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


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.



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


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.