Tuesday, January 27, 2009

it's official

So, I know my last post is only a few hours old (and probably no one has even read it yet), but I mentioned that Kristin's recontracting decision was due today, because she is a third-year, and they have different procedures. Well, word is in: she's heading back to Canada and/or parts unknown.

"And why do we care?" you might be asking. Well, let's consider this my official announcement, as well.

I'm staying another year.

I'd mentioned it to a few people already as a likely possibility, and even though my paperwork is not quite due (another week yet), I feel certain of my decision. There is still much I haven't seen or done, and a lot I want to learn. Plus, most of my students are adorable, and my coworkers fantastic. I can't step away just yet.

So, how is all this connected? With Kristin leaving, it means I'll probably have a new coworker next year, should they choose to fill her position. I'm at once curious and nervous. I like Kristin fine, now that we've sort of established an equilibrium, but it would be nice to work with someone I connected a little more with. On the other hand, Kristin is really efficient and good at her job. It'll be tough for a newbie to fill her shoes. Ack, come August, I'm suddenly going to be the senpai!

My South African neighbor, Nelis, is also leaving. Somehow, he swung some weird job offer in Canada, to go be part of an extreme martial arts team...? I wish him all the best, because he really is quite a nice guy. As things stand now, I somehow don't see him that much, even though we live maybe fifty meters apart at most. So, I'm (not so) secretly hoping that my next neighbor JET will be someone I can hang out with on a more regular basis. Weeknights can get pretty slow in Sonobe, I must say.

In short, I'm already eagerly anticipating the next year. As the Japanese say, tanoshimi!

senpai / kohai: Japanese terms for the senior and junior in a relationship, be it at work or in school. This relationship dynamic often carries on far through life, so that your senpai or kohai technically remains so forever, even after you part ways.

Monday, January 26, 2009

another year

Tomorrow, I will have been 23 for exactly one week. It was my birthday last Wednesday, on the 21st, and I've received many kind messages from folks here and at home. Thanks, everybody!

On Saturday, four teachers from Sonobe High School came over to my apartment for a little birthday potluck. I spent most of the day cleaning and grocery shopping and cooking in preparation, and folks started arriving at about 7:30. I made garlic mashed potatoes and baked cinnamon apples, both of which seemed to go over okay. (A relief, since cooking is most certainly one of my weak points.) Kristin, Ueda-sensei, Tanaka-sensei, and Nakatani-sensei all brought great food, as well, and it was a really nice meal. Mostly, we chatted about other teachers and school stuff and whether or not Kristin is going to extend her contract for one more year. (A question which will theoretically be answered by noon today.) Alas, Tanaka-sensei had to go pick up her daughter around 9:30, and everyone else took it as their cue to leave, so the party was a little bit short. But it was fun while it lasted, and I intend to host another some time in the future!

As for my Kyoto friends, we haven't had a chance to celebrate yet, but there are some tentative plans being formulated for this weekend. The past two Friday evenings, you see, have been dominated by seminar meetings. After work, I'd catch a train into town and meet five other JETs at a cafe in Sanjo, where we would discuss a seminar the six of us are attending/running in early February. Joanna's school, Higashi-Uji, is sponsoring the event, and we have to get prepared in the meantime. It sounds like a lot of fun, actually...but I'll fill you all in on the details after the actual event.

On Sunday, I went to visit my friendly neighbors (Juri and Mitsuru Sakamoto, plus their kids Yuu and Haru) for the first time in several weeks. The flu had swept through over New Years, apparently hitting everyone but Mitsuru, so they weren't really up for company during vacation. I had dropped off a little Christmas basket for them the day I left for Korea, and while visiting Mitsuru's family in Ehime over the holidays, they bought me a really pretty little picture book of famous haiku poetry. I think it'll provide some good language practice, albeit that haiku Japanese is sort of archaic. (Fortunately, since the book is really for children, it has explanations for each poem in more modern-day, easily understandable Japanese.)

Other than that, things have been largely normal. We're having exams at school right now, so I've spent a lot of time today and yesterday helping Kristin make this month's ESS board (Valentine themed) and studying Japanese. I think kanji are going to start pouring out my ears soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

winter windows

It snowed again overnight, and is still snowing like mad beyond the window panes of the teachers' room. I hope that it lingers longer than twelve hours this time, though pragmatically as a person whose primary mode of transportation is walking, I should probably wish the opposite. But even after four winters in Ohio, I can't help but find something magical in downy crystals falling from the sky.

Today is a day for Sigur Ros.

Monday, January 12, 2009


When I woke up this morning, there was barely even frost on the ground. But it began to snow fast and heavy as I walked to work, leaving me resembling a snowman by the time I made it to the school. Now, after only first period, everything is buried in white, and I couldn't be happier. I love love LOVE snow!

Now, to back it up a bit. The Monday before Christmas, a.k.a. my last day of work in 2008, we had a staff party for my section. It was at a restaurant in Kameoka, and after only a small misadventure finding the place (as the directions listed the name incorrectly), Kristin and I made it there in one piece. One teacher from our section couldn't make it, and our supervisor left early because he was ill, so it ended up being us two foreigners, two English teachers, the music teacher, and a P.E. teacher. We had a very grand time. Many of us were fairly young teachers, so Hosoi-sensei and Kawabe-sensei took it upon themselves as our seniors to A) pay a little extra to subsidize our meals, and B) peer pressure us into joining them for karaoke.

Karaoke with coworkers was absolutely brilliant. Hosoi-sensei was pretty tipsy, and Kawabe-sensei somewhat more than tipsy, and both proceeded to sing lots of vaguely silly old Japanese songs. I, Kristin, and Ueda-sensei (a young female English teacher) sang mostly Christmas carols, though I was occasionally conned into attempting some Japanese. I and Kaneshiro-sensei (the painfully adorable young music teacher) more or less managed a SMAP song together, he now and then leaping into a startling falsetto for no apparent reason. Highlights of the evening include Hosoi-sensei valiantly attempting as an English teacher to sight-translate a Japanese song into English as he was singing it, immediately followed by Kawabe-sensei making the same attempt. Except, Kawabe-sensei doesn't teach English -- he teaches P.E., so his translation largely consisted of, "I am drinking, and I am crying. Now I am sleeping. Ohhhh...I am drinking again, and crying and drinking. My father's sake!"

Hosoi-sensei also hooked me up with two tickets on the airport shuttle bus, so me and Joanna had no trouble getting to the airport on Christmas Eve. All in all, the trip to Korea was pretty fun, particularly visiting with my dear Juli, who seems to be getting along fairly well despite little to no knowledge of Korean. We did some sightseeing, including the Korean War Museum and several palaces (named Changyeongung, Jongmyo, and Gyeongbokgung, respectively). The architecture was really lovely, particularly at Gyeongbokgung, which was my personal favorite. It's similar to that of Japanese temples, but with distinct and vibrant patterns painted on eaves and bricked into walls. Jo and I were on our own for several of the sites, since Jules had to work, but we managed okay. Plus, on our last day of sightseeing, it snowed on us as we walked around, which was fun.

Otherwise, we spent a lot of time going out for food or loitering in Juli's apartment. We went and saw the Jim Carrey movie "Yes Man," which was by all accounts much funnier than we were expecting. Juli and Jo, who immediately bonded, also took it upon themselves to introduce me to the new run of "Doctor Who," an exceedingly popular British sci-fi serial. I am now irrefutably hooked.

I caught a bit of a cold sometime during the trip (probably from Joanna!), so I spent the rest of my vacation largely cooped up inside my apartment, watching the aforementioned "Doctor Who" and putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Joanna did come stay over New Years, but all we really did was watch "Hot Fuzz" and part of a Japanese countdown special, and drink a little bit of sparkling wine.

School is getting back into the swing of things, and Friday we had a New Years staff party. (I'm not entirely certain of the ratio compared to other schools, but it seems to me that Sonobe High has an awful lot of staff parties. Not that I'm complaining!) I had a chance to practice my Japanese a bit with teachers who didn't speak English very well, and ate plenty of good food. Plus, I could scope out the hotel where my parents are staying in March, because that's where the party was held! Afterwards, a group of twelve teachers including myself, several teachers from the last party, and both the principal and vice-principal, stopped by a cute little bar in Sanjo that may or may not be run by three very merry sisters. It was a nice time, and Kawabe-sensei continues to be very entertaining in social situations.

On Sunday, Fig dropped by to Sonobe for lunch, and then we hopped a train north-west to a little town called Ayabe. There was some sort of street party going on, and a mass-invitation had been sent out by the local JET, Danien. It was my first time to go further into the countryside than Sonobe, which is technically the last stop on my train line. We ran into Phil and Liz at Sonobe station, and made the hour train ride together through some absolutely lovely scenery. It had snowed the night before, and the white-tipped mountains were breathtaking. Liz, who is from Colorado, commented that it reminded her of Breckenridge.

As it turned out, "street party" was somewhat literal -- evidently, the festival was to commemorate the paving of a new street, with a ribbon cutting and everything. There was a taiko drum performance, and a big jazz band, and lots of free food and drink. It was pretty cold outside, but even so we had a lot of fun.

Yesterday (Monday) was a national holiday ("Coming of Age Day"), so there was no school. Instead, Kristin and I went with our tea ceremony instructor Sumiko to what is called a tea gathering. A tea gathering is just what it sounds like -- a somewhat fancy tea party, in the strict tradition of Japanese tea ceremony. Though sitting in seiza for almost four hours threatened to paralyze my calves, I had a better time than I had anticipated. Largely this was due to the adorable little dictator of an old woman who sat next to me for most of the day. She was evidently the senior expert of tea ceremony present, and often made asides correcting her students' posture or whathaveyou. Fortunately, since we weren't her students, we were largely exempt. Plus, either despite or because of my awed silence, she seemed to take a shining to me, and spent much of the afternoon regaling me with hilarious stories that I only half-understood. (There was one about a mystery leg and a refrigerator that Sumiko had to explain to me later.)

And at last, we are back to the present. Some of the snow has already melted, but more of it keeps falling, and I got photos in the meantime. Success!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy 2009!

So. I'll get around to reporting on Korea sometime soon, but in the meantime, a long-awaited announcement: I've updated my photo page! It was about time, already. The most recent photos up there were from the first week of September.

What's New:
- new photos in Sonobe High School Festival
- Orix Buffaloes game
- Osaka Nightlife 101
- Fushimi Inari
- Nara
- Miyama hike
- Alex R's birthday by the Kamogawa
- Momoyama festival

What You Can Expect:
- pictures of scenery
- pictures of my friends
- pictures of cultural significant what-have-yous
- pictures of myself in various ridiculous and/or stupid poses

Click here for a good time.