Wednesday, August 31, 2005

First writings

First writings
Originally uploaded by anyram.

This evening I had my first lesson in Japanese calligraphy. The photo is my first try at this beautiful Japanese art form. My teacher started me off with the hirigana because I know the basic strokes, even though she says they are harder to do correctly than the basic form of kanji (chinese characters). It is a very precise art. Each stroke is made in a particular order, and the motions of the brush (particularly for a beginner) are very specific -- how to make curves, how to end a stroke, and so on. I found it very relaxing. There is a great deal of consideration of the energy and the motion of the brush (fude in Japanese).

Sadly, one of the hardest parts for me is maintaining seiza position. This is the traditional way of sitting -- kneeling on the floor, with your bum resting on your heels. My knees don't like it, and my legs go to sleep. However, my teacher says that I have some natural ability. It must be all that pysanky when I was younger and more recent electron microscopy work.

In other traditional Japanese arts news, I have found a kendo teacher (and I even know when and where class is), but I'm going to hold off on starting until next week, when hopefully I'm good and recuperated from last week's excesses.


I found a website about the GLOBE program that the high school here is involved with. What a neat program! It's international (the lastest country to join was the 110th country to get involved), and gives students a chance to do actual research -- take measurements, analyse data, and present their findings. And for students here in my small town, a chance to go to other cities and countries to take water quality measurements. For the last three years, high school students who participate in the annual homestay in Canada also take measurements at various sites around my town's sister city. This year they are also adding Niagara Falls to their sample sites. Here in Japan, the GLOBE program also encourages English communication. A few years ago, the science teacher took several students to Croatia to present their findings to the GLOBE international meeting.

I'm hoping to get involved with this program too! Definitely while I'm here, and maybe when I return to Canada.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Correcting the Mayor's English

Today at school, I was given a fax from the mayor. A number of junior high students just returned from a homestay in Canada, and the school (maybe the town?) is submitting a report. So, I was asked to correct the mayor's English. This text is apparently headed to my town's sister city, and so had to be made comprehensible to Canadians.

This english was even worse than the "pasukon english" that my supervisor sometimes gives me, which is hard to believe. That stuff is pretty bad.

There were sentences like "junior high school made tie-up agreement with pioneer school in 1996." I should have written some of them down -- they were pretty incomprehensible. Then again, my Japanese is pretty incomprehensible. My English gets that way too, especially when I'm tired... I re-wrote some and left some -- I didn't want to change the intended meaning, and I was worried I'd get carried away and just re-write the whole thing.

So, that was a fun thing I did today. Ah... small town life.

Busy busy busy = isogashii

I am so tired right now...

Sunday was more of the "hometown festival", which was again a lot of fun. There was yosokoi dancing -- a very fast Japanese dance, that kind of looks like Japanese cheerleading. Everyone wears very cool costumes, and props like clappers and fans. I hear there's a big yosokoi festival in Sapporo in June -- I'll have to try to make it to that. There was also a performance by the Junior High "brass band". They were actually really good -- and I have heard a lot of really bad Junior high school bands. Sunday, I competed in the team tug-o-war. We lost miserably, but it was definitely entertaining.

There was other stuff going on too. I bought a load of cheap vegetables, as it was Sunday and I still hadn't stocked my fridge after Sapporo. I've been living off of fair food. But it turns out buying vegetables was a bad idea. I got a big bag of corn and potatoes delivered to my door by my friend Watanabe-san. He's such a sweet old guy. So now I have to eat corn and potatoes until I explode. Harvest season in Hokkaido is really great.

What else?

Monday, I started at the high school. There are three English teachers there, and they all seem pretty cool. Especially Morimoto-sensei. She is from Sapporo, and is a really good teacher, and very keen to make use of my native speaking skills. It works well, because if I learned anything in grad school it's how to talk for way too long about anything. I ended up doing my self introduction three times -- doing most of the talking for the whole class. I really have to work on getting the students to talk more, and me to talk less! Especially since my voice is STILL croaky.

I had planned to take it easy and relax last night, but the ALT from the next town over invited me to dinner. I was beat, but too lazy to cook, so it worked out okay. But then of course, we had to stop in at Romance (the best bar ever!) and say hi to the mamma there, and the next thing I know I'm doing more karaoke.

Today I was at the junior high, and I also did a conversation "class" with some high school students who are heading to Canada next month. There is a really cool science program at the High School. They are monitoring water quality of the local river, and while they are in Canada they will be taking some samples too! This year, they are adding Niagara Falls to their sample. The program is called GLOBE, and gets high school students to do environmental research, and encourages English study. I'll hunt down some websites later.

Tommorow I start calligraphy lessons (my sensei dropped by with some non-white bread! I'm so excited! Now I can find out where to get whole wheat flour and make my own!). I've also tracked down the local kendo teacher, but this week I'm too busy to go -- there was class tonight, but I'm too exhausted!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sapporo steals my voice

I'm too lazy, and late for today's festival activities to write much about Sapporo orientation week. But I did post a bunch of pictures on my flickr site (there's a handy link just to the right of this text called "more pictures from me").

In short, I went to Sapporo for orientation and language classes, all expenses paid by my BOE. We orientated for two days where we learned very little, had Japanese classes for two and a half days and learned a boatload (way too much Japanese learning in way too short a time) and after our official meetings, met up with other JETs and did far too much drinking and karaoke. Even my "quiet" night out involved staying out too late -- but I did meet a Japanese fellow who spoke pretty good French -- the only one so far.

French is all over Japan. It's very cool to have a notebook or a T-shirt covered in French, and the grammar and such is actually pretty good, unlike most of the English. But NOBODY speaks French here. Except that one guy in Sapporo.

Our last day in Sapporo, I think they felt sorry for us. Language classes involved learning to ask Japanese people to read kanji (chinese characters) for us, and practicing the bon odori for the afternoon closing ceremony. Yes, we had a farewell ceremony from the language school -- complete with the kanpai or cheers, before which nobody eats or drinks; speeches from both the teachers and the students; certificates; lunch; and then we all danced the bon odori and sang a Japanese song -- I can't wait to try it out next time I go to karaoke.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Spitting Contest Participant

Today was Day 1 of the furusato matsuri (hometown festival). I would rather have stayed home and recuperated from Sapporo, but my job here is to internationalize, so I went. I'm glad I did too, because it was loads of fun. Plenty of good fair food, sports contests and of course a few beers. The best part had to be getting to play with heavy machinery though... They had a backhoe, a bulldozer, and a fire truck there for the kids to try out. I couldn't resist the firetruck. I went up in the cherry picker basket and saw the town from up on high. It was very sugoi. I got to wear a fire helmet and everything. I went up with a couple of very nice little girls who weren't afraid to go up with the new english teacher.

There was also a horseshoe competition, and the ball tossing game that I tried in Pippu a few weeks ago. I competed in the umeboshi pit spitting contest. Umeboshi are Japanese pickled plums. They are an interesting sweet-sour flavour and I quite like them. They are really good in onigiri and I'll even eat them by themselves. I only spit the pit 3.5 m though, so I didn't win. The spat some ridiculous distance like 8.54m. I can't compete with that. I'll have to practice up for next year. My prize for competing was a whole tray of umeboshi -- yum!

After that was the costume competition -- kids, followed by the adults. Imagine twenty preschoolers dressed up as penguins, another group as cowboys, and another as hula dancers. And a whole bunch more. All dancing the bon odori. It was really fun to watch.

More festival tomorrow, so I need to get some sleep.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Hey Baby!

You go to Sapporo for a week of orientation and language classes, and you become an auntie.

Welcome to the world Vasyl Llewellyn -- officially the worlds cutest baby (at least until I start having my own kids). Haven't talked to the new parents (or grandparents for that matter) yet, but it sounds like everyone is doing well. Stupid time zones.

I'm really wishing I could fly over right now and go meet my new nephew...

Oh yeah, Sapporo was great.

More on that later -- maybe even some pictures.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Hello Sapporo

This is the view from my front door -- you can see the Bell of Espoire at the top of the hill in the distance.

Just a quick note before I head off to Sapporo for a week of training. Good to know that after a total of 4 days (two in Tokyo and two in Sapporo) of training, I'm considered qualified to teach kids from nursery school to high school. I think there are three days of Japanese language training too. Maybe I'll be fluent after that! Right.... Maybe I need to go drink my coffee and finish packing before my supervisor gets here.

That's right. My supervisor is taking me to Sapporo to make sure I get there alright. I get to make my own way back. But they've already gone and bought me a train ticket for Friday. Too bad, I would have liked to hang out in Sapporo for the weekend.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Funky Kids Television

My Japanese is nowhere near good enough to follow the dialogue on Japanese TV, but I still like to watch. Especially kids TV. It helps me with my reading and vocabulary. Yes, I am a geek. You try living somewhere where you can't read anything around you!

I found an article about this show, and now all the singing and dancing children on television make sense. The rest of the website (kids web japan) is pretty cool too. It's more fun than the grown-up version (web japan), which is also quite interesting. There are really fun (and useful) language lessons, including the Japanese writing system, and cooking classes. It's also a good way for me to find out what is popular with Japanese school kids, and maybe get kids interested in learning english by adding some Japanese pop culture...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

First Day of School!

Yesterday was the first day of school for me!

Here I am, doing my jikoshoukai (self-introduction) lesson for the Grade 8 class. I covered all of the exciting stuff like: where I come from, what my hobbies are, what Japanese food I like to eat, family members... Yes, you are all famous in Kamikawa.

This is of course, for English classes at the Junior High School, but I was also there for the opening ceremony of the school. That means I had to do an introduction in Japanese too! Luckily, lots of other people are in the same boat, so I got away with borrowing an introduction from the internet. Hooray for technology!

The teachers are very good. Both of the English teachers speak really good English, and were very open to trying some of the games I suggested. The kids were pretty good too! I taught the Grade 9's today, and they were much quieter. I think a lot of that is because it is the first few days of school, and everyone is still on summer holiday time. Myself included!

After school, the teachers went out for the enkai (party). Nice dinner, speeches, drinking, and games. I won the "best" prize at bingo -- the electric bug zapper!

But of course, in Japan, no enkai would be complete without the ni-ji kai (second party). More drinking and karaoke! I left when that wrapped up around 11:30pm, but there was still a group headed for the next venue for the san-ji kai... I'm glad I went home though -- I was tired enough today as it was!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Bon odori dance

Tonight, instead of being a good little girl and going home to prepare for the first day of school tomorrow, I went to the last night of the Obon festival, the Bon odori. This is the dance that finishes off Obon, and sends the ancestors spirits home on a good note. I danced more than a few rounds and had a lot of fun. The first part of the evening is the family dance, and then everyone else joins in. The dance is basically a big circle dance, with a series of shuffling steps and some arm swaying and clapping. After a few tries I had it mostly figured out, but I was still upstaged by the trail of little kids who wanted to show me the right way to do it.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Horse in thought

Horse in thought
Originally uploaded by anyram.

This really has nothing to do with anything, but I love the picture. It's from a couple of weeks ago, when Ruth was supposed to be packing.

Friday I got my pretty new girly pink cell phone -- I wanted an orange one, but they were all out so I had to settle for pink. The new cell gets TV reception, and does the telephone, email, camera and dictionary things as well.

Wednesday is the opening ceremony for school, so I should really be preparing an introduction in Japanese... yikes. Too bad I don't speak Japanese...

Other than that, I spent the weekend rearranging furniture and sorting through all the stuff left over from previous people who have lived in this apartment. Didn't I just finish doing this???

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Obon Weekend

This weekend is Obon festival. Obon has been explained to me as being the Japanese day(s) of the dead. It is a Buddhist tradition celebrating the return of one's ancestors. This involves hanging lanterns outside your house and lighting lamps in the family Buddhist shrine to show your ancestors the way home. Incense is burned and food and other offerings are made to the ancestors.

Yesterday, I was invited out to dinner in Pippu. I was glad that I had thought to bring a gift. In Japan, it is customary to bring some small token when you visit someone's home, but this is even more important during Obon time. So, my gift was brought to the family shrine and offered to Ota-san's ancestors. I was also invited to introduce myself to her ancestors -- lighting incense, ringing the bell, and making a short prayer. When you do all this, you are not allowed to blow on anything -- no blowing out the incense once it is lit, or blowing out the candle. I guess it makes the ancestors jealous, because they can't breathe anymore? It was a very interesting experience, although Ota-san said that because I didn't look Japanese, her ancestors probably wouldn't be interested in me.

Ota-san explained to me that the family shrine is passed through the family to the oldest son. Also, the ancestors celebrated are only the male relatives. In the shrine room are portraits of only the men in the family. The room that houses Ota-san's shrine room is also interesting because the Buddhist shrine and the Shinto shrine have been placed one on top of the other. This is quite unusual. In most homes, even if the two are in the same room the are usually on opposite ends. I would have taken pictures (the shrine was quite ornate and beautiful), but I didn't feel it was very appropriate. I don't think Ota-san would have minded though -- she is quite laid back (and talks like an Aussie after going to university there).
At Obon time, all of the other relatives must come to the home of the oldest son to pay their respects to their ancestors. Combined with this, most people are given time off of work to perform their Obon duties. Generally, this is from Friday to Tuesday, so most people travel during this time. And let me tell you, the highways are incredibly busy! I chose a great time to make my first venture out onto Hokkaido highways by myself!
I will be working during Obon. Too bad, because I have received all sorts of invitations to go mountain climbing and other sorts of things on Monday and Tuesday. I really do need to go to work though -- I have to get ready to start teaching! That being said, I really hope that I will be able to go to the Obon ceremony at the Buddhist shrine next to the Board of Education Office. I met the gentleman that runs it at the Rotary club dinner I went to on Thursday, and he invited me to come. I think it would be a really neat event to attend.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tanabata and Strawberry Camp

I spent the weekend in Pippu (the next town over), being genki and teaching English. Sunday was the Tanabata Matsuri (star-crossed lovers festival). The festival involves strange Japanese "sports" like team jump rope and "throwing bean bags into a bird cage atop a very long pole". So me and Team Assistant English Teachers (AET) did our best, but were no match for the natives, who apparently practice these sports. One of the Japanese guys from a town famous for this beanbag tossing game tried to give us pointers, but we still came last place in everything. Nevertheless, it was a fun festival. The remainder of the events were eating yakiniku (bbq meat on a stick) and mochi, drinking beer (to drown our shame at losing) and of course, singing karaoke in the talent competition.

Monday and Tuesday were Strawberry Camp. Thirteen kids from grades five to seven and four AETs. We spent the weekend doing fun games, that tended to involve English, and generally just hanging out with the kids. We also did a play on Tuesday. "The great Japanese Radish". You know, the one where the farmer finds a huge turnip, and needs the help of everyone (in our case, animals) to pull it out.

The kids were great, and I was exhausted by the end of it. So much so that I managed to leave my purse with house and car keys in Pippu-cho. The office rents the building to me, so they had a master key, but I definitely feel stupid. We had to drive back today to pick them up.

Today was all about errands. I finally got my gaijin card, so I can do all those fun things like set up a bank account, and get a cell phone. Of course, the cell phone won't be in for a few days, and the first bank account I opened didn't allow direct deposit from my employer, the town, but after running around all day with my ever patient super-supervisor, I think we got everything done. Maybe.

I'm definitely getting busier. School starts next week already, so I'm starting to worry about teaching my introduction lesson. This evening I helped my shodo/Japanese teacher with an English conversation class, and tomorrow I'm going to Asahikawa with her to pick up calligraphy supplies. And in the evening, I've been invited to the Rotary club dinner. One of their members, Watanabe-san, is an incredibly nice guy who speaks great English. He dropped a huge bag of vegetables on my doorstep this afternoon.

Now all I need to do is hunt down the kendo teacher!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

"Youkoso" to Kamikawa-cho

Yes, I have finally made it to my new home in Japan. After a nine hour flight, a two hour bus ride, a few days of orientation in Tokyo, another hour on a plane and three hours in a car, I made it!

My contract started the day after I arrived in Japan, so bright and early after arriving in Kamikawa (tired and jetlagged) I started work. Conveniently, school is on summer break at the moment, so work consists mostly of studying Japanese, and making my co-workers laugh when I say "bless you" after someone sneezes. I'm trying to plan some kind of introductory lesson, but I was never very good at lesson planning, and I don't really know what is expected of me. I'm sure I'll figure it out soon enough.

The town is small, but the people are incredibly warmhearted. I already have a shodo (calligraphy) teacher, and a line on someone who can get me involved with kendo. I've been taken out for dinner, drinks, and karaoke; to festivals and to an onsen (Japanese hot springs); been given gifts and had vegetables dropped at my door; and I've only been here a week.

My apartment is bigger than the one I had in Victoria, and I'll get around to posting some pictures soon.

Tomorrow I head off to the neighboring town of Pippu for Tanabata (literally the star crossed lovers) festival, where I am volunteering to help run a sports day and then two days of a kids summer camp. Should be fun! I just hope the forecast for 31C turns out to be wrong...