Sunday, February 14, 2010

farewell, frisbee man

I can barely throw a frisbee, and this still makes me a little bit sad.

Besides, look at the guy's picture! Like if Christopher Eccleston had a mischievous younger brother. Who really liked space.

You know he had to be awesome!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

winter break with onii-chan

Okay, just a little more catching up to do before this blog is actually up to date for once. Starting from the end of December!

For winter break I didn't travel anywhere...because my brother came to visit! We had a great time. It'd been ages since I had seen him, and even longer since we had much time just to hang out by ourselves. Reid stayed at my apartment in Sonobe, and we took a zillion day trips into Kyoto and its surrounds. (Plus one relaxing Sonobe day, where we just visited my school and took a walk around town.) I don't remember the exact order we did things in, but here's the basic list!

Sanjusangendo -- You may remember this place and a few of the following from the recap of my parents' trip. A really long and old wooden hall, filled with 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity Kannon...and that's not even counting the assortment of other important figures.

Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion) -- Literally coated in beautiful gold leaf, this was originally built as a summer palace by some important guy whose name I have forgotten, but after his death, the guy's son converted it into a shrine. This is one of my favorite spots in Kyoto, especially on sunny days, when there's an equally lovely reflection in the pond next to the pavilion.

Yasaka Shrine -- Just a little Shinto shrine that leads into Maruyama Park. This is a great way to enter the Higashiyama district, which is famous for several shrines and temples, plus some great traditional streets that really preserve the atmosphere of old Kyoto.

Kiyomizu Temple -- Probably the most famous temple in Kyoto, which is saying something. It has an iconic stilted deck, and provides great views of the city.

Nara Park and the Daibutsu (Big Buddha) -- I really love Nara, if for no other reason than the deer. Nara Park especially is infested with these totally unskittish deer, and the population can't be thinned because they just so happen to be sacred deer. You can buy deer crackers to feed them, and will immediately be swarmed. Don't let them eat your pants, even though they will try. Also, the Big Buddha at Todai-ji is always cool.

Fushimi Inari Shrine -- Another of my favorite places. A shrine that literally covers an entire mountain. There is a central shrine at the base, and various paths lined with sacred orange torii gates lead up to other mini-shrines and a spectacular overlook. Reid later cited this as his favorite place that we visited.

Universal Studios Japan -- It was really busy on the day we went, because it was a national holiday, but we got to do everything we wanted. (Well, except for seeing the Waterworld show. But maybe I'll go back one more time before I leave Japan.) I may have liked the Back to the Future ride the best, though our boat captain for the Jaws ride was pretty hilarious.

Arashiyama Monkey Park -- A bit of silliness. Haul yourself up this little mountain, and there are at least a hundred Japanese macaques lounging at the top, running free. You can feed them apples and peanuts and such, but only from inside a fence, so that the monkeys can't all mob you. (Thank goodness!) Also, you are strictly instructed not to look the monkeys in the eye, or they will lash out. Danger zone! It was a funny time, though, and Arashiyama was kind of pretty through that day's falling snow.

Osaka Castle -- The stronghold from which Toyotomi Hideyoshi united Japan. The inside has been converted into a museum, but the outside is still a gorgeous and imposing castle structure. We went here with one of my coworkers, Ueda-sensei, who is young and adorable and has the best English pronunciation of all the teachers at my school.

Koga Ninja Village -- This was a weird little park out in Shiga. It took forever to get there, and was sort of strangely dilapidated, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway. The best part was probably the preserved ninja house, which had all sorts of neat booby traps and hideyholes. In other news, turns out that I am awful at throwing shuriken ninja stars.

...And those were our main stops during the trip. Other than that, we mostly chilled in my apartment and watched an obscene amount of Doctor Who. (I got Reid hooked! Success!) Even though we were busy pretty much every day, there was just enough time in the evenings to watch all four seasons of the new show, plus a few specials from the last year. We may be crazy.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

my students can be pretty creative when they want to be

Today in my third year junior high class, we were practicing making excuses. We played a game that involved presenting them with a situation, which they then had to improvise a response for. Here are some of the highlights:

-Don't use your cell phone in class!
-It was my sister. My mother is dead.

-You shouldn't eat that cake!
-The cake says "Eat me."

-You should buy me a ring!
-The ring has a demon.

-Why did you hit your friend?
-He killed my best friend.

-You should buy me a ring!
-I already bought it. (This boy is going to be popular with the ladies, I can tell.)

And to top it all off, one boy has created the premise for the next movie in the Speed franchise:

-Stop using the computer!
-If I stop, poor Africa children will die.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

the paperwork is in

Okay, so it's official: I'll be headed back to America come late summer. After a lot of agonizing internal debate, I've elected not to renew my contract with the JET Program for another year. This was a difficult decision, because I have no real complaints about my position here; I have a great school, great coworkers, (mostly) great students, great friends, and a pretty sweet apartment. Moreover, I know that at least two out of my three closest friends are staying, and possibly all three of them. (If Neil will make up his mind, already!)

So really, my decision is not because I want to leave Japan, or any of the people here. I'd love to stay. (And/or airlift all my favorite people back to the States with me.) However, there are other things I want to do, too, and one of those things is to go back to grad school and get my teacher certification. As my plan stands now, I'm going to apply to a school in the Atlanta area, and if all goes well, start classes next spring.

I feel some guilt about leaving, because many people at my school have often and vocally expressed their wishes for me to stay, but I am at least relieved to say that Paul has decided to recontract. As long as he's here, I don't feel quite so bad, because he can train the new hire and generally hold down the fort. (Had we both left, which very nearly happened, it would have been a little bit crippling for our department -- they've come to rely on we AETs for a lot of lesson planning and various support. I'd hate to throw two totally green teachers at them when they're so busy already!)

For now I feel pretty good about this decision, though come July I'll probably be crying everyday. Already I'm making plans to try and keep in touch with my school in a meaningful way. And as for the students, well, thank goodness that my unofficially favorite class has recently discovered facebook!

So, that's that. On a slightly more frivolous note, here's some more cute student stories! Brought to you by class 2-5's country project presentations.

First, from Vatican City (which couldn't fail to be hilarious, as explained by clueless Japanese teenagers). Their presentation was fine, actually, until the Q&A. That class just so happened to have a German exchange student named Anja, who raised her hand and asked, "Do you know the pope's name, and what country he's from?"

Immediately, the girls starting sending each other panicked looks. Clearly, they don't know, so Paul starts mouthing "Germany!" at them. Saki, their de facto spokesperson, squints at him for a minute before proudly declaring, "His name is Pope Tommy!"

I'm still not sure the rest of the class fully understands why suddenly all four teachers (and Anja) burst into delighted laughter.

And Italy had a moment which was comical, and yet, sort of true. Upon listing their country's exports, the Italy group listed such gems as, "Wine, machines, and the mafia."