Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bar たくや

Last Saturday, my good friend Jason made the trek out to Koga so we could hang out. Ibaraki is a pretty large prefecture, but its infrastructure is pretty conducive to easy travel. However, my little spot of Ibaraki, in Koga, is about as disconnected from the rest of the prefecture as you can get. My trains don't go into Ibaraki, but into the surrounding prefectures and the roads from Koga are rather indirect to get to the capital or other cities. This makes it hard to hang out with Ibaraki JETs very often because it is quite the undertaking to travel 2+ hours by train or car.

Anyway, Jason decided to make the journey, and we had a nice time. I guess this is where I should mention that Jason is dating my good friend Chika, but she had a huge table tennis tournament on Saturday, so she couldn't hang out with us - but we saw her on Sunday. :) Anyway, on Saturday night, after dinner we went to this new bar near my apartment. This bar just appeared out of nowhere, but I am glad it did. It is called Bar Takuya and has a tiki/Hawaiian theme. It is a small place, but well decorated. On the outside the door is bright blue and due to the grand opening, there are fresh flowers everywhere - lilies, orchids, carnations, etc.

Jason and I stayed for two hours or so and had a really great conversation. We hit on all kinds of topics, it is really nice to have a friend like him. The drinks were good and pretty well-priced, compared to what I have paid for drinks in and around Tokyo. After we were finished and paid the bill, I asked the bartender if I could take a flower home, in Japanese. He spoke back to me in his best English and said, "Sure, take this one!" He gave me a huge, beautiful orchid plant that his mother had given to him upon the opening of his bar! I will post a picture, but they are really gorgeous and brighten my apartment in such a big way!

Surprises and experiences like this are what I am going to miss about my life in Japan the most.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

When in Rome, do as the Japanese do

Or was that supposed to be something else...? Anyway, I have been terribly remiss in my blogging, so now I am playing catch-up. A couple weeks ago (June 13-14th) I took the long train/bus ride to Itako to see my favorite gal, Lauren. Her little hamlet of Itako hosts one of the largest and longest festivals in all of Japan. It is called the Ayame Matsuri (Iris Festival) and it lasts for six weeks each year. For this festival, they ask many of the young women of the community to be the hostesses or "daughters" of the festival. This means they have to wear traditional yukata every weekend and welcome the thousands upon thousands of guests to view the beautiful irises and take part in the many other events sponsored by the festival. For Lauren, this is a huge undertaking and time commitment. For her friends (i.e. me) it is a really great opportunity to see a huge, traditional festival and lounge around for a weekend. :-D

When I came to Japan many years ago for a short homestay, my host family gave me my own yukata as a gift. Since then, I have held onto this beautiful garb for such occasions as an Ayame Matsuri. The morning of the festival, Lauren and I each were dressed in yukata by a fantastic older woman named Osaki-san. She is one key volunteers of the festival and helps Lauren to get properly dressed every weekend. And this particular weekend, she was kind enough to help me as well. Lauren's yukata is identical to that of the other "daughters" of the festival. They are a day navy blue with pretty irises printed on the fabric. They have gold obis (thick belt tied into a bow) and matching geta (traditional wooden sandals). My yukata is red (naturally...haha) with white rabbits and fireworks. It is an unusual pattern, but I really love the white rabbits.

Because I was a foreigner and such good friends with Lauren, the festival organizers and the other "daughters" were extremely welcoming to me and even allowed me to be an Ayame Musume for the day with everyone else. I helped to welcome the guests to the festival and handed out maps of the festival grounds. As an unwritten part of my non-existent contract, I also had to pose for about seven hundred pictures. Honestly, it made me feel like a celebrity and I don't mind the fact that there are a ton of pictures of me floating around Japan; that can be my little mark on the world. Later that day, there was a parade for the festival and I was even asked to dance with the other daughters in the parade. The dance was really easy, and I had a blast. I went around the loop with the dancers 1.5 times, but I think in total, they did 4 rotations.

After all the dancing and festivities, Lauren, invited all the JETs back to her place for a party. She is quite the hostess and the food was delicious and the presentation immaculate. I always enjoy a good party, and this definitely was one. I am going to miss all my JET friends and the atmosphere of living in Japan. I almost feel like I am graduating and moving on from college again - so this is a good thing.

The next morning all of us who spent the night at Lauren's place woke up and ventured out for a breakfast of chocolate croissants and omelets with rice. I headed home that afternoon to an evening of karaoke and then sleep. Sleep is something rather evasive lately, but I rather have it that way than sleep through my last 6 weeks in Japan!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On days when the job is good...

...it's really good! Now, at the end of my time here, I am starting to have more successful classes and the feeling at the end of the day is great. Last Thursday, I taught by myself for the first time at Koga Second. The class was a group of second grade (11th grade) students, whom I have known and taught for the whole year I have been here. They are good students, but the prospect of teaching them alone was a bit nerve racking. The lesson I was to teach was in their reading textbook and discussed a little girl named Sally who had Down's Syndrome. Their regular teacher asked me to discuss the article and check for comprehension and also to relay some of my own experiences knowing people with Down's Syndrome. In Japan, they have special schools for all children with handicaps, so most students have never been in a classroom with anyone different than themselves. This is just one sheltering technique Japan tries to use to pretend everyone is all the same.

We discussed Sally's story and then I spoke to them about going to school with students with Down's Syndrome. They could not imagine how it was possible for different students to all be in the same school, but I explained it the best I could. Sally is quite an exceptional girl and very high functioning. She had a talent for painting and would sell her work in order to send the money to care for children in Africa. The whole article was a feel-good inspiration, so at the end I asked the students to each complete the sentence, "My dream is _______." They had to write three reasons for their dream. At the end of class I had each student read their dream aloud to the rest of the class. It was so much fun to hear their aspirations and see the reaction of their classmates - everyone was impressed by their peers and it left the class on a really high note.

At the end of the day, as I was leaving school, one girl from this class came to me to talk. She wanted to tell me that she really enjoy my English class today and that I was a good teacher. I was really touched that she thought so much of the class that she wanted to seek me out and let me know. That kind of forwardness is almost unheard of in Japan, so it really means a lot to me.

Then on Friday, I was at Koga Third. I was nervous to be at this school because I was trying out a new lesson. I had three classes total and the first two were okay, but nothing spectacular. I was starting to get pretty down about my new lesson, so for the last class of the day, I decided to change it up a bit. I always had the intention in previous classes to teach the students how to listen and dance to the Cha-Cha Slide, but I had never quite had the time so it hadn't happened. Since I was a bit discouraged and wanted to end the day/week on a good note, I scrapped my plan as it was and spent the class teaching/coaxing the students to dance the Cha-Cha Slide with me! It was so much fun. By the end of the class we had moved the tables and chairs out of the way and everyone was in the middle of the room dancing! I justify it by telling myself they had to listen to and understand the instructions being said in order to do the dance properly. Ultimately I just wanted them to have fun - and I needed to have a bit of fun as well.

There are definitely secrets to this job that I wish I had known from the beginning. In my position, I am not here to teach hard and fast concrete English. I am here to talk about America, have blond hair, dress differently, and make them laugh. These are things I can do.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Angry chick music is my favorite!

It is by far the most fun thing to sing and often the lyrics are not only pointed, but hilarious!! Some of my favorites (the anger levels are all relative) Kate Nash, Ingrid Michaelson, Regina Spektor, KT Tunstall, Alanis Morissette, Meredith Brooks, Duffy, Adele, Joan Jett, Jewel, Janis Joplin, and Lily Allen!!! Which brings me to my wonderful weekend with my fantastic girl, Lauren (you knew it).

On Friday afternoon, Lauren and I both braved the rain and the traffic to venture into our favorite city for a concert we have been talking about for months!! Lily Allen graced Tokyo with her presence and her tunes to lighten up an otherwise dreary Friday night. The venue was small and intimate in Shibuya called O East. The drinks were good, and the music was better. Her lyrics are snappy and I think they can be very clever sometimes - I will say that her language can be a bit vulgar, so that might be a big turn off for some. She has a wonderful energy on stage and a really great way of performing her music in a live setting.

I learned about Lily merely by chance a few years ago when I was in GB 301 (the subject matter of the class isn't really important for the story). My first day of class, at 8:30am, I walk into the cold room to be greeted with Lily Allen blasting from the speakers and videos being projected onto the screen at the front of the room. My professor wanted to jump right in and discuss with us her innovative and exciting marketing techniques and the career he was certain then (3 years ago) was going to explode - Professor Cross, you were right. Since that morning, I have been hooked on Lily Allen and I have started to seek out these cheeky girls for my listening enjoyment - I find that most of them come from the UK - what does that say? ;)

As is every adventure spent with Lauren, it was a very happy and exciting evening. The music was fantastic and now I have to curb my envy for this 23 year-old singing sensation traveling all over the world just to sing!

Japanese Field Day

Last week, I was able to experience what Japanese schools call a class match. For two days they have athletic competitions between each homeroom class in each grade. Sanwa had a variety of sports for both boys and girls (they like to keep the genders separated in all things). The boys played softball, soccer, and table tennis; while the girls played kickball, volley ball, badminton, and table tennis too.

The basic run down for the day is that the students meet up in homeroom for a roll call and a pep talk from their homeroom teacher, after which they all don the same class shirt and head out to the field for stretches and formalities. Because Sanwa is not my only school, I could only attend the first day of the class match. In the morning I watched the girls badminton matches. They are really good, especially the girl here that is ranked number one in our region! The force with which they zoom the birdie over the net is really impressive, seeing as when I play at home I can only manage to pop it up into a high arc. I was a little jealous and wanted to play, but these activities are for the kids, so I just watched and cheered on my favorite classes.

In the afternoon, I headed outside to watch the softball games. Again, all I wanted to do was play. At least this time I played catch with one of the kids to help them warm up a bit before the game started. I miss playing softball and it would be fun to find a community team when I get back. I know every time I write a blog it seems I want to find some other club or activity or something to keep myself busy when I get home. I don't really want to bury myself in an overwhelming schedule, but there are just so many things that I miss from home and the ease in which I can do things and find things.

It was a really great day, and while it was a bit dark, the weather cooperated and stayed cool, but held off on the rain! Days like this are the most confusing for me because I so desperately want to stay and experience this kind of camaraderie and happiness with my students, but I really am ready to come home and do some of these things for myself.