Monday, December 22, 2008

from the mouths of babes

Merry Christmas (in advance), everybody! Today is my last day at work before the holiday, and I'm shipping out to Korea on Wednesday. Before I go, here's a little gift from me and my students to you: hilarious and/or charming quotes lifted from their English papers. Guaranteed to give you a smile, or your money back.

First, some gems from the notes of our recently-completed country project. (First-year high schoolers.)

Attempting to describe Big Ben:
“There is big time.”

“I think Ireland is grand.”

“Egypt is mysterious.”

“I like Australia. So, I felt good.”

Sphinx = "sfincs"

Problem = "ploglam"

And, perhaps most tragically,
“Her poster is very pimple.”

Next, let's hear some of the junior high third-years' Christmas wishes.

"This Christmas I want a Gundam because it is cool."
(Note: a Gundam is a type of giant robot.)

"This Christmas I want some money because I want money."

"This Christmas I want smile because I love happy."

"This Christmas, I want a car or motorbike. But I cannot drive."

And last,
"This Christmas I want a lot of knowledge because I want to defend people."

Bonus! A scrawled nonsequitur from the back of the same student's paper:
"Yes I can. Obama said that yes we can."

Well, I hope you enjoyed those...I know I did.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I must confess, I've had this entry half-written for about two weeks. I suppose I'd best go ahead and post it before it's so far gone as to be totally irrelevant.

November ended with the ladies only staff party, at a restaurant in Kameoka which was quite good. The decor was also cute, a sort of homey, crafty sort of feeling. We had a very nice time all around. As usual, the seating was decided by lottery, but somehow every English teacher but one ended up sitting at our table, which was really great. We conversed in a mixture of the two languages, depending on who all was in a conversation at any given time.

One of the courses was roast beef, a rarity in Japan. It also ended up being hilarious in that they had only given us chopsticks...and it is nigh impossible to cut beef with chopsticks. Ueda-sensei, a young, first year teacher attempted to bite off a piece and refused to give up when it wouldn't tear, pulling at it like a puppy dog while we cheered her on. It took her probably a good two minutes. There were various other ridiculous attempts, until we settled on an equally ridiculous system of cutting that involved chopsticks and spoons. Utterly impractical! Yet none of us bothered to just ask for a knife.

Saturday the 29th, I cleaned my apartment up, and then met some kids in town. We ate some great Indian food and then went to a particularly friendly pub we knew in the area called Ing Bar, where we played cards for awhile. Afterwards Fig came back to Sonobe with me to spend the night. Despite our best intentions, we were up until about four in the morning just watching movies and such. It was the latest I've stayed up since coming to Japan, discounting that one all-nighter.

Somehow, though, my internal clock seems to be adjusting to normal-person hours, where once I habitually slept until (or even past) noon. Saturday I had woken up just after ten, and even though I went to bed at four a.m., on Sunday I awoke at nine forty-five! I was awake a full two hours before Fig roused. What could this mean? ...Adulthood?!

When Fig woke up, I made us tea and pancakes. Breakfast success! Then we spent the early afternoon watching my current obsession, "Hana Yori Dango." It is a very silly live-action Japanese drama show, about a girl who gets caught up in a war with the four spoiled rich boy bullies that rule her school. There are a lot of dramatic pauses, and Japanese fashion, and misunderstandings. The leader of the bullies is Domyouji, who is a slightly twisted, emotionally challenged, and kind of a moron. He is also, however, perfectly adorable, and I want to marry him. One of my favorite scenes (which I know will make you cringe in particular, Shonkwiler): Domyouji's sister quotes Hemingway when giving him advice, and in his usual mixed up manner, he incorrectly quotes it back later to someone else, saying scornfully, "It's HUMINGYAY! Read the book, the book!" Oh god, his face when he says it...just perfect.

That evening, we went into Kameoka for dinner, at a restaurant Phil had taken some of us to after the Hozu River Ride. The restaurant was small and almost empty, so we could clearly hear the table next to us exclaiming excitedly that there were foreigners, and were busy trying to pretend we didn't notice when one of the gentlemen approached us to ask where we were from. Suffice it to say, it was all downhill from there. The guys were all middle-aged and friendly, including a teacher, a firefighter, a government official of some sort, and the restaurant owner himself. I think some of them were well into their cups, though, based on the way they kept repeating themselves and forgetting what we had said.

"Canada?" "America." "Oh, America."
"Canada?" "America." "Oh, sorry, America!"

It was pretty funny, though, and they were quite nice, even going so far as to pay for our dinner since we put up with them for a full hour and a half. It was also decent Japanese practice. By the time we left, though, Fig and I were both a little shell-shocked! We retreated to a coffee shop to recoup a little afterwards.

The following week was marked by exams and the Kyoto JET Mid-Year Seminar. Basically, we sat around listening to various lectures and speeches for two days on the 3rd and 4th. On the second day, we had to present lesson plans to a group, so I and Takemura-sensei presented our "James and the Giant Peach" project. It was so well-received in our initial small group that our table chose us to present to the group at large. Also, the seminar gave me the opportunity to meet a few more of Fig's teachers, who all seemed pretty nice. We went out and got Thai food together, which I must say was excellent.

That weekend was largely uneventful as I recall, and school was more of the same. One of our exchange students returned to Colorado, and though she was a nice enough girl, it was with some relief that we saw her off. She consistently had trouble with her homestay family, to the extent that at one point we almost moved her.

Christmas classes have been ongoing. Trivia, crosswords, wordsearches, and carols. Through no real desire of my own, I now know most of the words to Wham's dubious classic, "Last Christmas."

This weekend was largely devoted to Christmas shopping, and still I didn't quite finish. I'll just say this: it is exceedingly difficult to shop for men in Japan, because guys over here are in some ways (read:fashion) what we would consider as more effeminate. But also, guys are hard to shop for anyway. Fie! Other than shopping, Fig and I just made cookies and watched "The Santa Clause." (A classic.)

Friday night was also the English department staff party, at a restaurant near my school. It was ever so fun, especially because I sat across from Hosoi-sensei, this adorable little man who speaks with an Australian accent and is an absolute riot. I want to take him everywhere with me!

Saturday morning (pre-shopping) I met Sean and Alex Rogals in an area of town called Gion, which is famous for its geisha and maiko (geisha-in-training?). As it happens, Saturday was the day when, once a year, the geisha and maiko all go to give their instructors some kind of thank-you gift. What it really means is that they are out on the streets in great numbers, so we (and many other people with giant cameras) went to snap pictures of them. Their kimonos were gorgeous, and some of them were so young! The ages of my students, even!

Later that evening (post-shopping), I met Fig, Joanna, and Mike. We went to an Irish pub in the area, where there was a "traditional Irish" band playing. And by "traditional Irish," I mean four Japanese guys playing some sort of Irish-jazz fusion using pipes, a box drum, a fiddle, and an upright bass. They were even joined for two songs by a probably-British woman, who was actually singing in French. In any case, the music was actually quite good. One of Mike's teachers was also in attendance (which is how he'd heard about it and dragged us along), and she was a pretty odd bird. Strange in an indefinable way when we were first introduced, our consensus by the end of the evening was that she was A) drunk and B) kind of a crazy groupie for this Irish band. All in all, though, we had a good time.

Yesterday I took a half-day of "special leave," and went to the immigration office in Kyoto to get my re-entry permit. (I want them to let me in again when I come back from Korea!) I met a nice girl from Maine who was getting her permit to visit her boyfriend Italy over the break, which was funny because at dinner, I ended up seated next to a businessman who was actually from Italy. Small world!

I'm sure there are a thousand other things to say, but I am exhausted, and it is only 1:00 on Wednesday. Wait for it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

So. Once upon a time, way way back on the 15th of November, I had the last of my Saturday classes with the elementary school kids. I took a picture, but unfortunately only three out of five families could come that day, so I missed a few of our attendees. I'm really glad to have full weekends again (for the first time in almost two months), but I'll also miss those kids a lot. They were always cheerful and enthusiastic -- a nice change from occasionally catatonic high schoolers!

After class, Kristin and I had to sprint to catch a train to Kameoka, because that afternoon was the regional English speech contest, to which both students from our school had gotten through to. They both did a wonderful job, with not a single mistake or sign of nervousness, but somehow, neither made the cut for the next step. Though I don't want to harp on a matter that really upset me at the time, I must say that I in many ways don't agree with the judging. Several of the students chosen for the top five spoke unnaturally, with ridiculous, overlarge gestures, or worse, had noticeable grammar errors in their speeches. (Neither of which were problems our students suffered from.) And just for the record, this isn't entirely my bias as their teacher, because JETs from other high schools also relayed their surprise that neither of our students had made it, so perhaps my surprise is a little justified.

At the time, it just upset me more that Satomi, one of our students who is characteristically reserved, was crying uncontrollably afterwards. We spent ten minutes trying to cheer her up, but she was still teary as she left. Suffice it to say, I was indignant for awhile on her behalf.

But I'd best move on before I get worked up again. That night, Joanna and I met some local JETs in Kameoka for dinner. We went over to Liz's apartment, and she cooked some yummy Japanese curry for the whole group, who besides Joanna and I included Kameoka JETs Phil, Laurel, and Margaret. It was really nice to spend time with them, since besides Nelis and Kristin they are perhaps the closest thing that I have to JET neighbors.

On Sunday the 16th, I woke up early for my first installment of bimonthly trash duty at my apartment complex. Essentially, there are three buildings of three floors each, and every week a different floor is responsible for cleaning up our little garbage hutch. Each apartment on the floor must send at least one representative. Overall, it's a nine week rotation. In the end, I wasn't much help, because I didn't really know what we were doing, and none of the neighbors gave me much guidance. Mostly I just held bags or passed things to people, but it's good that I went, because they took attendance at the end and there's a five thousand yen fine if you have an unexcused absence. (That's about fifty bucks!)

Afterwards, I met Kristin and Sumiko at TASK, a local arts college. They were having an open school day, with food booths, art exhibitions, and even some hands-on activities. We ate lunch, explored the student works, took part in tea ceremony, and even tried our hands at wheel pottery! The pottery was so much fun, and my student helper was really great. (In the time it took Kristin to make three pieces, I made six!) We even got to choose one which they would fire in the kiln and deliver to us for free, though it will probably be a few months before they arrive. Though I ended up really loving all six of the pieces I made, I chose a very round bowl to keep. I can't wait until it's finished!

On Monday, I was visited at work by Amy Lichty, the JET Prefectural Advisor. She observed four of my classes, gave me some advice, and asked questions to see how I was settling in and enjoying life in Japan. I was nervous beforehand, but Amy is a pretty laid back individual, so I think it all turned out alright.

Not too much else to report from school. One interesting tidbit from the past few weeks: we have two exchange students here from Colorado, until December and January, respectively. And somehow, in a building full of native speakers, the staff decided to put ME in charge of teaching them Japanese. So not only am I an English teacher, but I'm now a Japanese teacher, as well! It's fun, but also a little frustrating, because sometimes the preparation for the two Japanese classes we have a week takes as much time as every other class I teach combined. My Tuesdays, in particular, are endlessly hectic trying to be ready for Japanese in 5th period, and I inevitably stay late making worksheets for 1st period Wednesday. Plus, one of the girls is having issues with her homestay family, so we're all scrambling to figure out where to put her for the last two and a half weeks of her time here. If worst comes to worst, it looks like the principal may take her in.

But that's neither here nor there. Both of my E-classes have finally finished their presentations on "James and the Giant Peach," and I'll never be able to look at that story the same way again. At least it's over! What an exhausting project that turned out to be.

This past weekend, though my first full weekend in ages, was remarkably busy. Friday night I straightened up my apartment a little and dragged out my kotatsu, a table covered with a blanket that houses a heater on the underbelly, so that your legs and middle are warmed when you sit at it. It is a wonderful invention, and I think I may just live under that blanket for the rest of the winter! Alas, for central heating!

On Saturday, I got up early to meet Nelis, Liz, Phil, and Laurel in Kameoka for a boat ride down the Hozu River. The scenery was really nice, as the river winds its way through the mountains between Kameoka and Arashiyama. Many of the leaves had begun to turn, and the weather was unusually sunny and temperate relative to the chill we've had recently! We all took about two hundred (extraneous) pictures of trees.

We didn't end up spending much time in Arashiyama, as it is absolutely choked with tourists right now, and the crowds were maddening. Instead, we hopped the train back up to Kameoka, grabbed lunch, and did a little shopping. The group broke up to various engagements, but I was joined in Kameoka by Joanna. We set up camp in a cute little cafe for about an hour and a half, chatting about various things. Mostly, we've taken to talking about various writing projects we're working on in our respective spare time, as it turns out we have similar taste and a similar penchant for fiction writing. It's nice, because even waiting in the cold for a train, we can turn the wait into an impromptu writers' workshop, and the story I'm playing with at present is already growing by leaps and bounds thanks to Joanna's seemingly endless supply of insightful questions.

On Sunday, I met Fig and her mother, who was just wrapping up a visit to Japan, in Osaka for lunch. We wandered around Shinsaibashi, did a little bit of Christmas shopping, and had some great okonomiyaki. (Nobody does it like Osaka!) Then I met Joanna and Alex Rogals to go see some bunraku, Japan's traditional puppet theater. I had seen it once before during my study abroad, but it's a pretty interesting art form, and I was glad to have the chance to see it again! It's a very detailed and beautiful type of theater, I think.

Monday was a national holiday -- Japan's equivalent of Labor Day, I believe -- so I got the day off. I didn't accomplish much, though, apart from getting breakfast with the neighbor family I have befriended and then falling asleep under my heated table for much of the afternoon. If I'm not careful, I'll come to spend all my time at home hibernating, just to fight off the cold!

Otherwise, not too much is going on. I've finally started studying Japanese with some focus in the past week or two, because our first test for the JET correspondence course is coming up. It's sometimes difficult to make myself study at home, but I occasionally have enough free time at work that I can work on it during off periods.

Some of the kids in town are going out for an expensive turkey dinner tonight, but I have no special plans for Thanksgiving... unless you count washing the dishes and going to the convenience store to pay my gas bill. (In Japan, instead of paying via mail, almost every bill is payable at your local 7-11 or Lawson's.) I'm not too broken up about it, though. Christmas will be a little sad, but fortunately I have travel plans to keep me afloat...

Because over Christmas, Joanna and I are going to SOUTH KOREA! Specifically, we are going to stay with my college roomie Juli Jones for about a week, so it'll be a holiday of adventures and familiar faces. (Juli is teaching English near Seoul, like the Korean equivalent of JET!) Something to look forward to over the next three or so weeks of school until the break.

Anyway, though, I hope all you folk at home have a lovely holiday weekend, and eat some extra turkey for me! Tryptophan is my drug of choice. :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

smelling the roses

So, it occurs to me (usually when I'm walking around town, seeing things first-hand, or otherwise away from the convenience of a computer) that with all the time I spend relating my (often banal) adventures here, I've done very little of detailed or expressive description. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a true shame, because this is not a vacation - it is everyday life, and I think that in many ways it is the quiet beauties that really breathe life into the everyday.

So let me try to break it down a little.

Sonobe. Sonobe in some ways defies explanation. It is the border between city and countryside, a patchwork layout of cheesy apartment aesthetic and stunning traditional architecture. There are a few main thoroughfares, and a myriad of quiet lanes, my favorite of which is a back street between my apartment and my school, which lined by trees, gardens, and even a little rice field or two.

Autumn has finally come, and with it, a change in the weather. When I wake up in the morning, blearily rolling off a flat futon and padding across tatami covered floors, there is a nine out of ten chance that the world behind my windows will be covered with fog. Sonobe is almost completely surrounded by mountains, one of which looms beyond my balcony, but often the mist is so thick that the mountain, though nearby, disappears in its entirety.

It is often cool when I set out for school just after eight o'clock, though it's generally even cooler in the evenings. Early in my walk I pass a simple railing, on which several spiders have made their webs. The webs always glisten with dew, so clearly visible and crystalline that it's almost surreal. They look like decorations for Halloween or even Christmas, but for the abrupt shock of finding an actual, and often uncomfortably large spider presiding in the center.

On Wednesday nights, I make the solitary trek from my tea ceremony instructor's home back to my apartment, usually between 10 and 10:30. I take my favorite lane back, and in its quiet I become so engrossed staring upwards that one of these days I'll probably walk into one of the ditches lining the road. In Sonobe, set back from larger cities, you can see more stars on that shady lane than I ever see in Decatur. My favorite nights are the just slightly cloudy ones, the misty dark of the clouds making the visible stars twinkle all the brighter. There is a feeling of closeness to the heavens, like if I took off running I could outrace gravity and leap into the sky.

The relative darkness of Sonobe also lends itself to the full moon. Walking along that same path beneath a full moon, everything is clearly illuminated in its pale light, so bright you could read your watch by it. Every shadow is strictly defined by the light's silver edge, every detail visible but wan. The moon shines so brightly that it always seems as if I've wandered onto a quiet, empty movie set, where they are imitating the moon and overdoing it.

Sonobe is really amazing in the little ways.

Friday, November 7, 2008

unexpected windfall!

As I mentioned before, this year is my high school's 120th anniversary, so there have been various little goings-on. Today, fifth and sixth period were preempted by a ceremony with an alumni guest speaker.

So, there we are, in the gym, and this guy is on stage talking about who-knows-what in Japanese. I'm only catching every third word, until he plays a video on the projector. The video is a timeline of his work, and suddenly I know EXACTLY who he is.

SHIGERU MIYAMOTO. Oh my god, he is an alumni of my school. Shigeru Miyamoto, inventor of Super Mario, Nintendo guru, and granddaddy of all video games existing today. SHIGERU MIYAMOTO CAME TO MY SCHOOL AND I MET HIM FACE TO FACE. Shook his hand, had a conversation! Thanked him for being awesome and enriching my childhood!

And I thought today would be a normal Friday! :D

Friday, October 31, 2008

time flies

Has it really been two weeks? Really? Looks like I need to play catch up, and they've certainly been a busy two weeks!

Saturday the 18th, my coworker (and fellow JET) Kristin hosted Canadian Thanksgiving at her apartment. It was a potluck type affair, comprised of her, myself, Miho (the cooking teacher), and Nakatani-sensei (one of our English teachers). We spent several hours just chatting and eating a really nice meal, with everything from tomato basil pizza to salad to parmesan curry chicken (SO GOOD) and even some nice homemade crackers and dip. It was nice to have a home-cooked meal, in some fashion. And Nakatani-sensei was kind enough to give me a ride home afterwards.

Friday the 24th was something of an accidental adventure. Fig had previously introduced me to one of her fellow teachers, a young woman named Naoko, and Friday was Naoko's boyfriend's birthday. I met them briefly in Sanjo, though it took so long to get there that I missed most of dinner. When Fig and I finally left, we split up in Sanjo station to board our respective train lines. When I reached mine, however, I discovered that I had missed my last train by about a minute! Hurriedly, I ran back to Fig's line and jumped on a train, sending her a desperate text message to let her know I was following her, so please wait somewhere!

I knew that I'd have to get off at Tambabashi station to change trains, and hoped that I wasn't about to get stranded their for the rest of the night. Fortunately, Fig was there, and there were still trains running to her stop (Shin-Tanabe). So we ended up having an impromptu slumber party, Fig being kind enough to let me stay at her place.

The next day we got up on the early side, because I had to be back in Sonobe by about noon to get to a school function at 1:00, and it takes a really long time to get from Fig's house to mine. (On the upside, this was the only Saturday I had off during the run of our elementary school Saturday classes, so it was my good luck not to have to be back in Sonobe by 8:00!) Including walking time and train changes, around two and a half hours, I'd say. I stopped only to pick up some cat ears for a halloween costume that night, otherwise breezing through Sanjo and getting back to Sonobe just in time to inhale lunch and change into work clothes for my school's 120th Anniversary Celebration thing.

Which turned out not to be such a big deal. Most of the teachers weren't even there, which rankled a little with Kristin and I, because when we asked whether we needed to be there, we had been told to show up. What we got was literally two hours of speeches in Japanese, which we could barely understand, much less care about or benefit from.

On the upside, the speeches were followed by an hour-long performance by Takigawa Maiko, a locally famous enka singer. I'd encountered enka before -- when I was living in Japan two years ago, my host grandmother and I sometimes watched it on TV together -- but I hadn't had the opportunity to catch a live show. It's a very theatrical and entertaining genre, if not generally my style of music. (And by theatrical, let me just say this: Kristin and I came to the common conclusion that enka singers shared certain mannerisms with lounge singers. Vegas meets Japan?)

When it was over, I had another hurried flight back to my apartment, where I threw things in a bag and changed into my Halloween costume (more of a Halloween outfit, really), before racing my butt to the station. (If you hadn't noticed, I spent this particular weekend running pretty much everywhere I went, because my schedule was so tight. I wish that were more of an exaggeration.)

I rode the trains all the way back out towards Fig's place, getting off two stops early at Terada station, where I met Fig and her coworker Ashley. We joined some other local JETs at a costume-mandatory party at Guys Bar, a local hangout. Fig was a pirate (though lackluster in comparison to her usual getup), Ashley a gypsy, and I a black cat. Other notables include Steve, whose gorilla monster mask suited him far too well, two Japanese boys dressed in drag who we mistook for actual girls for several hours, and the DJ, who made a very convincing Michael Jackson. Basically we just met people and chatted, and watched a pretty rad dance competition towards the end of the night. I think that the two girls doing karate-inspired dance was the best (plus, they were dancing to my favorite song from the soundtrack of the 2003 Zatoichi movie), but the post-danceoff freestyle break dancers were also pretty sweet. Especially the one who kept putting his hat on me.

There were lots of nice people there, from one Japanese girl who spoke such perfect English that I mistook her for a JET (she grew up in the states), to Yoshi, a twenty-something guy who wrote down some book recommendations for me on a torn bit of cardboard. It was, overall, a good evening -- even the part where we got lost on the way back to the station. We got back to Fig's somehow! :)

Once again on Sunday morning, I had to get up and get back to Sonobe for previous engagements. You see, earlier that week, I had been walking home from work, minding my own business, when someone called in English, "Excuse me!" Now, I live at the end of the street inhabited by young families, where there are approximately eight hundred small children between the ages of 3 and 10. Everyday I walk by and see the happy children, along with their mothers, and wish I had some opening gambit with which to meet some of my neighbors. But almost three months in, and I still didn't know anybody. So imagine my surprise and delight to see a (really cute) young woman with two small children, waving me over. As soon as she established that I spoke Japanese, she explained that she wanted to learn English, and did I have time to visit sometime? So we exchanged contact information, and via email, arranged for me to visit her house for tea at three o'clock that Sunday.

I took some cookies with me as a gift (as Japanese protocol demands), and showed up to tea that day, only to discover I was not just spending time with Juri-san (the wife), but also with her husband (who may or may not be named Mitsuru) and her two small children (Yuu, a girl aged 3, and Haru, a boy aged 1). Essentially, we introduced ourselves and chatted in a combination of English and Japanese, and they invited me to stay for dinner, and I played with the kids. One of the best parts was when, after deciding that I was not a scary monster, Yuu sat me down and systematically explained every picture book she could shove into my willing hands. This worked out well, as I apparently have just the right amount of Japanese to converse easily with a three-year-old.

I was definitely on cloud nine when I walked home that evening, filled with glee and success at having finally made friends in my neighborhood -- and they are definitely wonderful people! When I admitted that I'm a pretty poor cook, Juri-san even gave me two packs of Japanese noodles to make at home, explaining how to cook them.

So now we are at last Monday, the 27th. It was a busy start to an equally chaotic week. Our school was playing host to a visiting teacher from England, named Oliver Wells. His school (Westminster Academy) and ours had a tentative letter exchange in the works, and he came to set up some more specific project goals for the relationship. He was a nice enough fellow, though he did have something of a tendency to bulldoze over other people during meetings, and it was obvious that his concerns were firmly seated with his own students and their benefits. Which is as it should be, really, but it was sometimes difficult for us to form a compromise. On the upside, though, he was a youngish guy (28, the same age as Kristin, actually), so he seemed to feel a certain camaraderie with Kristin and I.

Plus, his coming gave us an excuse to have a little dinner outing on Monday, with him, myself, Kristin, Hosoi-sensei (who I adore), and the principal and vice principal (who are both named Mori). It was then that I discovered that the principal has a love for making terrible puns in Japanese, and is generally a hilarious guy. I don't know if I've made this entirely clear, but I love my coworkers. They are all great and distinctive people, and I want to bring them all home with me when the time comes. But anyway, as for Oliver wells, he was hanging about all week while we were busy getting ready for SELHi.

Oh, SELHi. That was an adventure. We've been running top speed in our E classes to prepare our projects on "James and the Giant Peach" for the dreaded SELHi open house. I had extra classes with E-3 almost every day last week, getting ready for the big event. And Thursday night, we were all at school later than usual making print outs and packets and generally getting everything perfectly prepared. I feel for the full-time teachers, who were probably here a lot longer than we were. It was all pretty stressful. There was also fun throughout the week, though, as we did several Halloween-themed classes with the junior high kids, and in junior high ESS we made some really tasty mini pumpkin cheesecakes. I don't usually dig cheesecake, but these were decidedly good! I have, in fact, ferreted out the recipe for future attempts.

The SELHi presentation itself also went decently well, I think. There were around 70 guest teachers wandering the halls, moving from class to class to observe. The E-3 students were quieter than usual, probably hyper-aware of being observed, but it was quieter in a good way. (They do tend to be a little rowdy and distracted usually.) They were, in fact, very cooperative, so much that I think I might take them a treat on Thursday.

Friday night, there was also the post-SELHi, hooray-we-made-it-through-somehow staff party. We went to a really nice restaurant in Yagi, and just sat around eating and socializing for several hours. It was a really nice time. I ended up sitting between Ueda-sensei (one of my team teachers, who is a young woman the same age as me) and the cute young music teacher that sits near us in the staff room. I forget his name. And across from me was Takemura-sensei, also a young female teacher, and coincidentally the teacher with whom I manage E-3, so we could really share our relief that the presentation had gone well.

The next morning were Saturday classes as usual, and then meeting Joanna and Neil in Uji to go visit Byodoin, the famous temple featured on one side of the ten yen coin. It was smaller than some sites I have visited, but for some reason I found it particularly beautiful. It probably helps that it was a stunning day, bright and sunny and surprisingly warm. There was even a nice little museum, with a very interesting collection of Buddhist statuary. We took a whole lot of pictures.

Saturday night was our normal routine -- friends and karaoke at Sanjo. Alex's girlfriend, Louise, was visiting from the States; she seemed decent. Neil and I spent the night with Joanna, then went out for lunch and a little bit of shopping on Sunday afternoon. I picked up a cuddly scarf and some more cookies to take with me that evening, when I returned for a second time to Juri-san's house. She enlisted my help in making okonomiyaki (which is nice, because now I know how to make okonomiyaki), which was delicious. She even gave me three extra to take home, all of which I happily ate yesterday.

And that, hopefully, is the extent of it. There are plans on the horizon, but this week is shaping up to be quiet compared to those that have just gone by, and that's fine by me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

yoi yoi yoi yoi

So, this weekend was fun, the first half being nonstop action and the second half being largely chill.

Saturday morning, Kristin and I had our first elementary school class. Those kids were so cute and enthusiastic! It almost makes me wish I had been assigned to junior/elementary instead of junior/senior. Even better, the parents participated even in our silliest of activities. They were all really good sports about it, especially this one father named Seiji, who was really funny and really good with his daughter.

After classes I ran a few errands to the post office, bank, and grocery store, returning to my apartment only to eat lunch and pack a bag before heading into Kyoto. I met Joanna way on the other side of the city, in a town called Momoyama. It was time for their autumn festival, and we'd been kindly invited to participate! The invitation was levied by Ono-sensei, a nice teacher from Joanna's school who resembles my friend Will, if Will were fifty or sixty years old and Japanese.

We were also joined by Amy, Chris, Rob, and a handful of people I didn't know (who I believe were named Simon, Thomas, and Matt.) Ono-sensei led us to an apartment complex, where a bunch of people were gathering, and we changed into festival clothes. (Luckily for the girls, all we had to do was put on jackets and headbands. The boys had to go all out!) After a few speeches and a sake toast, the group from our complex gathered in the street and set off for a covered shopping arcade that led up to the shrine.

It's difficult to describe what exactly was going on in our pseudo-parade. There were children with brightly decorated umbrellas, men dancing precariously with umbrellas literally the size of a car, and one traveling shrine topped with three of said car-sized umbrellas, which a whole group of men had to carry on their shoulders and dance around with. This last is the group our boys were impressed into, and it looked like no easy business. Meanwhile, we girls just got to trail along in our blue jackets, shouting along with rousing but ultimately meaningless chants of "YOI YOI YOI YOI." There was much bobbing and bouncing and even some destruction of the three-tiered umbrella float, though that wasn't exactly intentional.

Made several more acquaintances along the way, including another teacher from Joanna's school named Mitsuoka-sensei. Remarkably, it turns out that she's good friends with one of my English teachers, Nakatani-sensei. (Who is actually one of my favorite teachers to work with!)

When the dances and displays were over, we went back to the apartment complex for a sort of night-time picnic. Our group ended up sitting around the edges of a sandbox, watching adorable kids come down the slide and eating the best curry ever. EVER. I was pleased to have the opportunity to use my Japanese some, which has been unexpectedly rare thus far. Also talked a bit with Thomas, who was from Switzerland, and amused him with my very poor German. Very, very poor. (I did, however, almost manage to make him snarf his drink with surprise at one point, and felt very accomplished indeed.)

Joanna and I have decided to start a band called Swiss Army Thomas, except that neither of us play instruments.

I stayed at Joanna's apartment Saturday night, and on Sunday we wandered over to Sanjo, where we met my friend John for lunch. I have actually known John since kindergarten; he's lived on my street in Atlanta for some twenty years or so. We couldn't really decide what to do with ourselves, so we actually just spent most of the afternoon wandering around Sanjo, shopping or sitting by the river. There was a little orchestra playing some amazing jazz at the riverside. It amazes me that there is always some performance group doing something wacky down there! What a perfect hangout!

Eventually Alex joined us, and we went and had Indian food for dinner. I had really only had Indian food maybe once before, at age nine, when I really didn't like it that much. I have seen the light now, though; turns out that Indian food is absolutely delicious. I want to go there every day!

As usual, this was followed by karaoke, some purikura, et cetera before John and I followed Joanna home to once again crash at her place. Monday morning (yet another national holiday) was something of a bust; we slept too long to go see this parade thing we'd been planning on, and the flea market we went to was really crowded and full of old clothes that we didn't want to buy. Needless to say, we didn't stay long.

Instead, I went back to my apartment, straightened up a little (though actually, it was already really clean), did some laundry. An older gentleman came by to install my internet, which he theoretically did as there are now routers and business beside my phone jack, but I haven't been able to effectively set it up on the computer end yet. The instructions are all in Japanese, and worse, full of kanji. (CANNOT READ.) Sometime soon, when I get the patience and inclination worked up, I'll sit down with my kanji dictionary and see if I can't suss it out. Boy, this is a labor-intensive process!

The only thing notable from yesterday was that we had the finals and picked the two winners of the school-wide speech contest. Second place was a girl I didn't really know, but one was this guy Yosuke, who is really sweet! I couldn't get over how proud I was of him for coming in first place. He looked so surprised. :)

Sometimes I love my students.

Friday, October 10, 2008

drifting along, singing a song...

So last Saturday was my buddy Alex's birthday. He got reservations at a yakiniku restaurant in Sanjo, where about twelve or so of us met in the evening. We had a good time chatting and eating -- I ended up between Sean and Neil, which is a recipe for fun.

Afterwards we went and chilled by the banks of the Kamo River, which is really pleasant in the evenings. Also there was a group of hilarious Japanese hippies having a drum circle with big African drums, which we watched for awhile. As they really got into it, some of the hippies pulled out some batons and other implements which they set on fire and twirled around. It was entertaining, in a dangerous amateur sort of way. The first guy had these sort of flaming nunchaku, which briefly set his dreadlocks on fire, and the second guy (who was for some reason only wearing a very flowy, obviously-meant-for-females skirt) managed to set his skirt on fire. Neither of them was hurt, and the performance just kept on going, but it was pretty funny in retrospect.

I spent a good portion of our time by the river running around to different friends and taking what we all identify as "MySpace photos" -- pictures where you hold the camera away from yourself and try to squeeze into the shot, while aiming the camera by guesswork. First we would do a smiley one, immediately followed by the classic MySpace emo shot.

Sunday...well, I don't actually remember doing much of anything on Sunday. Washing dishes, maybe. I don't know.

Normal classes on Monday and Tuesday, followed by these three long days of mid-term exams for the students. We had very little do help with during exams -- mostly just showing up in certain classes and reading things aloud for listening comprehension -- so much of these three days has been spent trying not to fall asleep or pass away from boredom. On the upside, we've gotten some good work in on various projects and worksheets, as well as readied the lesson plan and materials for our Saturday classes, which begin tomorrow. (Though this is a junior and senior high school, Saturday English classes are offered for five weeks in autumn for elementary schoolers and their parents. I think we have a grand total of 12 people, apparently up from three or so last year.)

Last night Phil, a JET in Kameoka, just happened to be in Sonobe for an office party, so I agreed to meet him afterwards for a quick drink and mini-tour around town. However, he didn't finish his party until after nine, which meant we had to hurry. I managed to meet him at the train station at 9:30, get him to Good Bar around 9:50, swing him by to have a look at my apartment at quarter to eleven, and get him back to the station by 11:15 for the last train to Kameoka. I think that over the course of the "tour," if you include the solitary trips to and from the station to meet Phil and see him off again, probably amounted to three or four miles. By the time I got home at 11:30, I was a tired puppy.

We did have fun, though, especially when we were greeted at Good Bar by a humorously drunk stranger that took pains to introduce us around.

I'm working on getting photos and stuff uploaded, so hopefully in the next post I can give you guys some links to actually see what I've been hopelessly rambling about all this time. I get (legit) internet at my apartment on Monday! Huzzah!

Yakiniku: Essentially, you are brought various plates of meat (beef, pork, chicken, etc.) which you cook yourself on a little grill in the surface of your table. You eat them with different dipping sauces, salad, and rice. The meals are generally large and somewhat pricey, but delicious!

Nunchaku: Or "nunchucks," as were common in bad karate films from the late 80s and early 90s. See: Three Ninjas.

Emo: For the record, this is slang, not Japanese. Emo is a recent and oft-mocked social movement embodied by pop-punk bands like My Chemical Romance. It is (over?)generalized as moody tweens, teens, and twenties who feel persecuted, wear a lot of eyeliner, and always look sullen in photographs.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

let it all out

It's official: there is only one class I teach that has the ability to make me truly dispirited, and that is class E-3.

Today we were making acrostic poetry in simple English, using words about autumn. The assignment seemed pretty popular with the students in E-1, which I found encouraging, as they are sometimes distractible. They wrote some really nice poems, as well as some really clever ones! It made me really, really happy. So I was (foolishly?) optimistic for E-3, even though I know they are my most challenging class.

Let's just say it went over like a lead balloon. A handful of students accomplished something like a poem, but some students just didn't understand (though I had Hosoi-sensei explain it in Japanese, so they really have no excuse but inattention), and some students ignored the assignment altogether. At one point, I think five people were sleeping.

This is extra frustrating because I can't really do anything to them. I have seen no evidence of disciplinary measures beyond chiding, and I have even less authority because I'm really just an assistant teacher. So I just continually harass them to do their work, which is tiring to me, annoying to them, and largely ineffective in E-3.

They aren't bad kids (necessarily), but they mostly don't care about English and lack any motivation. I'm a bit stumped as to what to do with them.

To add insult to injury, this was a test run for possible SELHi activities. (See the prior post for details.) This is the class I have to teach in front of guests and peers, and the class where nothing I've done has worked so far. I am suddenly less than optimistic.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

too many speeches

Last weekend was a blur, spent mostly (as always) at Sanjo. Friday night we met for karaoke. Saturday, Fig and I did some shopping (wherein I spent too much money, but buying things I mostly needed, like cardigans) and then met my buddies for yet more karaoke. We like to sing and all, but we're beginning to run out of songs! We did manage to discover that we have almost the perfect range of voices to perform songs by the B-52's, though I'm not sure if that's awesome or scary. (Probably awesome. The way he sings, Alex Rogals pretty much IS the male B-52. It's hilarious.)

On Sunday, instead of sleeping in (as is always tempting), I got up even earlier than usual and hauled my sleepy self to the park next to my school by 8 a.m., where a crowd was congregating! The crowd was actually a tour group taking buses up to the town of Miyama for an 8km (roughly 5 mile) hike. Parenthetically, Miyama is famed for its abundance of thatched-roof houses, preserving a more traditionally rustic Japanese aesthetic. We managed a few photos during rest stops before and after the hike.

Anyway, I and my coworker, Kristin, had been invited along by Sumiko, the lovely Japanese woman who teaches us tea ceremony and calligraphy on Wednesdays. (For FREE.) There were about 130 people all together, most of them middle aged women. We divided into groups and tackled the mountain trail -- which contained a few feats of questionable safety -- with gusto! It was by far the coldest day since I've arrived in Japan, not to mention damp, but we had a good time. It felt nice to really get out and do something, and by that I mean something that didn't involve eating or shopping or neon lights. I was really tired by the time we got back to Sonobe just after five o'clock, but it was a good kind of tired. The weariness of productivity.

On the downside, since I was too busy this weekend to clean, my apartment is a mess. A really big mess. All I've managed so far is half of the dishes. Bad Anna!

This week at school has been speech contest, speech contest, and more speech contest. We judged speeches for six and a half periods on Monday and four yesterday, managing around 150 speeches altogether, I think. I am SO SO TIRED of speeches. Twelve more to go on Friday, but otherwise we can put this stage behind us! (Alas, the specter of the contest will live on, because next is the school contest, then the area contest, then prefectural contest...assuming our students get that far, of course.) Once we've picked out two kids to represent our whole school in the area contest, apparently Kristin and I will be spending a LOT of time at lunch and after school prepping them. And I mean a LOT. Ah, well. C'est la vie!

In other news, I just noticed that the decently young music teacher that sits across from Kristin is wearing a pastel pink sweater vest today. Tee hee!

The next big thing on our plates is an event called SELHi (Super English Learning Highschool) Open Class. Since we are one of the aforementioned SELHis, we have to have an open-house school on a Saturday for teachers from other schools and representatives from the Kyoto Prefectural Board of Education to come and observe our classes. It's a little nerve-wracking, especially since in I and Kristin's cases they'll be observing our most difficult and recalcitrant students. (Figures.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

hot topics

Saturday classes proceeded well. Since it was a very unusual schedule, I only went to one class, and did very little for that one. Pretty much handed out worksheets, talked to a few visiting students, and smiled at all the guests. Look, a friendly foreigner! Let's go to this school! :P After classes, we were supposed to have a visiting student to ESS, but they never showed up, so we just sat around chatting and drawing inexpert self-portraits. Well, inexpert except for Nao, who has mad drawing skills.

Sunday, for once the beginning of my weekend, I met my co-worker Kristin at Kyoto station, and we walked to the nearby home of one of our school's English teachers, Waki-sensei. She had kindly invited us over for lunch! To get there, we had to walk through Toji temple, which was holding its monthly crafts market. When we arrived at Waki-sensei's house, we were surprised to find the door opened by Shiroshita-sensei, another English teacher who was apparently joining us! They had both cooked, so there was a selection of sandwiches, pasta salad, and some weird (but good!) little chicken vegetable wrap things, as well as fruit, coffee, and some really nice wine.

Pretty much, the four of us just sat around snacking and chatting for several hours. We had meant to go look around the Toji market, but it started raining like the dickens, so we just stayed where we were.

On the way home, I ran into Joanna Mirsky (who is my new favorite person, because she made me an absolutely awesome mix cd) and Alex Rogals, who are both JETs in the area. We went to a Starbucks and hung out for awhile, which mostly entailed me watching the two of them get into heated and hilarious arguments. Then I went home and watched the movie "Shoot 'Em Up," which I strongly discourage you from doing. Even though it is starring Clive Owen, who I generally like, the film was absolutely unsalvageable. For those of you who can make the comparison, think "Crank."

Monday passed with little of the noteworthy, but on Tuesday I met the aforementioned Joanna and Alex, as well as our friend Neil, for a trip to the city of Nara. (Tuesday was a national holiday for the autumnal equinox, so we didn't have to go to school.) Nara is home to a large temple called Todai-ji, which is in turn home to the Daibutsu. "Daibutsu" means something along the lines of "big buddha," which is exactly what it is -- a humongous buddha statue, so large that a trim person could theoretically fit through its nostril. (I do wonder how they figured that out.) It is surrounded by a bevy of other largish and interesting statues, buddhas and otherwise.

Plus, the whole of the surrounding Nara Park is full of interesting little shrines and shops and, most of all, deer. There are thousands of deer that wander the park unchecked, because they're sacred and can't be harmed. They can, however, be fed, and most vendors around sell crackers specifically for the deer. The deer are now so used to humans and being fed by us that they practically chase people around the park looking for snacks, and don't mind at all if you want to pet them, or take some pictures (which is, of course, exactly what we did).

After some hours of aimless but fruitful wandering, we made our way back to the station and thus back to Kyoto (though we got charged extra for accidentally getting on the super-fast train), where we grabbed dinner before going our separate ways. Already we're trying to decide on our next outing -- I really like the group dynamic we've got going! Huzzah, friends!

Since then, it's class as usual. Next week is the almost school-wide English speech contest, so we are busy checking the kids' memorization and pronunciation. They were more or less allowed to choose their own topic, but many gravitated towards the same sort of themes. All I can say is that hopefully, after this, it'll be a good while before I have to hear anything else about global warming, metabolic syndrome, or smoking.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It is Saturday.

Therefore, I shouldn't even be awake yet. But today we have classes for a thing called "Open School," basically like an open house enticing people to enroll here next year, so I must be here. All day. XP

On the upside, there was a whole mob of my students walking along across the street from me on the way to school today, and when I turned to wish them good morning (in English, of course), they shrieked in excitement like I was a rock star. Thank you, girls. Maybe I'll be okay, after all. :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

into the swing of things

So, last week's school report! In senior high ESS (English Speaking Society), we were in the cooking room, attempting to make home-made ice cream sandwiches. Through a bit of guess-and-test we managed okay, except that the cookies had no time to cool, and started melting the ice cream on contact. The end result was messy, but delicious. In junior high ESS, we played board games. I had the exciting job of trying to explain the ins and outs of Monopoly in very simple English. Thank goodness the kids were natural game players!

On Thursday I finally encountered what is likely to be my most troublesome class. They aren't bad kids, per se, but they are exceedingly noisy. It's very difficult to teach when no one can hear you, and only half of the students are paying attention. By the end of the period, I understood how teachers must sometimes feel the need to throttle a few teenagers.

I relaxed in my apartment Friday night, and did some cleaning and grocery shopping and such on Saturday. I met the Interac boys at Good Bar for a bit Saturday evening, but nothing too exciting.

At last, on Sunday, I took the train into Kyoto and met my cool friend Joanna at Sanjo (a popular shopping district). We went to a kaitenzushi restaurant, which was extra fun because Joanna had never been before. She's not so into raw fish, so we had a somewhat impromptu round of I-Spy identifying the sushi she could and would eat. Meanwhile, an older Japanese man sitting next to Joanna (we were at the counter) took it upon himself to serve us tea and ginger, not to mention correct my sushi-eating etiquette. For some reason Joanna received no tips; we decided she was either accidentally perfect, or beyond all hope.

After lunch we took the train to Fushimi Inari! Fushimi Inari is an amazing temple that I had visited on my last trip to Japan. It was, in fact, among my favorite places last time. Essentially, Fushimi Inari encompasses an entire mountain with multiple paths winding between small shrines and clustered grave memorials. To top it off, the paths are all lined with hundreds upon hundreds of torii, making everything extra scenic. We had a great time hiking around, though after climbing hundreds of stairs up the mountainside, we were getting a little shaky.

Along the way, Joanna and I chatted about everything from Jane Austen to Errol Flynn to Stargate. It is bordering on eerie, the number of common interests we have. I wish she lived closer to me, so we could hang out more often!

Anyway, after we were thoroughly hot and exhausted from all the hiking around, we went back to Sanjo and took a breather, sitting on the banks of the Kamo River while we waited for Neil to join us. Then the three of us wandered the shopping area searching for something to eat, finally settling on okonomiyaki! The first and only one I've had since returning to Japan. Ah, my Osaka roots...

We shopped around a bit to kill time, took some purikura, and then met my friend Fig from college for karaoke. As always, there were some silly (and nigh shameful) songs involved -- I won't get too specific, but there may or may not have been both some Ace of Base and some Cyndi Lauper. At least I can honestly say that it wasn't my idea.

That night I stayed at Fig's place in Kyotanabe, a suburb southeast of the city. (Though, in the end, I'm not so sure it saved me all that much time.) We had fun, though, and it was nice to hang out with a friend I've known for longer than a month.

Monday was a holiday (no school!), so we returned once more to Sanjo (which, if you haven't already guessed, is pretty much the place to be in Kyoto). There we met a young Japanese woman who works at one of Fig's high schools. Her name is Naoko, she teaches English, and is generally a lovely person. We shopped, Naoko took us to a really nice cake shop, we shopped yet more, and we had a long dinner together. The three of us have tentative plans for a movie night somewhere in the nearish future.

Otherwise, this week has been fairly normal. Class class class ESS class class sleep class class tea ceremony class class class. I have to teach one of my classes alone today, because Hirose-sensei is off in Osaka doing god knows what. It'll be my first solo flight -- wish me luck!

Torii: Traditional orange gateways, often inscribed with some kanji. The ones at Fushimi Inari are mostly paid for by local businesses, who sponsor them for good luck.

Okonomiyaki: Sometimes called Japanese pizza, but that really only makes sense because it's round and flattish. The comparison pretty much ends there. Okonomiyaki is an Osaka specialty made from a base of batter and shredded cabbage, probably with some other minutely chopped vegetables involved in there somewhere. It is fried up with any number of toppings ranging from cheese and corn to beef, shrimp, or squid, and then covered in a sweet sauce reminiscent of barbeque.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

from the mouth of babes

A 16-year-old Japanese girl sums up "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy:

"Nine people get over many trials to throw a ring into a pond."

Well put, miss. Well put.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I love the nightlife, I love to boogie!

Classes on Monday and Tuesday proceeded well, nothing really notable. Over the course of those two days, however, I managed to rack up five hours of overtime staying after school to work on our video project with ESS. (Too bad I don't get paid for overtime!) I, being the local expert on Windows Movie Maker, was charged with the task of putting the final product together, among various other things leading up to that point. Kristin and I put together a very nice and very time consuming display at the back of the Language Lab, where our presentation was held, and shuttled the ESS kids in groups to the A/V room to record their narration.

On Tuesday, in fact, I was at school until after seven, and feeling pretty worn out. Then, as I walked home, this little guy comes roaring up to an intersection on his unnecessarily loud motor scooter, and I am feeling pretty grumpy about it...until he hits the horn, which beeped out the opening strains of the Godfather theme song. Cracked me up!

There were no classes on Wednesday and Thursday -- it was time for the school festival! There was a lot going on. The first-year classes had all done art displays themed around movies. I think the winner was a model recreation of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, and second place was a big mosaic of a scene from Jaws. The second years all did prolonged dance displays, most of which involved pom-poms and boys in skirts. I now have more video of dancing Japanese teenagers than I will probably ever want or need. And the third-year classes all put on plays. The first place winner was an adaptation of the courtroom drama "Twelve Angry Men" (now "Twelve Angry Japanese," as there was only one actual boy in the cast), and second place was a somewhat hurried and edited for time production of the musical Annie. I liked the girl playing Rooster the best -- she did sleazy well. Besides those two, I also quite enjoyed the funny adaptation of the traditional Japanese folk tale Momotaro ("Peach Boy"), and perhaps most of all, their version of Snow White. It was greatly altered -- Snow White, besides being played by a boy in drag, pulled a gun on both the hunter and the seven dwarves when threatened, continually refused to go on a date with the prince, and eventually made up with the evil queen (so that they no doubt continued a joint-reign of terror). One of the funniest parts, though, was when Snow White kept refusing the narrator's attempts to make him go out with the prince, until the narrator finally conceded that Snow White instead "lived happily ever after with the seven dwarfs, the end." The prince, of course, took exception to this, and through some argument, the play continued. Over all, much fun!

Wednesday night, Kristin and I met at seven-thirty to go to the house of a very kind middle-aged woman named Sumiko, who has apparently been teaching Kristin and my predecessor about Japanese tea ceremony and calligraphy. Tea ceremony actually looks more interesting than I had suspected, but as for calligraphy, well. Let's just say that I'm pretty awful at it. Painting never was my medium! Anyways, Sumiko is a very nice lady, and we've arranged to all go on a nature hike together in about two weeks. I look forward to it!

There were no classes on Friday either, due to it being sports day. We got to watch all the students performing various feats, several of which were probably dangerous. It was a lot of fun. What Kristin and I didn't realize ahead of time, though, was that we would be invited to join in the teacher race against the track team! I was in running shorts and a t-shirt, but had worn sandals to school. So, I traded shoes with Hosoi-sensei, who wore my sandals while I ran. What you must keep in mind is that Hosoi-sensei, besides being the section chief of the English department, is a middle aged man. :P He really is a hilarious guy, though. He was announcing during the race, and during my leg of the relay evidently announced that I had come from Atlanta specifically to run. He and I were joking about my skills as a professional athlete -- he made a crack about a triathlon, and I told him I'd run to California, swum to Japan, and then biked to Sonobe.

Anyway, for the rest of the day teachers kept coming up to me and saying enthusiastically in English, "Nice running!" :D

At the end of the day, Kristin and I went to our respective homes for a shower and a change of clothes, and then returned to school at about 6:40. We were having an enkai! Sort of a start-of-the-new-term, hooray-we-successfully-finished-the-school-festival double hitter. It was held at a pretty good restaurant called "Rainbow," where we had a private tatami room for the forty or so teachers who came. Seating was held by lottery; I picked number eight, and sat at the end of one table, across from and next to two teachers I didn't know, and who didn't speak much English. They were friendly, though, and we had a good time talking about Atlanta and baseball and fishing. Eventually we also pulled in the teacher sitting diagonal to me. I hadn't met him either, but recognized him from a picture shown to me by predecessor Stephanie as "Richard Gere-sensei." (As you might guess, he resembles a young, Japanese Richard Gere.)

"Richard Gere-sensei," which she of course never called him to his face, is apparently an English teacher! But me and Kristin don't teach with him, which is why we hadn't met yet. In any event, he's pretty young and rather good looking, and comes to sit by me for awhile after the principal steals his seat. We had a nice chat about language, and time spent abroad, and books.

A few teachers even did some karaoke, including the principal and vice principal! I got promising video footage. After about two, two and a half hours, though, it was time to go. Our friend Eriko (another third year English teacher, with whom we don't actually teach) was kind enough to give Kristin and I rides home. Since I had to get up early on Saturday, I went to bed semi-early (for a weekend night, anyway), at about 11:30. However, I received a rude awakening around 1:30 in the morning, when there was a big crash in my apartment. I came awake with an exclamation and a faux heart attack, thinking I was being somehow attacked or murdered. I fumbled for my glasses, and turned on the light, only to discover that a wall shelf had collapsed. I took a few minutes to rehang it and halfway clean up the mess, before going back to sleep.

Seven o'clock I'm up and moving to get to the train station. An hour into Kyoto, where I meet Sean, Alex, and Alex to hop a train to Osaka. From there, we took a taxi (which was really cheap with the four of us) to Costco for a shopping adventure! The cabby was a hilarious guy who spent most of the drive talking about boxing, and got really excited every time Sean named a fighter. "Osukaa de la Hoya! Ohhhh!"

At Costco, we mostly bought bulk foreign food, which was expensive or difficult to find in your average Japanese grocery. However, we couldn't get anything perishable, because we had to leave the stuff in a locker at the train station for several hours. Sean was funny while we walked around though, because he got excited about everything he saw.

"Oh my god, guys, look at this corn soup!"

"Check out these water bottles, who wants to split them?"

"Oh, yes! They have bay leaves!"

All actual examples. Needless to say, we've all developed a pretty good Sean-impression with which to tease him.

We grabbed lunch at a McDonald's, and then spent a while trying to puzzle out where to catch a taxi back to the station. Miraculously, Sean overheard two people at the bus stop speaking Phillipino, and starts talking to them in the same! (Sean is a Philippino-Chinese-American.) Well, call it instant friends, because by the time we get a taxi, we know it's the girl's birthday and Sean has both of their business cards.

After stowing our shopping at the station and some mild shenanigans finding the correct train, we make it to the Osaka Dome for our next stop: baseball game! We were a few innings late, but quickly joined up with a bunch of other Kyoto JETs, a bit behind third base. It was the Seibu Lions versus the Orix Buffaloes. We were rooting for the home team, the Buffaloes, who lost miserably, 7-1. We had a good time, though.

Next, our now larger group headed to Shinsaibashi, the shopping and nightlife district. We grabbed dinner at a Chinese restaurant and wandered for a bit until 8:30, when we met a crowd of JETs from Hyogo, a nearby prefecture. They were hosting a pub-crawl to introduce the area (called "Osaka Nightlife 101"), and about six of us joined in -- myself, Neil, Mike, Liz, Joanna, and Pat. Over the course of the evening we stopped in at six bars and one so-called "club," though it was so small that I would call it a bar with a dance floor. From about the third or fourth bar onwards we were constantly dancing, so my legs are pretty sore today! But it was probably the best exercise I've had in a while. My favorite new people of the night were Lester, a nice guy from Guam, Yuko, an adorable Japanese girl who'd help put the crawl together, and Gina, a random non-JET New Zealander who'd come along by merit of being friends with the organizer. She was probably in her thirties, and either drunk or a crazy person. She sort of freaked Mike out, but I thought she was hilarious.

In any event, there was much dancing and socializing. At the last club/bar place, I even got pulled out onto the floor by some Japanese guys, but they weren't great dancers, so mostly it was just us making a spectacle at which Mike and Neil laughed a lot. Finally we all dispersed. Me, Mike, and Neil ran into Lester at a convenience store, and then proceeded to get lost on our way to a train station. We found another, though, decided it would work, and sat down on the curb until it opened up for the early morning trains. By now we were all sleepy zombies, but we found our way back to a recognizable train stop and went our various ways. Since I was had to kill a few hours before meeting Alex Ma at Kyoto Station, and was already in the Osaka area, I stopped in at Hirakata, an area I frequented when I studied abroad here two years ago.

I killed some time at Starbucks, and got a maccha frappacino. So delicious! Then, since the book store opened first, I bought a book and sat reading in the park for awhile. While I was there (minding my own business!), this guy wandered over and started talking to me in Japanese. We had a decent conversation, until it became obvious that he was looking for a date rather than a friend, and the conversation ended a trifle awkwardly. Sorry, guy!

I did, however, achieve several of my shopping goals, collecting a pencil case, a water bottle, and a little lunchbox. (So I can stop buying lunch at the convenience store every day, and hopefully save some money!) I also bought a work shirt on sale, and some little cakes for the office, which I intend to bring in tomorrow. Me and Alex Ma met at Kyoto station, he kindly bringing along the bag of Costco stuff that he and Sean had babysat the night before, and caught a train back home together. (Alex lives past me in a town called Fukuchiyama, I think.)

And that's pretty much the end of my story. I got home and fell asleep almost immediately around five, and didn't wake up until it was time to go to work! Finally, a good night's rest!

Enkai: a Japanese office party held at a bar or restaurant, which generally involves a lot of food and a lot of drinking. Karaoke optional.

Maccha: Japanese green tea.

Monday, September 1, 2008

countdown to the school festival

Taught several more classes last week, with variations on the self-intro lesson I already described, or time spent checking students' English speeches. There's a speech contest near the end of September, and everybody is getting ready! I think it's even more fun when I edit a stack of them at my desk in the teachers' room, because I can spend time really sussing out what they're trying to say. I look at it like a puzzle (and sometimes, it really, really is).

Have also been pushing through with the ESS (English club) kids. Some of their drawings look really good (particularly because they seem to have foisted off most of the actual drawing on this one artistic girl Nao, while everybody else just colors). We're getting down to the wire, though, and there's still several things to get done! If they haven't finished the pictures when we meet this afternoon, there might be trouble.

Some friends and I were going to make a little pilgrimage to the beach on Saturday, but it was raining pretty much everywhere within several hours' drive. So we convened at Good Bar on Friday night to rework our plans, and settled on going into Kameoka for bowling et cetera.

The mini-trip was much fun. The group was myself, Nelis, Tim, Brad, Yuki, and Yuki's nice friend Tan. We even ran into Kristin at the train station, so that the entire foreign population of Sonobe (read: five people) just so happened to be standing on the same platform at the same time. Tim dodged out to do some shopping while we bowled, with I and Yuki on one lane, versus the remaining three on another. Though my first game was miserable, I earned the title of 'Most Improved,' while Yuki was the all around MVP. (Followed closely by Brad and Tan, who are also pretty good.)

Then we got purikura and played around in a nearby arcade, where Tim rejoined the gang. Games were played, and we stopped in at the bookstore for a mo, and then we had to get back to Sonobe, because Yuki had an appointment to keep. We did go get dinner, though, at a good little restaurant by the station that I hadn't previously known about. Half of the menu is Korean food! I am excited to go eat chichimi sometime...

Even though it was medium early, we all went home after dinner. I can only attest for myself, but I was feeling pretty tired, for whatever reason.

Yesterday (Sunday), I was productive around the house. I did some laundry (including bed linens), the dishes, unclogged my shower, sorted through (and trashed some of) the precariously large stacks of paper I've acquired since my arrival, vacuumed the living room and my bedroom, took out the trash, and just generally straightened up. I felt like such a good kid by the end of the day, and my bedroom looks soooo much cleaner now! It's nice to sleep in.

Today is back to school, and back to work! One more intro lesson, and some work with the ESS kids this afternoon. In between, I'm also trying to keep tabs on Hurricane Gustav - hope everything turns out okay!

Monday, August 25, 2008

workin' for the man every night and day

Kristin and I spent a large portion of Thursday and Friday putting together a beautiful bulletin board for the English club (ESS). Pretty much, we are creative geniuses with construction paper. I promise photos sometime later.

On Saturday, we and our supervisor, Wakabayashi-sensei, had to judge an English speech contest here at the school. About seventeen kids from local junior high schools came to Sonobe and performed one from a selection of recitations, and we gave them points on delivery, English, and memorization. At the end, we gave out one first prize, two second prizes, and three third. It was an interesting experience, particularly since I hadn't even begun teaching yet. (Plus, since I had to come to work on a Saturday, I'll get a half-day off somewhere in the future! Hooray!)

Saturday evening, after a nice nap, wandered once again to Good Bar, now to meet Mike's replacement, the new Interac guy. His name is Timothy Vickerman (a.k.a. "The Vicar," a nickname we made up before he even arrived), and he's from somewhere in the north of Britain. (He didn't specify where, simply citing supposed "nomadic savages.") He's twenty-seven, likes a lot of the same music I do, and speaks about the same level of Japanese as Brad and I. We've heard there might be a Japanese language teacher somewhere in the reaches of Sonobe, and the three of us are thinking about going in for group lessons, if we can work it out.

Sunday I did a whole lot of nothing, if nothing includes watching the TV show "Spaced." (Or what I could manage to load of it, thanks to my neighbor's spotty wireless.) It's a really funny British comedy starring my beloved Simon Pegg, recommended to me by Brad. I think I owe him many thanks. (Most of it is on youtube, if you're interested.)

Yesterday was the official first-day of school here at Sonobe Senior High. There was an assembly in the morning, at which I had to give a short introduction speech in Japanese. The gist of it was something like, "Everyone, good morning! It's nice to meet you. I'm Anna Denson; please call me Anna. I am from Atlanta, in America. I've been to Japan before this, but I'm very happy to be able to return! Moreover, I'm happy to have the opportunity to teach you English and about America. I would really like to learn Japanese and about Japanese culture, so for both Japanese matters and American matters, let's work hard together!" Et cetera, et cetera. I think it went off without a hitch; Wakabayashi-sensei, at least, said it was perfect.

Then the principal spoke for awhile, I think about the Olympics, and they gave out some athletic awards to students, and some other incomprehensible speeches, while me and Kristin stood at the edge of the gym eying the students and getting sleepy. It was a long time just to be standing around!

Afterwards, there were a few afternoon classes. I had to teach my first lesson, to class 2-5. It was pretty much just a more detailed self-introduction (not to mention, in English), with a slideshow of photos and some maps and stuff. I gave them a worksheet to test comprehension, and let them ask some of their own questions (which ranged from "What is your favorite Japanese food?" and "What is your hobby?" to "What kind of boy do you like?" and "Do you have a boyfriend?" Nosy little things). We finished up with a name game activity that we didn't quite finish, but I think the whole thing went okay, overall!

No class today, but I'll probably have a few more before the week is out. Besides, there's ESS today and tomorrow after school, probably for approaching two hours. (We have a lot to do before the school festival next week, at which the junior high kids are singing a song from "High School Musical," and the senior high kids are putting together a video narrated in English.) Busy, busy, busy!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Slam dunk!

My presentation went really well. Most of my feedback was along the lines of, "You've pretty much got it. You'll do fine." Boy, I hope they're right!

Moreover, the seminar was kind of fun. We got to pretend to be students in each others' lesson presentations, and I luckily got seated next to Sean in all the workshops and lectures! I swear, that kid is a trip. We were having a grand old time. Plus, one of the two recontracting JETs that worked with me and Sean on our lesson plans was this amazingly energetic and entertaining individual named Mark Miller, this big black Canadian guy with boundless enthusiasm.

After the Tuesday session, a group of us went and got kaitenzushi in Sanjo, and then explored a giant arcade for awhile. (In our business clothes.) After Wednesday's session, which ended at noonish, I grabbed lunch with Liz, Joanna, and Mike, and we took a turn through the Imperial Gardens. (Though they're really more like a park than real gardens. Still nice, though!)

There were plans for karaoke in the evening, so I wandered back to Sanjo to kill time until people were done with their various errands (or for the unlucky city kids who had to go back to school, until they got off from work). Funnily enough, I ran into Phil, Neil, and Alex Ma at the Sanjo Book-off (a really large used book chain), so we wandered around together. After awhile Neil went home and Alex went to Sean's for a bit, so Phil and I just shopped around Sanjo and grabbed dinner for several hours until it was karaoke time. I bought several things, including: a pair of earrings, two more punny stamps, a book about post-atom bomb Nagasaki, a Gackt CD, and some really helpful looking kanji flashcards.

At 8ish Phil and I finally met up with the gang and headed to a nearby karaoke place. Said gang consisted of us, Sean, Alex, Alex, Mike, Mike's friend TJ, Amy (our prefectural advisor), and Amy's fiancee Chris. Much silliness, perhaps most notably "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Anyway, we had a fun time, and a nice end to the Kyoto Seminar.

Today is back to work, and finally some real productivity!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Waving goodbye to summer hols.

Well, it's back to work tomorrow for me. I have the feeling we JETs are about to hit the ground running!

The vacation has been nice while it lasted, though. I didn't accomplish too much on Wednesday; mostly just did a bit of organizing and laundry in my apartment (which, despite my best efforts, is already messy again. Looks like more straightening up this afternoon!)

On Thursday, I and Nelis met Brad and Mike (the two Interac guys) at the station, and took the train to Yagi for the annual Yagi Fireworks Exhibition! (Yagi Hanabi Taikai.) Lerato joined us there, and we walked maybe a half mile through streets lined with various festival vendors, from food to children's games. Eventually we reached the river, along the banks of which thousands and thousands of people were camped out, waiting for the show to start over the water. Our group managed to snag a really nice spot on a nearby bridge, where we had a great view of everything!

The show got started with a bang, and we were soon joined by Brad and Mike's friend Yuki, and his friend Aya. They were both really nice, and Yuki speaks very good English! Anyway, the fireworks were amazing. All in all, the show lasted over an hour! Hands down the longest fireworks display I've ever seen. (Factoid: the Yagi fireworks show is super super popular, because it's the biggest one in Kyoto Prefecture! No wonder it was so rad!) I also made friends with one of the local police guys, who was apparently really into American baseball. When he found out I was from Atlanta, he was all, "WOAH! Atlanta Braves! Tom Glavine! Greg Maddox! Chipper Jones! Andruw Jones! John Smoltz!" He would also say, "You know Houston Astros/Philadelphia Phillies/et cetera?" and then start naming players from those teams. For extra hilarity, he kept doing impressions of the players he was naming -- but they were pretty much the same two impressions over and over again, consisting mostly of him miming out pitching or batting.

After the show ended, we all adjourned back to our various towns, and the Sonobe crew (myself, Nelis, Brad, and Mike) proceeded on to Good Bar, which is really one of the only places in town to hang out. The atmosphere is really nice, though, so I don't really mind! It's not a bar in the sense of noisy twenty-somethings getting trashed (thank goodness), rather catering to the thirty- and forty-something after work crowd. Envision Cheers, if you will; pretty much everyone who goes there is a regular, several of which I'm already getting to know. I think my favorite so far is Ken-san, a thirty-something guy with a great sense of humor, who owns a local sports store and a gas station. Really, they're a good crowd, and I look forward to hanging out with them more!

On Friday, me and the boys spent maybe two hours wandering around town (in the scorching heat) looking for the Sonobe Festival, which didn't actually exist. Mike gifted to me a region-free dvd player (of which he for some reason had two), though I'll have to go buy some cords for it before it can be put to use.

Around eight-thirty, there was once again a mass exodus to Good Bar, for Mike's goodbye party. It was a grand time! Lots of people came, and we were there for hours. Probably between six and seven hours, actually. It passed so quickly! I got some cute pictures, as well as some truly hilarious videos of Yuki singing. I think he'd been drinking a bit before he arrived, and apparently he turns into a jukebox when he's had a few! During some of them, I was laughing so hard I was in tears.

On Saturday I took the train into Kyoto (once again to the Sanjo area), for Daimonji! Our group was organized by Todd, a really funny recontracted JET who had met us all by helping out at Tokyo and Kyoto as an orientation assistant. We had a crowd of perhaps fifteen prefectural JETs, as well as a handful of unassociated friends. We staked out a spot on the banks of the Kamo River, where we could see the mountain pretty decently, and put down tarps and towels and such while we waited for dark to fall. Really, though the lighting of the giant mountain fires was cool, the whole experience was more about having fun with other JETs. Liz from Kameoka and I had some nice conversation which included the "resolution" to put together some sort of street-dance performance, Pat and I chatted about Paul Gross and regionalism in Canada, and me and Mike talked about religion and spirituality. Really, I want to make Mike, Sean, Alex and Alex into a posse with whom I hang out a lot. They are such great guys!

After the whole fire bit was over, we wandered for awhile in search of dinner. I spent most of the walk getting to know this really interesting guy named Sebastian, who is half-Japanese and half-Mexican! He is fluent in both Japanese and Spanish, as well as speaking really good English. (He went to an international school. Trilingual! I'm so jealous!) Funnily enough, when we finally found a place to eat, it was (much to my surprise) a Mexican restaurant. The portions were a bit small, but actually it was quite good. I had some pretty yummy chicken enchiladas.

I have also befriended a girl from New Jersey named Joanna (as opposed to "normal Anna," who is me). She is a self-declared New York Jew, and a barrel of laughs. "'What are you gonna do with your art history major?' 'Be witty at dinner parties and appreciate Europe more than you.'"

By some miracle (and some fast walking on our part) I made it on to a train back to Sonobe before they stopped running, narrowly avoiding the necessity of crashing at either Joanna or Sean's apartment. On the upside, now I have a better knowledge of the train schedule! If I can make it to Nijo Station for the 12:11 back to Sonobe, I'm golden.

On the agenda for today is preparing my self-introduction lesson, which I (and every other new JET) have to present at the Kyoto AET (Assistant English Teacher) Seminar on Tuesday. Wish me luck!

p.s. New photos up at webshots. Check 'em out!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I managed, with much trying of my patience, to get some photos from Kyoto Orientation and Nijo-jo put online for your perusal! They can be found here. Let me know if there's any trouble with that link, but I think it should work fine!

Saturday was quiet, but on Sunday I met Fig and a friend from Wittenberg, one Megan "Megzatron" Hauser by name, for a delicious curry lunch and some shopping. I finally found a purse (patterned with a cute little bear cartoon called "rirakkuma" -- a pun that translates to "relaxing bear"), which is great, because I'd been searching for one since before I left the states. In the meantime, I was using the Daily Yomiuri bag they gave us for free in Tokyo, which was solid, but not stylish. :P I also picked up some other little stuff like earrings, an English language book about Japanese folktale monsters, and some rubber stamps with hilarious Japanese puns on them. Me and Fig spent a good fifteen minutes reading the selection available and just cracking up.

It might be hard to get the full effect for those who don't speak any Japanese, but in case you're wondering, the two I ended up choosing were: "Soo desuneeku" and "Shizukani." Essentially, "soo desu ne" means, "is that so?" And "suneeku" is just Japanizing the English word snake, so the combined caption had a big grinning snake on it. "Shizuka ni" means "quietly," and "kani" means "crab," so that one had a crab. I swear, they're funny if you see them. You'll just have to take my word for it. (Next time I go back, I plan to buy "Maachigattora" -- "I made a mistake" and "tiger.")

Meg eventually had to run off and meet her host family, but Fig and I got some ice cream and continued on shopping for awhile before heading back to the station. Though I needed to do some chores at home, we decided on a whim to go sit on the banks of the Kamo River for a little while. LITTLE DID WE KNOW! Despite my best intention to do laundry and dishes, Fig and I walked straight into a riverfront street festival! Complete with crafts, food stalls, fire-eating jugglers, free handouts, drummers, paper lanterns, and the fattest ducks I've ever seen. We wandered through and back over the course of maybe two hours, and had a marvelous time. Both of us bought these really pretty owl windchimes (which I just now my mom is going to try and steal).

On Monday, I finally met my JET coworker, Kristin from Canada. She seems quite nice. We spent most of the day chatting about various things, from JET advice to that beheading in Manitoba to the parliamentary system of Canada. (The last of which I now know a great deal more about. Minority government took a moment to get my head around.) I also met the teacher who is more or less in charge of our section, Hosoi-sensei, who just returned from chaperoning a school trip to Australia. He seems quite pleasant! In fact, he and Wakabayashi-sensei sent the two of us home early, just because it was hot in the teachers' office. (They said that the air conditioning had broken, but frankly, I didn't notice a huge difference from other days. It's always hot!)

Last night I discovered in the mail a care package from my dear Dr. Jones. (College roomie from this past year. Her name is Juli Jones, she wants to be an archaeologist, and she owns a brown fedora. She is my Dr. Jones, and I am her Short-round.) She sent me the last of those Stephanie Meyer "Twilight" books, "Breaking Dawn." I have already read the entire 752-page monster. It was a good day. :)

Today was the start of my four-day summer holidays, which all Kyoto prefectural JETs apparently get. No work until Monday, hooray! I'm not sure that the municipal JETs get summer hols, though, because Fig hasn't heard a word about it from her supervisors. Sadface.

Apart from reading "Breaking Dawn," I spent today doing laundry and dishes and even vacuuming a bit. I don't know if tatami mats are super easy to clean, or if this is the best vacuum ever, but I almost enjoyed myself, it was so effortless! Then Nelis walked with me to the grocery store, even though he didn't need anything, and kept me company while I did my shopping. The sweetheart even carried most of them home for me, despite my protests! (No, mom, don't get any ideas -- he's got a girlfriend in South Africa. Nelis is just a gentleman!) I picked up takoyaki for dinner, which has made me an extra happy Anna.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Kyoto Orientation

Was largely a success. Much cozier that Tokyo Orientation, having, oh...17 or 18 people, as opposed to 1000. Also, the information sessions tended to be less, shall we say, sleepy.

Upon arrival Wednesday we checked into our rooms and had a brief meeting about how the orientation would proceed, and then that was it. One large group went out to dinner, but I opted to go on a shopping expedition with Nelis, Lerato (the sweet South African girl who lives in Arashiyama) and my orientation roommate, Elizabeth. We headed via subway to the same shopping district Lerato and I had been to together for kaitenzushi with our respective predecessors, at Sanjo. There is a whole set of roofed shopping arcades; a whole network of streets, really.

The excursion was kind of fun, but there were a few downsides. A) On our way to the subway station, we got caught in a massive, MASSIVE downpour. By the time we finally reached the underground (which was some way off), we were all wet to the skin. B) Elizabeth, while a nice enough girl, is a little bit...socially unaware. I won't go into detail, but let's just say that by the end of the evening, all three of us were thoroughly frustrated with her. (Only I couldn't escape, since we shared a room!)

On the upside, I did manage to pick up a shiny new camera, as my dear old Charlie outright refused to take any pictures in Tokyo. It even matches my phone! *geek out*

On Thursday we had time-consuming welcome and appointment ceremonies, some decently useful lectures, and this time, I elected to go out with the main group, while Nelis and Lerato escaped on their own to try and buy laptops, and Elizabeth (who is evidently a picky eater) elected to just hang out by herself.

So about fifteen of us, plus prefectural supervisors, all piled down to an izakaya, where we spent a good two or two and a half hours just eating and chatting! I really like the prefectural JETs here in Kyoto, and am so glad I got the chance to bond with them! We had so much fun!

In fact, afterwards, my new pal Phil (who is from Boulder, CO, and is now posted in Kameoka, just a few stops from my town) suggested that we go do some karaoke! I was game, so we grabbed anyone who wanted to come, and headed out! The party ended up as myself, Phil, and five other guys, all of us piling into a subway train back to Sanjo. (It's the place to be, if you hadn't guessed.)

The other five guys were: Alex (from NY/LA), more different Alex (from Illinois), Sean, Mike, and Neil (who I met in Tokyo). They were all super nice and fun to hang out with, and I was really glad I decided to tag along. We sort of haphazardly exchanged contact information; I'll be sure to get it in more detail at our next seminar, in two weeks!

After singing such classics as Aerosmith, Metallica, 3 Doors Down, Soft Cell, Journey, and the Spice Girls, we managed to make it back to the Kyoto Rubino Hotel (our accommodations) in one piece, and all split off to bed. I had a bit of trouble, seeing as Elizabeth had gone to bed and turned out all the lights (ignoring the same courtesy of a lighted room that I had given her the night before), but at length I got into pajamas and off to dream land.

This morning was something of an early day, and it was all I could do to get up, showered, packed, and breakfasted before our 8:45 round up. We had a few more information sessions, this time put on by current JETs, and at last were released. Some people had to go back to work, but some of us luckier ones decided to make the most of our trip into town! I, Nelis, and Lerato were joined by Phil, his (and our) neighbor in Kameoka, Liz, and a blonde named Kate. We grabbed a quick convenience store lunch and then went to see Nijo Castle! (Or, Nijo-jo.)

I'd actually been to the castle before with my host parents when I studied abroad, but it was still amazing. (And I think there were a few bits I missed the first time?) Anyway, I took lots of pictures which will get posted someday soon.

After that, it was just the long ride home, and an afternoon trying to recover. We were all exhausted by the time we got back! Still, not a bad trip at all!

karaoke: Yes, this originated in Japan. In Japanese, it literally means "empty orchestra." Also, in Japan, you can usually go to an establishment of "karaoke boxes," which means you and your friends get a private room and two microphones with which to sing, so the rest of humanity doesn't have to be subjected.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

a plea for help

Okay, so this isn't totally related to Japan, but I wanted to start of with a message to all my buddies in the Atlanta area:

These guys need your help!

Alerted by my good friend, the Duke of Shonk, I am greatly distressed to come across this news. For those of you who don't know, Wordsmiths is, while not the largest store, an absolutely lovely place to be. Their staff is friendly and outgoing, their special events often and fun, and their hours unusually long. It's nice to know that if I've got time to kill on a Saturday night, there's somewhere I can go that is not a restaurant or a bar. (And I've killed a lot of time at Wordsmiths in the past!) I've seen plenty little indie stores come and go in the boutique monster of Decatur, but this is one worth saving. Even if you don't want to donate your money outright, maybe go have a look around and throw them some business. Every little bit helps.

Alright, and that's the end of my public service announcement. News from abroad!

I arrived home on Monday to find that Stephanie had done an absolutely killer job cleaning the apartment. Seriously. I wish I had taken before and after photos. She packed away a ton of stuff, did the dishes, vacuumed about a million times, even moved furniture! The feng shui is way better now.

I began unpacking a bit while she stepped out to post some packages, and got most of my clothes, toiletries, et cetera put away, as well as setting out a few framed photos I had slipped into my luggage. I think my favorite is the one of myself and Reid at my high school graduation (it's a seriously good photo), so I gave it a place of honor in its own little cubby on the TV stand.

When Stephanie got back, I let her bum some illicit wireless on my computer, and then we went and got takoyaki. (So delicious.) We watched "Death to Smoochy" to kill some time, and finally went to bed.

Yesterday was her last day in town. I got rescued from my endless language study to go with Wakabayashi-sensei and Matsushita-san, a really nice guy who works in the main office, back to my apartment for the realtor check. Mostly Stephanie and I just stood around while they talked to the realtor lady about the broken kitchen fan and getting my name put on the contract. I would like to take a moment, though, to remark on how funny Wakabayashi-sensei and Matsushita-san act together. For a good portion of the ride to my apartment, they were debating (in English) which of their cars was "scrap," and from there proceeded into really slangy Kansai-ben Japanese. Also, Wakabayashi-sensei calls Matsushita-san "Macchan," which is essentially a really cutesy nickname. Me and Stephanie just looked at each other and giggled when we heard it.

Afterwards, I got to kill more time by accompanying Steph and Wakabayashi-sensei back to the phone store to finish canceling her keitai, and then she and I went to lunch. (Once again at Bisque. Anyone who comes to visit me will get taken there, because it seems to be among the best restaurants in town. I really like it, anyway.)

Back at work, I did more of the same, though Tanaka-sensei thoughtfully brought over a Japanese sweet called o-dango for me to try. Then I got money and maps for my trip to Kyoto Orientation, and then we went to see Stephanie off at the train station. By then it was almost four o'clock, and I get off at four fifteen, so Wakabayashi-sensei suggested he run me by the grocery store and just take me on home.

I met with Nelis briefly yesterday evening to suss out our travel plans for today, but other than that, accomplished very little. We're meeting today around 1:30 at Sonobe Station, from which we'll travel together to the Rubino hotel in Kyoto for our prefectural orientation. Somehow, I'd almost rather stay here, but maybe I'll do some shopping while I'm in town.

Well. Wish me luck.

Kansai-ben: a particular dialect of Japanese spoken by people in the Kansai area (which is often co-opted by comedians, if that tells you anything). It comes across as pretty casual and slangy, with a lot of "-nya" sounds in it.

o-dango: a type of Japanese sweet made, I believe, from flour. It's got a chewy texture, almost doughy, and tastes a lot like cinnamon. I quite liked it.