Wednesday, November 30, 2005

忙しい週 (a busy week)

Sorry for the lag in posting. I haven't died, or gotten sick (homesick or otherwise). I just got busy!

So what have I been doing all week? Well, last Wednesday was a holiday for "Labour Thanksgiving Day". It was explained to me as a day to be thankful for doing work. Celebrating with a day off seems a bit counter-intuitive to me, but I'm not Japanese. I enjoyed a lazy morning, puctuated by a visit from the NHK man.

For those of you not living in Japan, a visit from the NHK man is not a happy event. NHK is the national television station, and the programming is terrible. I enjoy the children's shows, but even those are done on shoestring budgets, with sets that look like cast-off's from the BBC. Like Dr. Who, only less endearing. And the same two-dozen personalities are on every variety show. Everyone in Japan who recieves the NHK signal is required to pay an exorbitant sum of money for the priviledge. Many foreigners living in Japan try to get out of paying the fees, but many Japanese people do too. It was recently revealed how much of the money Japanese residents pay for NHK was going into the pockets of various officials instead of into quality programming. At any rate, I spent nearly an hour at the door with the NHK man, trying to convince him that it would be too difficult to get me to understand what he was saying, and that he should leave me alone. I ended up paying about $30 for two months of television service. It wouldn't have bothered me so much if I hadn't been on my way out to meet a friend for an afternoon of shopping and dinner in Asahikawa.

Thursday, I made my way to Sounkyo in a raging blizzard to teach (don't worry mom, I take the bus there -- I just have to walk up to the school). My office-mates were teasing me before I left about how terrible the weather in Sounkyo would be. I think they felt kind of bad when it was actually pretty bad.

Friday I taught in four classes at the Junior High School. This would usually be okay, if I had gotten enough sleep! Phone calls until three in the morning may seem like a good idea at the time, but...

Not much relaxing time over the weekend either. Musical rehearsal in Shimizu! Only about a three hour drive (which my JTE infoms me is a *very* long drive), and we only got lost once! It was a really good rehearsal. We got a lot of stuff done, and even made time for bathing and the new Harry Potter movie!

Monday was teaching at the high school, and trying to figure out what to teach about Canadian culture for 90 minutes. I did a conversation class too, with a new JTE and a new student. I haven't taught any classes with the new teacher yet, but she definitely isn't as genki as Morimoto sensei.

Tuesday was a whole two classes to teach myself (that's another post), and today I taught three grades at the Elementary school.

I just finished a really good shodou lesson. Mayumi-sensei showed me how to write Japanese New Year's Greetings (akemashite omedetou gozaimasu あけましておめでとうございます).
People send New Year's postcards, and if you post them before a certain day, they actually deliver them on New Year's Day. She showed me a really beautiful technique. It looks like the difference between printing and handwriting. The letters are in a continuous line, and really beautiful. However, I do think that if I didn't know what it was supposed to be I would only see a squiggly line. And if I didn't read hiragana, I'd feel that even more so. You can be the judge if you get a Christmas card from me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Rocky mountains, polar bears, maple, cold, red-suited police men and hockey...

I taught a Canadian culture class to the Grade 9 Elective English class this afternoon and this is what they brainstormed. Or more accurately, what I dragged out of them. They got into it more after that. It was actually really fun! I had a whole two classes to myself to do whatever I wanted, preferably something about Canadian culture. So I taught Canadian culture.

After brainstorming some ideas, I had the students (and my teachers) write down the provincial capitals. I figured I should have some language training in there somewhere, and it was an okay listening exercise.

The most fun part was talking about bilingualism. I brought some empty bottles and things from home with English and French wrinting on them, which the students thought was really cool. Even cooler was teaching a French lesson! Very basic, but I did it all in French. Not that anyone in the room would have been able to tell how bad my French has gotten... and how much Japanese has snuck into my brain.

They were able to pick up counting, and some basic phrases really quickly. In some twisted way, I hope that the ease with which they picked up some basic French phrases gives them more confidence with their English. It was kind of funny to me that everyone (my teachers especially) was really into learning some French, maybe more than they usually are into English. Maybe because they weren't being graded on it?

For fun, I tested their knowledge of Canadian stars. Did you know that both Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss (Neo and Trinity) of "The Matrix" fame are Canadian?

To a wrap up, I had the students design new Canadian flags, and talk about them. It was mostly an excuse to get these kids speaking in English, but there were some cute flags that came out of it. My favorite was the one with the hockey player in the middle, backed by the Rocky Mountains. I should have asked if I could keep it.

Map from here, the coolest page ever!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Proud Day

It is indeed a momentous occasion. After this evening's kendo practice, I was able to fold my pants (hakama), all by myself. This is not as easy a task as you might think. After all, this is a samurai sport we're talking about here! There are rules! And hakama have a lot of pleats! Each one with Confucian significance!

You would think that the sport itself would be the really hard part, but for me it's dealing with the equipment. Too bad I'm not an 一年生 (ichi nen-sei; first grader). Then I could get away with having my mom put away my hakama, kendogi, men, dou, take, kote, and shinai after class, while I played baseball with the other kids. Did I mention that you need a lot of equipment to play kendo? Which makes sense, seeing as the goal of a match is to hit your opponent's head, wrist or trunk with a bamboo sword.

So back to my pants. With the help of one of my Grade 3 students, I aligned all of the pleats of the hakama. I didn't quite get to the stage where I can tie the sashes into the pretty knots the picture shows. One step at a time! It's taken me weeks to be able to get the pleats figured out. Besides, my tutor didn't know how to do it either.

I'm very lucky to have such generous people in my kendo club. They have provided me with all the equipment and support to start learning kendo, without laughing at me too much.

I'm still terrible at it, but at least my seiza has improved.

Picture taken from here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Demonstration Lesson

Let's compare Canada and Japan!
(aka Tim Hortons vs. Mr Donuts)

That was the theme of the demonstration lesson I taught with my JTE's (Japanese Teachers of English) this Friday. We have been working on this lesson for almost a month now, and it's nice to finally be done with it. I think it was a pretty good lesson, and for the amount of time we spent planning it, it had better have been!

The demonstration lesson was actually for teachers who are interested in "International Understanding", so the majority of the teachers who came weren't English teachers, but administrators and elementary school teachers. We had more than a dozen onlookers (including a video camera) packed into the already crowded Grade 8 classroom (currently 39 students), plus other teachers from our school watching from the hallway.

I was a little bit nervous, because part of my job here is to internationalize, and to act as an ambassador for my country and other non-Japanese people. So our lesson was communicative, student-centred, and promoted international understanding. All of the things that we are supposed to strive for as JET ALTs, but don't always get to do because we have to teach to university and high school entrance exams.

We had the students ask each other about different things in Canada and Japan, and practice using comparative adjectives. The students did really well, and weren't too nuts. The grade 8 class is probably my favorite class to teach, because they are super genki (energetic) and very vocal. They are the opposite of what I was told to expect from Japanese students. Both I and the JTE were relieved that they were well behaved -- questions about how many transvestites there are in Canada as compared with Japan were kept to their worksheets. And no, I'm not making that up.

After the lesson, I went to an extremely Japanese style meeting to discuss our lesson and how best to promote international understanding in the classroom. It was educational for me from a cultural perspective, but extremely boring, and being all in Japanese, I couldn't follow much of it. Luckily, I was able to escape after the first 45 minutes of the meeting or so.

After school, we celebrated by going out for dinner at a local restaurant. It was fun going out with my teachers -- we'll have to do it again.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Let's musical!

You know it's been a good weekend when you're exhausted and sore.

I drove down to Shizunai/Nikkappu this weekend for the first rehearsal of this year's Hokkaido Players' production of "Guys and Dolls". Me and my tractor (as I affectionately call my car -- her real name is Deirdre, after John Deere) took on another two passengers and made our way to the southwestern coast of Hokkaido -- the main part, not the tail. After about five hours we made it to our host's home. Not too bad of a drive by Canadian standards, but you should have seen the faces of the Japanese people I talked to when they heard I was driving there and back in one weekend. You would have thought I had suggested I was swimming back to Canada!

The area is known for horses and cherry blossoms, and we passed plenty of horse ranches on our way home. We passed them on the way in too, but we could actually see them on the way back home. The light posts actually have cherry blossoms and horses on top so you don't forget what the town is famous for. It's also right on the ocean, but sadly there was no time for intertidalling. And yes, I was very sad. I miss living close to the ocean.

Saturday morning we started rehearsals in a local Elementary school gym. After some getting to know you fun, we found out our parts. I will be playing numerous roles, including: Agatha, a missionary; Jimmy the Fish, a gambler; and my personal favorite, a dancer at the Hot Box club, as yet unnamed. I feel so conflicted.

We have a really big group of both dolls and guys. Enough guys that the numbers that call for guys only, can actually have only guys! It's a really fun group of people, and I think the production is going to come off really well. The rest of the weekend was a read-through, some blocking, learning some of the dances and songs, and of course a trip to the onsen. Nice rotenburo they have in Nikkappu.

The ride home was stressful, but uneventful. The long predicted snow has finally come. But Deirdre is a good little tractor (and I remember how to drive in snow), so we had no problems getting back other than having to drive much slower.

Can't wait until our next rehearsal...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

First Day of Snow

Okay -- I can really say it's winter now.

Sometime last night it started snowing, and it hasn't let up yet. If this is indicative of the rest of the winter, I'm in trouble!

I was talking about the snow with my supervisor in the office this afternoon, and he asked about snow in Canada. I told him that it was pretty rare to see snow in Victoria, but Calgary got quite a bit. Victoria usually has a green Christmas, but Calgary gets a white Christmas. He responded with "Here, we have shovelling Christmas!"

Happy shovelling,

Monday, November 07, 2005

First Day of Winter

On the Japanese calendar, today was the first day of winter. Lucky for me, this year has been unseasonably mild. It was more of a blustery fall day today, and would have been quite nice if not for the wind. I hear though, that the snow is coming and it will get good and cold later this week. Oh well. I have plenty of warm woolies now.

Today I was teaching at the high school, which can be a bit trying. The students are not very motivated (in any subject) and it's disheartening to go to the high school and see very little improvement in the level of English. On the suggestion of one of my JTE's, I have started an English club. It started as a conversation class with some students who were going to be doing a homestay in Canada, but we have continued to hold it. Today I only had three students, but these are the really motivated students, so we can cover more interesting topics. Today we had fun with tongue twisters -- next week the students will bring Japanese tongue twisters (hayakuchi kotoba -- literally "fast mouth word" in Japanese). The point is, it was a really nice class, and I left school feeling like I had accomplished something, instead of feeling frustrated.

Tomorrow, I'm going to Asahikawa with some of the Junior High students to watch them perform in the English contest. They've been practing really hard for months, so I hope they do well!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Ainu Embroidery 1

Ainu Embroidery 1
Originally uploaded by anyram.

This afternoon I was in Asahikawa for my Ainu sewing "class". I had my camera along, so I took some pictures of some of the samples that other people have done. I really like this one. I'm working on copying it, but my stitches aren't as delicate as the original. I'm sure they will get better with practice.

It was a really fun class -- a few hours of sewing, chatting and coffee. Today we finished off by learning a traditional Ainu song. It's like a working chant. One voice starts, and new voices come in repeatedly, like ripples. The melody is very simple, and now I know the Ainu words for a bundle of firewood (nishike).