapped a few pictures together. And then we all walked down to the car together. Even just that would have made for an exhausting day as it was all in Japanese. But we went back to their house. We relaxed a bit in the afternoon as Hashizume-sensei got out of her kimono and went about the house doing things. But eventually she came into the den and we talked about Kabuki for a while. The conversation drifted and she showed me some of what she's been studying with English. Around 6 (or maybe 5) we started cooking dinner. That was quite a process. We made homemade sushi, tempura, and donuts. And when I say 'we' I mean, me and Mr. Hashizume only helped a little. And when I say sushi, don't think of what Americans think for sushi. Sushi in Japan, I think, just means rice that's been mixed with vinegar (and sugar and salt) and then put with something else, usually some sort of seafood either uncooked and rolled or cooked and diced up and mixed (often with egg) with the rice. We had the latter, which is "daisuki" (big like). The tempura was bamboo shoots, fish, squid, and something else. And the donuts were just regular donuts, fried and sugared. Some had "an" sweet bean paste though. There was a huge amount of food, but we managed to make a pretty big dent in it. And of course, most of the remainder came home with me.

Meanwhile, all throughout cooking and eating, it's all Japanese with the occasional English thrown in there. Hashizume-sensei LOVES to talk and when she gets going, there's no stopping her. By the end of the night, I wasn't so much physically tired, but my brain was literally shutting down. I couldn't focus any more on what she was saying to even TRY to understand. And when we were ready to leave, her husband wanted to sit and finish a TV show he had started. So, it was more talking. Somehow, I found a second wind though, and I started putting together some pretty good sentences from what I could tell. They flowed and made sense. But luckily the show ended and I was able to get home and rest. But it was a pretty amazing day. I'm so grateful to the Hashizumes.

....

ほんとにたのしかったです。歌舞伎ははじめて。日本語まだじょうずじゃない。そしてぜんぜんわからなかったです。でもいま歌舞伎のものをならいたいです。

April 11, 2008

Tomorrow is the big show!

I'm getting excited because tomorrow I'm going with Hashizume-sensei and her husband to see Kabuki. The place we are going is apparently very well known and high quality. The teacher and her husband go every year. I'm happy that I get to go with them. They are picking me up in the morning at 9:30 and the show opens around 11 and will go until around 2:30. Then we will have dinner together afterward. Should be fun.

It will be a nice end to a very long week. This was the first week of the new school year. Monday were the opening and entrance ceremonies. Yes, there's a difference. And we started classes on Tuesday. It's neat getting to see all the new students here at the school since I know them all from having taught them as 6th graders in the elementaries. Well, I don't really know them, but they are at least familiar faces. Anyway, it's time for school and I gotta get going.

(BTW I'm still working on getting updates going. With this sort of thing, if I get behind, I tend to get discouraged and stop altogether. But I need to keep documenting what I'm doing. I hope to write up all that's happened in the past month or so. A lot of fun and important things have happened. I hope to write a bunch of posts and then backdate them and then link to them in one final post like I did before. Meanwhile, I'll keep posting shorter current posts so I don't forget things.)

April 3, 2008

Gomenne!!

Sorry!!!! I've been crazy busy for about a month. First there were a few social events that came up and then there was the busyness surrounding the end of the school year and graduation and closing ceremony and enkais. Then, there was spring vacation. I went to Osaka to visit Alana again with her parents in town. We all went to Kyoto and Nara. Then we spent a day in Osaka itself. After we saw her parents off at the airport, we took a bus back to Kagawa. And it was utter craziness from there. Me the nonplanner, had actually planned way too much to do. We still managed to do most of it, and I only had to extend my vacation time by about 2 and a half hours.

I started an update last week, but then had to go out of town before I could finish. I'm still too tired to sit down and try to figure out all the things that have happened in the past month, but there were a lot of interesting things that I would like to post on, of course, with pictures. There are some really good ones too. And the good times keep rolling. Work today and tomorrow, welcome enkai tomorrow night, flower viewing party Saturday, rehearsal and maybe some more flower viewing Sunday, opening ceremony Monday, and first day of classes Tuesday.

Sorry for not being in contact with people or not responding to emails right away. I'm trying to get back into some semblance of a routine.

March 6, 2008

News

OK. So it's about time I get my butt back in gear with this blog. I actually meant to about 2 weeks ago. I started a post (below) but never finished it. So, tonight, even though I'm dead tired, I'm doing an update. Not too long like usual though. Here's that update from before.

"My dad was behind reading my blog from traveling and finally got caught up the other day [a couple of weeks ago by this point]. He let me know that I kind of left people hanging about my decision to stay or leave Japan after one year..

I have decided to stay for an additional year. So I won't be back until July or August of 2009. I was just blowing the bad-teaching practices stuff way out of proportion after that mid-year conference. It's really not so bad and it's only part of being here. And I'm enjoying most of the rest of my life here. I sometimes get lonely. I sometimes get bored. But to be honest, that happened back in Georgia. Here though, I have an incredible amount of free time. I'm getting paid very well. And I can study and practice my Japanese whenever I want. It's pretty great. (Plus, I didn't have any graduate school stuff ready. Something I'm starting to work on again.)

And I realized I left people hanging on some pictures, and one post, that I promised (or that I had mentally promised)."

So here are links to the updates/pictures below. Please check them out.

Udon

Ninomiya Visit

Naked Man Festival

Hinamatsuri

Today's Run

PS If you comment and it doesn't show up it's likely that I felt it was more appropriate as an email. Remember my email address is listed in my profile. So if your comment is becoming lengthy, that's a sign you should send it as an email. And that way I'm more likely to be able to get back to you.

Today's Run

Well, I'll start with the day. Average for the most part. I'm getting the hang of my schedule and how the teachers are and can even recall some of my elementary teachers' names these days. And even though I'm getting used to my JTEs' manners, there's one that when I work with her, it's either a homerun all the way or a complete dud. And not only that, I feel useless, used, or undervalued, usually a combination of the three. I'm trying to use it as a learning experience. I do like teaching, but I think I perhaps invest myself too much personally into it. I'd like to be able to turn it off or disconnect myself from it whenever I need to. It may sound odd or cold, but it can be useful for certain situations like today or certain comments the students thoughtlessly make. If you're too personally attached, it can strike a little too deep.

Anyway, that was a bit further than I meant to go. I was just trying to say it was a so-so morning. Lunch perked me up a bit. I had a nice talk with the kids I ate with. Played around a bit. Did half-English/half-Japanese. So I'm learning and they're learning, and we don't have to sit in silence anymore.

After lunch, I went back to the teacher's room to finish up my lesson prep for the elementary. The topic was time, so I made a giant digital clock with holes where the numbers would be so I could post it on the board and write in the numbers and erase as I needed. But I decided to be a little creative and made it a Hello Kitty clock, just for kicks. It turned out pretty well. Let me know if you wanna see pictures. Of course, when I got to the school, I realized I had forgotten to make the only thing I needed for an activity. Luckily, it wasn't hard. I just needed to write out various times for the students to use. But that got me a bit in my rush mode. Then, in class, I realized I had forgotten to bring some number flashcards so I had to run back downstairs to get them. I didn't waste the time though, I had them count with their homeroom teacher until I got back. It only took them counting to 38 for me to return. Anyway, we had a grand old time, but afterward, I was in a daze and accidentally went to the next class early. That one was just as crazy as the first one in terms of activity and genki-ness. (Have I taught you all genki yet?) It ended with a mini-concert of Edelweiss on recorders in C major with a tendency for C sharp, really sharp. But it was cute and then the teacher called the students forward who wanted to say a goodbye to me. Several did and they had nice things to say. This was the last class of the year. But I'll be seeing them next year (read: school year, meaning in April) as 4th graders.

Needless to say, I was tired afterward. But I'm training for a half-marathon in a couple of weeks. Check that. It's in about a week. I didn't realize it was so close. And my dad's been training for a full marathon for a while now. And I've been complaining to myself about the running I've been doing, maybe an hour's run 3 or 4 times a week. He's out doing at least 7 miles a day, it seems. At this point, those are his "light" days. His hards days are about 15 miles. So anyway, today I upped it to an hour and 45 minutes. Man, I didn't think it would make that big of a difference, but I'm wiped out. I think I'll still run tomorrow, but perhaps change it up a bit and do interval work instead of just straight running. Then Saturday, I can try a longer run, perhaps the full 13 miles. Then, next week, I'll lighten up a bit so energy can build up for the race.

Also, while I'm on these runs, I've started taking my iPod and doing Japanese lessons. Pimsleur's is pretty great. I recommend it to anyone trying to learn a language. I just started a few weeks ago and it's back to the basics for me, but I'm able to just run through each lesson once and move on. I think if I had started with the audio lessons right when I arrived here, I would have had to listen to each one at least twice if not more to get the hang of it. Believe me, it's a very slow and appropriate pace, but sometimes it surprises me with the complexity of some of the sentences it asks you for when you start getting to lessons 6, 7, 8 or so. With the timing, I usually end up in the middle of a lesson at the end of the run, so I usually just start back at the beginning on the next run. I like the review. Anyway, the Japanese is coming along fairly well. I always feel like it's going soooo slowly and that I'll never be able to speak with the people around me, but sometimes, I can see just how far I've come. Here's a taste. I'm not using a book to help me, so if you do know Japanese, then forgive any mistakes.

私はアイポドで日本語をべんきょうします。むずかしいです。でもおもしろいです。高瀬中学校のほかの先生といっしょにはなしたいです。それから毎日べんきょうをします。

I study Japanese with an iPod. It's difficult. But it's interesting. I want to speak with the other teachers at Takase Junior High School. That's why I study every day.