Thursday, March 30, 2006

So cruel...

I was checking my email this afternoon, and when I signed out there was a link to this page, promising me 20 minutes of hockey highlights. How exciting! Finally, MSN provides something more interesting than TomKat's latest shenanigans (I can't believe that girl is crazy/stupid enough to go through with the silent birthing chamber thing) and the tragic split of Nick and Jessica. Not that I ever read that crap. Ever.

Unfortunately, when I clicked on the link, the message I received was, "Sorry! We have detected that you are accessing this site from outside of Canada. This service is available in Canada only."

Oh, you'll be sorry alright. Just wait until I've finished training my armies of adorable Japanese preschoolers to wreak my vengeance upon you. Pure kawaii powers! Don't taunt me with hockey and then tell me I can't watch it because I don't currently reside in Canada! A thousand kanchos upon you!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

If only I had an internet connection at the BOE...

I could was--, er, I mean, spend time writing dialogue on this site.

I recommend the "random foshata" link in the top left corner. What this site really need though, is clips of my favorite televised samurai drama. It's like "The Dukes of Hazard", only with samurai and ninjas. Which is what "The Dukes of Hazard" was always missing.

I have no idea what's going on half the time (unlike regualar Japanese dramas which I can follow because of the extreme over-acting), so much like this site, I just make up the dialogue.

Goodbye to everyone

The office has been very busy today. All of the departing teachers have been by with their respective principals and vice-principals to say goodbye to the people here at the kyoikuiinkai (Board of Education). Yesterday, it was the High School teachers. My good friend Imbe-sensei was among them. He teaches science and speaks excellent English He’s also a really nice guy, and we frequently talked after school and between classes. His English, though already excellent, was something he liked to work on, and what better way than by talking with a native English-speaking science geek. He’s going on to teach at a specialized sciences school in Sapporo. I’m sure he will do great things there, just as he's done here.

Today it was the Junior High School. The vice-principal (Kyoto-sensei), another English speaker and friend of mine; my favorite JTE Saito-sensei, who will be moving to a Japanese International School in Shanghai; Watanabe-sensei, the Japanese teacher who was always willing to try and talk to me in what little English he could and teach me about Japanese; Shouji-sensei, one of the youngest teachers at the school, who although very shy would sometimes make the effort (but always opened up at enkais - the joys of nomyunication*); and Hoshiba-sensei, the Math teacher with the infectious laughter. Incidentally, all four of the teachers leaving are in my group of desks, leaving only myself and my downstairs neighbor who doesn’t particularly like me.

Later there was a contingent from the Elementary school, although thankfully a small one. Tada-sensei, the Grade 4 teacher will also be leaving. His classes were always lots of fun to teach, and he was always excited about teaching his students English and learning right along with them (his was one of the few classrooms where ALL of the English topics we covered were up on display).

And of course, my own supervisor will be leaving too.

I met my new supervisor, Takahata-san, briefly yesterday. I greeted him with what I hoped was a friendly “yoroshiku onegaishimasu! Nice to meet you!”. He heard the English, gave a slight bow, and ran away as fast as he could. Needless to say, I’m a little bit worried. I’m sure things will be okay, but at the moment I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself. So many of my friends and support will be leaving here in the next little while. It feels like I will be starting all over again.

Minna-sama, ganbattemashou!

* Quite possibly my favorite word in the Japanese language. Combining the verb “nomu” meaning to drink and “communication” (adopted from English), it is what happens when you get a bunch of Japanese people together at an enkai. With the addition of alcohol, the rigid social rules are erased, people aren’t afraid to talk to each other or to try out their English skills, and more actual communication can happen. I’ve been very fortunate to have many opportunities to nomyunicate at enkais, both with my Board of Education, and my Junior High School. It really has made a difference in how well I am able to integrate into the various work settings I am placed in.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Japanese Hair

I just got back from my first trip to the hairdresser in Japan. I can’t believe I haven’t had a haircut since I left Canada eight months ago!

Sunday afternoon on our way to the movie theatre, my “hetero JET-life partner”* Jessie took me by the salon she goes to. The hairdresser there lived and worked in England for a few years, so she not only speaks English, but more importantly understands western hair, and that it is not quite the same as Japanese hair. Conveniently, she was available this evening, so I drove into town directly after work to get my hair done.

I arrived a little bit early, which was good, because I had to figure out all of the ultra-polite Japanese the receptionist was giving me. She finally gave up and called over Abe-san, the stylist. All she wanted was to give me a plastic bag to put my valuables in. Too bad all my crap wouldn’t fit into the dainty little bag provided. It threw me for a loop.

Getting your hair done in Japan is about the same as at home. The only difference I found was at the hair-washing station. In order to avoid the potential embarrassment of having to look at your stylist’s armpits while they wash your hair, your face is covered with a cloth. Your stylist doesn’t have to worry if they have pit stains and armpit hair, and you don’t have to deal with looking at it.

The other difference is the price. Because I was “introduced” to the salon, I only paid 2600 yen – roughly $26 CDN. And no tipping. Something I love about Japanese culture. There is no tipping anywhere. In fact, it is considered rude to tip.

It felt great to get my hair chopped. It’s been such a long time, most of it was dead anyways**. And she did a great job. I guess if she’s recommended by both your gaijin friends and your Japanese bartender, you know it’s worthwhile. Next time: colour!

* Living in the inaka (middle of nowere) it’s important to have close friends. Both emotionally and geographically. Someone who will be there for you when you need advice about local hairdressers, or to sing back-up at a Japanese wedding.

** Yes, I realize that technically speaking, all hair is dead. It’s a figure of speech.

Spring Break (Woo!)

Today is the first day of spring break. But seeing as I’m an employee of the town I still have to go to work, even though the teachers and students are both off right now. Well, mostly. The students are still coming to school for clubs and activities and such, so I don’t know what kind of break it is for them. I do know that I have to come into my office everyday for the next two weeks and look busy. I have plenty of Japanese textbooks to study, teaching materials to go through, and of course my laptop to keep me company. The only thing missing is an internet connection. I’m much better at wasting time with the assistance of the internet.

It’s extremely difficult to think about spring when every time I look outside it’s snowing. Today the snow has been on and off. Nothing heavy, just annoying. I’m tired of snow already! Down in the south, the cherries are in blossom, and it actually is spring. Here, I think the season would be better qualified as “horrible roads”. They don’t so much plow the roads as pack the snow down into a manageable layer. So when it starts to melt during the day, you get great piles of slush. Which subsequently freeze overnight, creating great piles of ice. Usually with two ruts on either side for driving. And when you drive a little car like I do… let’s just say that comparisons to Disneyland are appropriate. You know the race car ride with the big metal bar down the middle of the track to keep you going on the correct road? Yeah. That’s what it’s like driving here. It makes for exciting lane changes. At least in town. The highways are better.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Last day of School

I taught my last two classes of the school year today. It's the most I've taught in the past two weeks here at the Junior High. With the Grade 8 class, I was given free reign. Anything I wanted, with the stipulation that it be fun and involve English.

I tried an English Scavenger Hunt game -- low preparation time and lots of speaking on the part of the students. And a good review of everything they're done this year. I made up a worksheet with a dozen questions involving the grammar the students have learned this year. The idea is that the students line up and choose a question from the list for the teacher to ask them. If they answer correctly, they get a signature. If not, they line up and try again. Every student had to ask at least three questions (one of each teacher). If they failed, I had a series of penalties for them to perform. I should have made it more difficult, because nobody had to do the penalties. Too bad -- I love subjecting students to tongue twisters.

With the Grade 7 class, I was the victim of a Quiz Show modelled after "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?". Each student made up a trivia question for me -- things like "What is tsukue in English?" (desk), or "Does Yuma like melons?" (No, he doesn't). It was really hard, especially questions like "What does so-and-so like?" and "Does so-and-so play baseball?". It showed me that I really don't know my students all that well and I should be getting more involved at the school next year. In my defense, they are a very quiet class. I was happy to do better than I thought I would, mostly because my students don't think I speak any Japanese.

Right now, everyone else is cleaning up the school for the end of the year. I'm a bit sad, because I've finally heard the final list of everyone who will be leaving. It seems that it will be just about everyone. The only person left in my group of desks in the teachers' office is my downstairs neighbor -- the one who doesn't like me and doesn't talk to me. I live above him and work across from him, and we generally just ignore each other. Also, the vice principal, another really cool guy, will be going to Kamifurano. I was asked to write short messages to each of the teachers who will be leaving. I'll miss my JTE the most. Not only is she an excellent teacher, we've become pretty good friends. Hopefully I'll get a chance to visit her at her new posting in Shanghai. That's right, she's moving to China to teach at a Japanese international school.

This evening is the year-end/farewell enkai. I'm getting a ride to Asahikawa with my JTE with a stop at the big BOE there. Maybe I can go harass the anti-social Asahikawa JETs.

The enkai is supposed to be fun, but I'm not really looking forward to it. For one, I'm still feeling yucky with my ugly, snotty cold. And for another, I'm sad to say goodbye to all of these people that I've become friends with. And it's snowing outside, but what else is new?

Happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The wedding singer

I got a call at the office this afternoon from my neighboring ALT, Miss Jeshie.

"So, anyram, what're yuh doin next Saturday?"
"ummm... I don't know. Why?"
"Well, a friend of mine just stopped by my office. She's getting married that weekend and they don't have any entertainment for the reception. And she heard that I sing with a band..."
"Okay... Wait a minute. Does this mean what I think it does?"
"It does indeed."
"So your friend wants you to be the singer at her wedding reception, and you want me to keep you in tune?"
"That would be correct."

Followed by a minute of continuous laughter.

So it looks like I will get to live out my dreams of being a cheezy lounge singer, and going to a Japanese wedding. At the same time. The woman getting married is really in to English, and they're very young. Jeshie's theory is that this is payback for all the singing she made them do at her eikaiwa (English conversation) class. Here's our playlist.

Moon River
Mamma Mia
All My Lovin'
Can't Takle My Eyes off of You
Sakura Bon (cheezy Japanese pop for the big encore)

Coming soon to a Japanese wedding reception near you!

So today was interesting.

I managed to sleep in and be half an hour late for work this morning. Thankfully, I wasn't scheduled to be at the kindergarten until after 10, so it wasn't that big of a deal. Just made me look and feel like an ass. I choose to blame the disgustingly snotty cold I've come down with after last weekend's exertions in Muroran. I would have just called in sick, but I had a kindergarten class to teach, and those are a lot of fun. Yes, I am a sucker for adorable Japanese pre-schoolers. Especially when they come give you hugs and tell you "daisuki".

Snot and all, I taught my kindergarten classes. I came in just in time to watch the very end of their practices for graduation ceremonies to be held on Saturday. No - I won't be going to those. I've done my required graduation ceremonies for the year. Besides, I have a date with my neighbor and fellow musical-er Jeshie to watch the Oscars and make man-paunches so we look less like women when we play gamblers. Jimmy the Fish and Little Jule: Are we not men? Do we not sing bass?

Anyways, the classes went well. Extremely tiring, but that's what happens when you spend an hour and a half teaching 4-6 year olds. I was smart though, and brought all of my animal cards so we could play karuta. It's a traditional Japanese game, which usually involves one person reading cards with some kind of alliterative poem on them, and the players searching for the matching card in the pile spread out on the floor. The first person to slap the correct card keeps the card, and the winner is the one with the most cards. See the explanation at the bottom of this page. I've played it at enkais (I even won a couple of rounds because everyone else was so drunk), and the last time I taught at Toun Elementary I was the reader (Not surprisingly, I lost at janken). Which was entertaining because the kids there play so often they have the cards memorized. I read so slowly in Japanese they would finish reciting the story on the reader cards for me. At the kindergarten today we played with my set of oversize animal flashcards, and all I had to do was yell out the names of animals. Low key for me, fun for the kids. Oh yeah.


I was informed today that I will also be saying goodbye to my supervisor come the new term. I am not very happy about this, because Toshio-san is a very cool guy. Actually, my first thought was, "You finally have an ALT who is going to stay another year, and now you're getting moved to the town office!"

Well, I guess I'll just have to go and visit him for a coffee. At least he isn't leaving town. Hopefully someone cool will be replacing him. All I know is that his name is Takahata-san, and he's "very young". My current supervisor and the office accountant got a good laugh out of that one. Young in a Japanese office translates to under 40 (38 to be exact).

I'll really miss my boss. Who will say "bless you!" when I sneeze at work now?!

You may be wondering why there are so many people I work with leaving this year. No, it isn't because they have to work with me and I smell funny. In the Japanese system, every four to six years depending on your contract, you get moved. All of the teachers, people at the BOE and the town office, the school lunch center, everywhere, get shuffled around. I don't know why. It makes things more exciting I guess.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Vernal Equinox

Today, the day and the night are the same length, marking the start of spring on the Buddhist calendar.

Today, 40cm of snow fell on my town.

Yup, it really feels like spring here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Musical Weekend in Muroran

Drive time to Muroran from my home (including conbini stops, changing cars and getting gas in Pippu, and pickups in Asahikawa and Takikawa): 7 hours

Rehearsal Time (all singing, all dancing, all the time): 12 hours

Return Time to Asahikawa: 4.5 hours

Throw in a couple of hours at the onsen, an enkai at a yakinikku restaurant named after the first Western ship to land in Muroran harbour, much revelling and carousing, watching of movies, waking to the dulcet tones of PeeWees Playhouse and a little sleeping and you have my musical weekend. It was the busiest one so far I think, but we accomplished a lot.

My Barbie-pink "Take off Your Mink" tear-away ball gown was all ready to go, so that makes everything worthwhile.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The never ending day… packing, school, graduation, teaching, and fatigue.

(Warning: I'm too sleepy to be bothered to edit this, so there's probably plenty of bad grammar and spelling. Sorry.)

It’s been a busy day today.

This morning was the graduation ceremony for all three of the Elementary schools I teach at. I attended the ceremony in town, seeing as I was teaching at the Junior High today. My JTE was nice enough to organize the teaching schedule so that I could go.

The elementary school graduation is a more relaxed than the Junior High graduation, by virtue of all the elementary school students. However, this ceremony was much more touching for me. I have gotten to know this class pretty well, more than the Junior high graduating class.

I arrived early, as I was asked to. I hadn’t been sure I was able to come, so I managed to surprise the teachers and some of the parents I had told I wouldn’t be able to attend. I also gave the teachers something to worry about: where to seat the ALT. I ended up on the side with some of the teachers and support staff.

Before the ceremony began, I had some time to go and chat with some of the parents I knew, and ran into the local eikaiwa (English conversation) teacher. Turns out her youngest son was “graduating”. I still have a difficult time thinking of anything other than high school as having a graduation ceremony, but in Japan there is a ceremony for every beginning and ending.

I left the parents, and made my way to the gym, where the younger students were already waiting. In the hallway, dressed in their new Junior High uniforms, were the Grade 6 students. Their teacher looked incredible in a fancy kimono, decorated with sakura blossoms. The students were formally dressed too, in new uniforms. They looked so much different in their dark suits. A little bit older, but not too much. Their mothers all seemed to have been careful to buy the new uniforms on the big side. I wonder if for some students, this uniform will have to last for the remainder of their Junior High school career. It made this ceremony much more striking than the Junior High graduation. These students are entering the world of serious things. How they do in Junior High will determine much of their future.

The ceremony itself played out in much the same manner as the Junior High graduation ceremony I attended last week. The students were all called by name to the front to accept their diplomas. Once on stage, they all gave a short speech, wishing their peers and the younger students good luck in the following year. I was happy to hear that many of them were excited to study English, but I’m sure that is on the strength of their homeroom teacher’s enthusiasm. I hope they will maintain that enthusiasm next year – I have high hopes for entering these students in ECC.

The most touching part of the ceremony was the message from the younger students to the graduates. The graduating class stood up and turned to face the remaining students. Then, shouting at the top of their lungs, the younger students began to talk about how much fun they had during the past year with the Grade 6 class, how they wished them well in their new school, and other good wishes. It's not something I can adequately describe, but it was overwhelming to listen to the often rowdy elementary students I teach come together to make this spoken tribute to the graduating class.

After the ceremony ended, we again saw off the graduating class. Students, parents, teachers and myself gathered outside on the driveway of the school. The teachers had large flower garlands which formed arches through which the now Grade 7 students would pass on their way out of the elementary school. The students who weren't holding flowers made arches with their arms for the graduates to scramble through. I helped some of the 1st Graders form the arch and wish the graduates well on their way out of the school. It was a beautiful day, and I would much rather have been able to leave school with the rest of the students.

Instead, I went back to the Junior High for lunch, and to teach the worst class I have ever taught before heading back to the office to wait until I officially ended work at 4:30.

I was anxious to get out of there, not only because I was exhausted, but I also had a long drive to Muroran ahead of me (I believe it ended up being seven hours on the road at the end of the night, but that included several stops to pick up other musical-ers). And I still had to get all of my crap packed for the weekend. Thankfully, I only drove as far as Pippu, and Jessie took us the rest of the way. And we decided to shell out the big bucks to take the expressway. It takes about 2 hours more to get to Muroran without them.

More on Muroran rehearsal later.

Must go catch up on sleep.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Today I had a class at one of the local kindergartens (youchien). All of the kindergartens in town are fun, but this one is a special favorite. Not only do some of my good friends in town work there, but the head teacher is awesome!* She went to school in BC somewhere, so her English isn’t too shabby, and they teach the kids a lot of English. Even the littlest ones can introduce themselves in English.

It was my last visit this school year. Next month, the oldest class will join the Grade 1 class. I can tell they’re going to be crazy.

So, in honour of it being the last class of the year, Shuko sensei asked me to think of something culturally themed for the kids to enjoy. Easter may not be for another month or so, but I’ve been doing pysanky in my spare time (much to the chagrin of my shodo teacher – I should be spending more time practicing my calligraphy!), so my first thought was “Let’s paint eggs!”.

I only get 20 minutes with each class though, so that idea didn’t even get past my lips.

Instead, I decided to introduce my kids to one of my favorite parts of Ukrainian Easter – krashanky! For the uninitiated, krashanky are coloured eggs. Not pysanky with their intricate designs, but just plain one-colored eggs. I made mine pink. The fun part is breaking each others’ eggs. The idea is to take turns bashing someone else’s egg with your own, and the one whose egg comes away unscathed is the winner. What little kid doesn’t like smashing eggs? There are 40-some kids at this school, so we decided only to use four eggs in each class. Four kids, three rounds – enough so that the kids can see, but not as time consuming or difficult to prepare for as everyone playing all at once.

It was a great class. We did some more educational stuff to start – some number games and TPR. The krashanky were a hit. The kids were really excited to play, and even just to see the coloured eggs. One of the students even asked me if all Canadian eggs were pink! Must have something to do with me trying to convince the kids that the pink eggs came from pink chickens…

Unfortunately, I managed to forget my own camera. I was looking forward to getting some pictures of these little Japanese kids playing a Ukrainian Easter game. Hopefully the school will send me the pictures they took. I asked for copies, but Shuko sensei warned me that she isn’t very good with a computer. If I get any, I’ll be sure to post them.

* Sadly, I found out that Shuko sensei will be moving to Sapporo next month. That’s another one of my favorite teachers gone! For the record, that will make four (although two of them left/will be leaving on maternity leave).

Hokkaido Shimbun… again.

Well that was unexpected. Here’s me, sitting at my desk, willing time to move faster so I can leave, when I get a call from one of the guys in the office.

“anyram! Come on baby!”*
“nani? what?”
“shimbun… newspaper desu.”

I followed him and one of the ladies in my office out to the hallway. There stood a cameraman from the Hokkaido Shimbun. I guess they’re doing some kind of article about Harada-san, and wanted pictures of people venerating at his home-town shrine. So myself and one of the office ladies were recruited to stand around gazing adoringly at Harada-san paraphernalia. No face shots, just adoration of the Olympian. If I get my hands on a copy, I’ll be sure to post it.

* Everyone’s favorite new English catchphrase. I haven’t been watching much TV lately so I don’t know where it’s from, but I have noticed this phrase cropping up in my elementary school classes. Along with other timeless classics like “Oh my God!” and “Oh no!” The Hard Gay “Fuuuu!” hoopla has died down for the time being.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

hakkousha no daihyousha

My official Japanese title as the Publications mistress.
Try saying it five times fast.
Having a Japanese title other than eigo shidou joshu (assistant english teacher) or even the more casual eigo no sensei (english teacher) makes me feel so powerful.

Many thanks to Miss Jeshie for translating my title and making me an official reciept. You know people don't like the job when they haven't even bothered to make up an official reciept for selling books. I think I only had it done because one of our members bought seven copies of one book for her Board of Education this weekend. And they won't pay her back without a reciept.

Sitting in the teachers' room... all day long.

The end of the school year is a slow time. Today I'm "teaching" at the Junior High school, but I don't have any classes scheduled. It seems as though nobody else does either. The san-nenseis are gone, so there aren't many classes, period. The other teachers were just discussing the love lives of the the ni-nensei students (Grade 8). Which is a little weird I guess, but the only reason I didn't zone them out is because they were talking about the other まりな (ma-ri-na). For the record, the fourth one I have met.

So today, my job basically consists of playing on the internet. Sure, I have some studying and things I could be doing, but playing on the internet is much more interesting. I've been trying to catch up on my email correspondance and such. So check your in-boxes!

Other than that, my JTE invited me to go to Home Ec. class with her and the ichi-nenseis (Grade 7). I think I'll go too. Sewing class in Japanese might be interesting, certainly more interesting than entertaining myself in the teachers' room.

Just for fun, here's a picture of us musicalling types performing at this weekends talent show. "Luck be a Lady" indeed!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Big snow, little snow; little snow, big snow.

According to Jesse, big snowflakes mean low accumulation, while little snowflakes means lots of accumulation. In short; big snow, little snow; little snow, big snow. It’s been snowing little flakes all day.

In fact, it’s been snowing steadily here since I got back from Furano. It was actually coming down so hard on my way home yesterday evening that I almost ended up in the ditch because I couldn’t see anything but white. I slowed down to 50 km/h (the speed limit) and was quickly passed by two cars. I can’t believe how crazy the drivers are here! I was glad to make it home in one piece, only to find that my driveway has turned into a big snow bank. Three cheers for four-wheel drive! The drifts were knee high when I left the house this morning. I don’t even want to think about how much more snow there will be by the time I get home this evening. Or how much extra snow my neighbor and his snowblower will be adding to my driveway accumulation.

Currently, I’m sitting at the office, counting down the time until I can leave. One more hour to go! I was actually surprisingly productive today. I had a big stack of stuff to sort out for my new PC position, so I went through all of that and figured out a bit more of what I’m supposed to be doing with this new job I’ve taken on. It sounds like a lot of photocopying and collating. How exciting! I decided to take a break from studying the imperative form when I realized I’d been staring at the same page for the last half hour and still hadn’t made it past the opening dialogue.

When I get off work, I get to go home and shovel, and then transfer my carload of HAJET books from the car to the apartment. At least all the exercise will keep me warm. My, but spring feels a long way off…

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Junior High Grad '06

This past Friday was the graduation ceremony (setsugyou shiki) at my local Junior High School. This event marks the end of compulsory education for the san-nenseis (ninth graders), and the last time that they will be together as a class. It is an extremely big deal, particularly in small towns with dwindling populations. The better students will go on to high school in larger centers, while other students will stay at the high school here in town. For reference, my high school has many students from the city who couldn't get in to other schools.

There was a buzz of excitement in the air when I got to school in the morning. All of the students were in their uniforms (as opposed to their usual track suits), the principal wore tails and grey pinstripe slacks, and all of the teachers were in suits. School uniforms in Japan are a serious affair. The boys wear suits with high collars and brass buttons, and the girls wear pleated skirts with knee socks even in Hokkaido winters. Everyone looked very somber and formal. Well, at least from the ankles up everyone looked formal. Most of the teachers and all of the students were wearing their regular indoor shoes. Myself included. Nothing quite dresses up a dark suit like a pair of hot pink gardening clogs.

The school hallways had been decorated: there were sakura (cherry blossoms) in abundance, even though we still have at least a meter of snow on the ground. Paper birds hung from the ceiling, and a giant heart made of tissue-paper flowers adorned the doors to the gym. The first and second year students were at the entrance, handing out red carnations for the graduating class to pin to their uniforms, to distinguish them from the other students. I stood around and greeted the san-nenseis with an"omedetou gozaimasu!" (congratulations) as they arrived, but there was really nothing for me to do until the ceremony started.

Eventually parents started arriving, everyone in their best clothes. There were even a few in formal kimono. Dignitaries and invited guests started to arrive. The mayor, the school superintendent, the head of the PTA, Watanabe-san (my friend from the Rotary club), teachers from the high school, the local elementary school principals -- in all about thirty non-parents were in attendance.

The ceremony started at ten. The first and second year students were seated at the far side of the gym along with the teachers, opposite the parents and dignitaries. There was a large stage, covered in flowers in the middle of the gym. In front of the stage were seats for the graduating class. Promptly at ten, the ceremony was opened by the vice-principal. In pairs, the students entered, precision marching to their seats. After some brief words from the principal, the conferring of diplomas began.

One by one, the principal called out the names of the graduating students. One by one, the students shouted "Hai!" and approached the stage to receive their diploma. The principal called out the name of the student again and their graduation number. With a low bow, the student accepted their diploma and made their way off-stage. With diploma in hand, they made their way to the crowd of guests where they bowed again. The next stop was their parents, where they bowed again and presented their diploma to their parents before returning to sit with the rest of their classmates. During the conferring of diplomas to the class of about 35, there was nothing to be heard other than soft string music, and the sound of sniffling. All of the girls had started crying as the names of their classmates were called.

After everyone had received their diploma, the speeches began. First, the important dignitaries. Seemingly everyone made a speech. Afterwards, there were remarks from the other students about the san-nenseis. The san-nenseis made a reply. The student who gave the speech could barely speak he was crying so much. This set everyone else to crying, most of all the san-nensei homeroom teacher. He was shaking with sobs, and the principal had to pass him a packet of tissues. All of the students were crying. Towards the end of the ceremony, the two groups of students sang to each other, but all of them were crying so much that there was hardly any singing going on.

In all, the ceremony took about two hours. I think the last convocation I attended took about the same length of time.

After the formal ceremony, the remaining students, teachers and parents lined the driveway of the school to see off the san-nenseis. We waved good bye and wished them well.

Later, in the teachers room, we were finished for the day. We ordered in some lunch, talked about the point in the ceremony where nearly everyone was crying, and plannned the evenings enkai. It sounded like fun, but I already had plans -- next year perhaps.

HAJET Winter Meeting in Furano, or I question my sanity for taking a position on the PC Board

I just got back from Furano -- land of lavender, skiing and bellybuttons, and the location of this year's winter meeting. As the geographic center of Hokkaido, Furano makes a good spot for a winter meeting. And the ski hill is excellent. Good thing, considering HAJET meetings are generally excuses for getting together with other JETs and having some fun.

This meeting wasn't all fun and games though. After I decided to stay here another year, I talked myself into joining the HAJET PC Board. Specifically, tackling the publications job. I figure it's a good way to keep busy over the summer break and will look nice on future resumes. However, now that I'm on the board I actually have to show up to the meetings. Which means I didn't actually get to go skiing or snowboarding. I was planning to go in the afternoon, but it decided to rain and I didn't want to face being a beginner snowboarder in the rain.


The publications coordinator is apparently one of the worst jobs on the PC Board, and there is always a problem finding someone to fill the position. No wonder. As I type, my little car is full of books and papers that go with the job. Responsibilities for which include taking book orders, shipping books, and the dreaded printing of books. Which is, according to my predecessor, the worst part of the job. And that seemed to be all there was to tell me. I have a masssive binder of information to sort through tomorrow, so it's cool that I have a day at the office.

Despite the supposed horrid-ness of the job, I think it will actually be a lot of fun. The rest of the PC board is really genki to do things, and being involved with stuff is good. And as a bonus, I get to be in charge of making books.

The rest of the weekend was fun. We had a big enkai at the hotel where we also held a bunch of fund-raisers for ECC. There was a bake sale (I made a chocolate cake), a "Pitch a yenny" drive, and the annual talent show. We've got some very talented people among us, and with free flowing alcohol there was a lot of audience participation. With all the enkais I've been to this week, my liver will be happy to hear that I'll be taking a break, at least until next weekend when we have a musical rehearsal in Muroran. Which is very far from where I live. I'm not looking forward to the driving part, but I hear that our hosts there are setting up some snowshoeing!

Off to bed now, as tomorrow I have to dig out my driveway (again) because it definitely wasn't raining here while I was away.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

How to feel old in three easy steps!

Step One: Open email inbox.

Step Two: Notice email from high school friend.

Step Three: Recive invitation to high school ten year reunion.

I thought I had a whole other year before I had to even consider the possibility that I was old enough to be having a 10-year high school reunion. I guess that's what happens when you go to a school full of geeks -- they start planning these things early!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Brazil Carnival

This past weekend I trekked out to the village of Shinshinotsu for a Brazilian carnival. It's not every day you get to go to an authentic Brazilian carnival in the middle of nowhere, Hokkaido.

It was a really great party. There were lots of people, soccer challenges, food, Brazilian drinks, raffles (I won a great CD), more drinks, samba lessons, and a ni-jikai that ran until at least 4:30am. We even got the Japanese people at the party on their feet to try the samba. I think it must have had something to do with the Brazilian drinks... It was a concoction of sugar cane liquor, fresh limes and some sugar. It was awesome -- reminded me of a similar Cuban drink of rum and limes. I was warned though, that one of them is not enough... and two is too many. I stopped somewhere around five.

I'm glad I went out to this event. Last week was so desperately slow and blah. Nothing like having nothing to do to get you down. Getting out and blowing off some steam was a much needed break. I still have nothing to do at work (no really -- I don't have a class at the Junior High I go to twice a week until next Friday), but it's at least sunny out today. Spring is thinking about starting up, but there's still a long way to go. We've just entered the gross brown snow season.

I also went to see "Walk the Line" on Sunday night. It was ridiculously expensive at 1800 yen (about $18CDN), but worth it. I enjoyed the movie too. It was one of the better Bio-pics I've seen. Really, it was a splurge-tastic weekend. I also went and spent lots of money at the foreign food store, but now I have cheddar cheese, salsa, tortillas and bagels. Guess who's having tacos this week?

In other news, I'm thinking about doing a week-long homestay/Japanese lessons over spring break. I'll have to see if my office will give me education leave (I don't want to use my vacation time seeing as I hardly have any left). My Japanese studies have hit a plateau. My kanji reading is pretty good for coming here with basically nothing, but my speaking still sucks. I haven't been taking my own advice and speaking enough. A homestay would force me to speak and would be really good for me. Besides that, it would get me out of the office for a week. We'll see if it works out.

Friday, March 03, 2006

All I ask for...

... is sharks with frikkin' laser beams on their heads!

Is that too much to ask?

Hina matsuri -- Girls' Day

Today -- March 3rd, for those of you in different time zones -- is
Girls' Day here in Japan. This morning, just after I got to work, I was surprised by a present from my school principal. I think it's a screen to place behind the doll display, but I'm not sure, as I haven't opened it yet. That would be rude. He explained to me that Girls' Day (Hina matsuri) is an old Japanese custom to celebrate young girls, and to hope that they grow up healthy. I'm sure there are also traditions about marrying well and producing lots of healthy sons...

I was also very nicely surprised to recieve a couple of dolls from one of the ladies in my office earlier this week. When I get home this evening I'll try to take some pictures so you can see them as well.

There is also a Boys' Day in May, when people hang carp streamers to let people know that they have sons, and to bring good fortune to them. However, I think that in recent years this festival has come to be known as "Childrens' Day", and celebrates both boys and girls. Childrens' Day is also a national holiday, whereas Girls' Day is not.

In other news, graduation time is here. (Which means that I have less and less to do at school, making me very cranky the past few days). Today, I get to sit in on a movie with the Grade 9 students, and next week I have nothing on my schedule at the Junior High School except the graduation ceremony on Friday. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go to the graduation at the High School earlier this week. However, I think that in small towns in particular, Junior High School graduation is much more important. These kids have been together since elementary school, and next year they will all go their separate ways. I asked one of my students if she was excited about graduation next week, and she told me she was sad. She would be saying goodbye to her friends, going to a different school (probably in the city -- she's a pretty good student, and the high school here is pretty low level), and moving on to new things.

Time to go watch the movie!