Dana Goes to Japan


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Monday, March 31, 2003

Reason 8 Gazillion and 4, Why I Love Japan
This is a really, really slack week at school, so today Kamiyama-sensei took me for a soba lunch, followed by a trip to Laox. Laox is about to be closed for two or three weeks for renovations, so this was a good time to go. I needed to, really. I had a purpose this time. I needed a card reader for the cards that go in my digital camera, since the main thing that drains its batteries dry is downloading the pictures. This strikes me as really stupid, because card readers don’t even use an external power source, so why having the card read from the camera is so much more of a pain, I don’t know.

Anyhow, Kamiyama-sensei discussed things with the salesman, and I got the right kind of card reader, which is actually what I had picked out as being the right kind the last time I was in there, but the salesman was all concerned about whether it would be compatible with an English OS. This time, though, I actually managed to buy the thing, and what’s more, it was on sale and I had enough points on my Laox card to get it for free.

And what’s the best part? The best part is that then I brought it home, plugged it into the USB port straight out of the box, and it worked. My computer detected it, read the card, and that was it. Why hasn’t the US mastered the art of the USB port yet? This is great stuff.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Frank Lloyd Wright It’s Not
Lately, I’ve been struck by a number of similarities between the foreign countries I’ve lived in, those being Chile and Japan. They’re really kind of amusing, for countries that one wouldn’t think had anything in common.

Women are fond of jeans so tight they involve Spandex, too much make-up, and a number of interesting fashion statements I wouldn’t make, such as skirts over jeans.

Leather pants are considered a permissible fashion statement for everyone between the ages of 18 and 50.

Guidebooks for both countries insist that the people dress conservatively, without many bright colors. This is a total lie. Sure, when they wear business suits, they wear plain colors, but what other kinds of business suits do they make? When it comes to casual clothes, I’ve seen some eye-blinding combinations, on men and women both. Japanese men in particular seem more inclined to wear brighter colors from all over the rainbow than the average American man. Then again, this may have something to do with the fact that a lot of casual clothing in Japan is unisex. There are advantages to being short and slight in this country.

Both countries are rather earthquake-prone. I’m almost tempted to suspect that my brain has some sort of latent death wish. I’ve become rather accustomed to ground tremors, but have yet to experience a major quake. I do still refuse to live in California, though.

Neither country understands the concept of central heating. Both use space heaters all the time; gas in Chile, kerosene in Japan. Interestingly enough, people in both countries have a mania for winter scarves, too.

Neither country is capable of constructing an attractive city. Both Chile and Japan have rich architectural traditions to draw on, and one can see much beauty in older buildings, but in Santiago and all major cities in Japan, most of the old architecture has been torn down and replaced with the ugliest, most functional, most boring boxes of buildings I’ve ever seen. “Warehouse” seems to be the prevailing stylistic influence, although there are some actual architectural styles at work, which one can mostly discern by the fact that they clash horribly, sometimes within the same building. This is often the case in Japan, where people like adding additions to existing buildings, but rarely try to make the new part match the old in any way, shape, or form. Or color, for that matter. The one nice thing I can say about Japanese cities is that they do make an effort to have greenery, and none are covered with the dome of smog covering Santiago, especially in winter.

Musical Chairs
When I said that the end of the year was kind of like musical chairs, I was more correct than I knew. This morning, we had the Leaving Ceremony to say good-bye to all the teachers who have been transferred. At Mukaiyama, this was 5 regular teachers, two office workers, and the principal, who is retiring. This afternoon is being entirely devoted to moving all the desks around in the staff room, as all the other teachers change places according to whether they will be teaching first, second, or third year, or whether they will be the head of that grade’s teachers for the year, or perhaps the phase of the moon under which they were born. Everyone else is packing up all their desk stuff, which can be an alarming number of books for such a small space, and pushing them out into the hall so all the desks can be clear before the moving around really starts. No one has told me to move any of my stuff, though, so I think I’ll just sit here.

At the leaving ceremony, I found out the reason the other teachers always call the youngest office worker “the young boy.” He’s actually younger than me. He started working in the school office right after graduating from high school, but has been taking night courses at the university since then. Now he’s quitting to go to school full-time for his junior and senior years. He had to give a speech at the morning staff meeting, along with all the other people who are leaving, and during his speech, the older lady who worked in the office with him was trying to fix a loose thread in his suit jacket hem. It somewhat ruined his bid to look very adult and dignified.

Because the principal is retiring, he had a potter friend make special tea mugs for all of the staff. I got one, too, and they are a lovely greenish-blue color. I thought it was an incredibly nice gesture. I think all the teachers are hoping that the new principal won’t be such a stickler for rules, though. Before the leaving teachers came in to give their speeches at the morning meeting, the vice-principal made a point of saying that we could leave early this afternoon, but that he thought he should say that before the principal got there.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

I have determined that the most annoying people in all of Japan are motorcyclists. I’m not talking about people who ride those typically Asian scooters, seen all over Japan and Taiwan, rain or shine, with all sorts of parcels and passengers. I’m talking about true motorcycles, where your legs go on either side. Motorcyclists in Japan seem to take every excuse to rev the engines, and I begin to suspect that they’ve purposefully taken off the mufflers or otherwise horribly mangled the poor things to get such obnoxiously loud noises. In a society so focused on politeness in most interactions, loud motorcycles appear to be a semi-anonymous form of rebellion, and it’s incredibly annoying. Or maybe I just think that because they insist on driving past my apartment at all hours.

In other news, I’ve noticed that no elementary school children ride bikes to school, whereas nearly every highschooler within biking distance does. (This does, of course, mean that I am horribly uncool for walking to work.) Maybe this is because elementary school children live closer to their schools, and thus don’t need to bike, or maybe it’s a safety thing. Or maybe it’s just because. In any case, though, in the past two days, 3 little kids have passed me on my way home from Mukaiyama riding those fold-up scooters, and I’m not referring to the motorized kind this time. I guess those things really are popular somewhere in the world after all.

Birthday Update
There’s an interesting side benefit of having a lot of Brit friends here, and that’s that they all (well, Sharon and Kristel, really) decided to try to Anglicize me for my birthday. From Sharon, I got the swankiest tea bags I’ve ever seen, with real, incredibly fine, cloth tea bags, in the delicious flavor of English Caramel. From Kristel, I got bath gel and perfume of some English brand that both Sharon and Kristel insist is divine. The perfume also came with the warning that I shouldn’t use it before going to work and teaching with all those male JTEs, as it’s touted to inspire “passion.”

Now the only question is, when do I get to go to England?

Friday, March 21, 2003

Onsening in True Japanese Style
Yesterday after work, I went with the other first-year teachers to a traditional Japanese spa in Fukushima prefecture, which is the prefecture to the south of Miyagi. It was only an hour and a half drive, which makes me laugh when I think about how amazed they all are at the thought of Grinnell being a 16-hour drive from Raleigh. Because Miyagi is surrounded by the strange “odd weather” field, it was actually snowing once we crossed into Fukushima, rather than alternating between snow flurries and warm sun as it had been in Sendai all day. The road up to the onsen, which was up at the top of a mountain, was reminiscent of the 32 switchback pass through the Andes between Chile and Argentina, only on a much smaller scale, which is only appropriate, since it is in Japan. About halfway up, we hit some ice right behind a huge construction truck, which was exciting, but eventually we made it to the onsen itself, at around 6:30 pm.

The onsen is built into the side of a hill, so the reception area is actually on the fourth floor. Our rooms were on the fifth floor, quite conveniently. I was in the room with all the other female teachers, that making a grand total of 4 people in the room. (Japanese teachers, especially in high school, tend to be predominantly male.) We had some tea and relaxed for about 15 minutes before it was time for dinner.

The thing you must understand about this end-of-the-year outing at a traditional onsen is that it wasn’t cheap, so when they served us dinner, they served us Dinner. It was all set up in a large tatami room, with tray tables on the floor set up in a horseshoe. When we came in, we already had so many small dishes of various things, each place had an auxiliary tray, and then they brought in the carp.

Yes, the carp. They brought in two large platters of extremely fresh sashimi. How fresh? The fish were still breathing. Their mouths were opening and closing, all fishy-like, and their gills were expanding. Their tails had been posed artfully up in the air, and the scales places back over their middles, so they appeared mostly whole, against backgrounds of plastic bonsai trees with some sort of vegetable shreds around them, and sliced lemons arranged along the front of the platters. As two of the teachers served the sashimi onto smaller plates, the fish would twitch. As the evening went on, they would occasionally spasm so hard that their tails and fins would move around in the air, and they would knock against the plates. I had a really hard time not laughing out loud when one of them did that while one of the teachers who had been serving was trying to give his requisite speech. The other teachers were highly amused by my fascinated staring, but really, how could I not? It was sitting right there in front of me, and it was certainly something interesting to look at while everyone else was talking to each other in Japanese. I’m not sure they were completely dead yet by the time we left, nearly two hours later.

I’d try to tell about the other kinds of food that we had, but I honestly don’t know what a lot of it was. All of it was, of course, quite artfully presented, as that’s supposedly at least half of Japanese haute cuisine. This does, however, make it hard to figure out if you don’t already know what it’s supposed to be. So you’ll all just have to wonder. I still do, and I ate it.

During the meal, there were the aforementioned speeches. Since this was the end-of-the-year party, each teacher was expected to say what a great time it had been working with all the other people, with anecdotes when appropriate, and if they were leaving for another school in the next year, to say how sad they were to be going somewhere else. Or at least, that’s what I gathered. I was told I’d be going last, I assumed because it would give me time to think of something to say in Japanese.

As it turns out, it was so they could give the kitchen staff time to get a cake ready for my birthday, which I had only just told the other female teachers was on March 22 right before dinner. They apparently quickly conspired with Kamiyama-sensei to get a cake sent at the end of the meal. Poor young Nagane-sensei had been designated the evening’s emcee, and he valiantly made the effort of announcing my birthday surprise in English. Then everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me, which I think is the one song everyone in the entire world knows in English, no matter their native tongue. And then I got to give my speech. I gave it trilingually, first with some simple, but (I hope) grammatical Japanese, then more complicated bits in English, and then a final “thank you” in Spanish, just to remind them that I’m not a total linguistic moron, despite my lack of fluent Japanese.

After dinner was over, it was time to visit the hot springs. This onsen, being a traditional one, has outdoor pools fed by real natural hot springs. It was amazing to sit in such hot water outside, with snow falling in the light of the moon, just past full, and that of a stone lantern next to a snow covered boulder. Somehow, conversations held in a very poor mix of English and Japanese seem to flow better under such conditions. It was rather awe-inspiring.

The baths were only open until 10, though, so then we got dressed again and proceeded back to the room to put our things away, and then on to the room that had been designated the meeting place for snacks, drinking, and talking. As many ALTs have noticed, teachers become much more willing to speak in English, and in general ask questions or show interest in conversing with the ALT, when they’ve had some alcohol. I think that was the most I’ve ever spoken with any of those teachers. I wonder if any of the effects will last, or if they’ll be back to not wanting to ask me anything again on Monday.

At midnight, though, people dispersed back to their own rooms for sleeping. I’m not actually sure how much sleep I got. I know the other teachers in my room were trying to sleep, but then started talking, and eventually turned on dim lights and had some tea, and I was sort of fading in and out of being asleep and not. Then, the next thing I knew, it was 5:45 am, and they were all getting up again to go to the baths. I declined and elected to go back to sleep. Breakfast was at 8:00, and I intended to sleep until 7:30, but by 7:15, I was up and getting dressed. By 7:45, everyone in our room was packed and ready to go.

We were the first ones to breakfast, but the others showed up soon after. The dining room overlooked the snow-covered hillside, complete with a natural waterfall and a red torii gate. Breakfast was a traditional affair of rice with all sorts of topping kind of things, like stewed mushrooms, pickles, and bamboo shoots (I think). There was also miso soup, a piece of fish, and an egg prepared in some bizarre and icky-looking fashion. (Have I mentioned I don’t really like eggs?) Oh, and green tea.

On the way to the room to get ready to leave, we stopped by the gift shop. All traditional hotels/spas/ryokans in Japan have gift shops, featuring lots and lots of omiyage food items to take to those waiting at home, as well as specific prefectural items. It was here that I found…

Fukushima Kitty-chan! Yes, I did buy another cell phone ornament. They’re such incredibly Japanese souvenirs, and I find it incredibly amusing that each prefecture has a different Kitty-chan. Fukushima Kitty is dressed up as a red ox. She basically looks like she’s wearing red footed pajamas with a hood topped by horns. It’s really cute. Kamiyama-sensei pointed out that I just need Yamagata, Iwate, Aomori, and Akita, and I’ll have all of the Tohoku region, which has just given me terrible, horrible, wonderful ideas, but would probably make my phone clank so much I wouldn’t be able to hear people on the other end. I might try to get at least Yamagata and Iwate, though, since I can get to those prefectures easily, and I’ve actually been there. I’m not going to travel to prefectures just so I can get Kitty-chans, I swear.

Anyway, after I amused everyone with my purchase, we eventually got sorted into cars again, and came back to Sendai. I was back in my apartment before lunch.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Out of Phase
Slowly but surely, I am figuring out the Japanese school schedule. Unfortunately, it’s usually after the fact, but here’s what I learned today. Today was the last day of school for the year, officially. None of the third year students had to come to school after their graduation ceremony at the beginning of the month, but first and second year students did. At Mukaiyama, classes were only held during the 3 morning periods, before lunch, but at Minami, they had classes all day.

I spent last Friday and this past Monday teaching my last 6 classes of the current batch of Minami first year students. Only some of the classes seemed sad. Others, as usual, stared at me and the JTE as if we were speaking a foreign language, which, of course, we were. They were just supposed to understand it. Oh, well. They’re not my educational struggle anymore. At Mukaiyama, I finished the last of those seemingly never-ending oral exams yesterday.

Kamiyama-sensei’s homeroom class, 1-5, asked me to be in their end-of-the-year class picture, and that was the extent of my professional duties today. I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do for the next month or so. I don’t know when the new academic year really starts. We may have the whole month of April off, or it may be that the year starts, but is then interrupted for the Golden Week holidays. These are all things I must remember to tell my successor, so s/he won’t end up with tons of downtime at work, but no vacation days left to take. Things that would have been handy to know, let me tell you. In any case, I guess I’ll just go to work like always, and take my final week of vacation at the beginning of May (Golden Week) like I’ve been planning to anyway.

The other thing that happens when the new year starts, or rather technically, at the end of this month, is that all the teachers get transferred around within the school and the district. The part-time English teacher who sits next to me at Minami is going to a full-time position in Ishinomaki, which will give him a 1.5 hour one-way commute from his home in Shiogama, and he’ll probably stay at that school for 4 years. I don't envy him. At Mukaiyama, the two main third year English teachers will be rotated down to first year, while Mrs. Kasahara and Kamiyama will move up to second year. Also, Mr. Watanabe, the part-time teacher, will be replaced by Ms. Chiba, who had been filling in for the teacher who returned from maternity leave. It’s kind of like musical chairs, and I get the joyous task of learning all new teaching styles to team-teach with.

Some ALTs greatly look forward to this time of year, because the teacher or supervisor who is their bane might get transferred. Others, however, dread it, because the great supervisor who gave them extra vacation or whatever will be leaving. In general, though, it just emphasizes to me how non-sensical the JET year is when put over the Japanese academic year. New JETs arrive in about two-thirds of the way through the first semester of the year, end up with tons of down time slightly over halfway through their contracted year, and basically get paid to sit around doing nothing for two months or so, depending on school and duties, while all the schools complain about how there aren’t enough JETs to go around. Not that I object to the pay, but really, wouldn’t it seem to make more sense to put us on the same schedule as the students, and not pay us for the month or whatever between the end of one year and beginning of the next? I know it’s more convenient for American and British JETs to come and leave in July/August, because that’s how our academic calendars run, but South Africa doesn’t run that way, and, more importantly, neither does Japan. Japan is where we’re working, after all.

In the end, it just puts ALTs even more out of phase with our Japanese colleagues than we have to be. It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to make this one less thing making it harder for ALTs to easily fit into the workplace. Why not have new teachers and new students enter the school system at the same time? Instead, we enter just as the new first years have gotten used to their old ALT, and leave just after they’ve gotten used to us. I can’t see that this benefits anyone.

But hey, all this means is that I should use my copious free time writing blog entries to entertain y’all, right? Right. That’s what I thought.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Innovative Teaching Methods
Yesterday, I got new school shoes to wear at Mukaiyama. When I got here at the beginning of the year, I bought some cheap black tennis shoes, plain and boring, with fold-over tongues that annoy me to death. I finally got tired enough of them to buy new ones, and I have come up with a new teaching strategy.

My new shoes are brilliantly purple Vans. Between these shoes and my neon green ones at Minami, I plan to blind all my students when I walk in the room. That way, they’ll have to concentrate more on their listening skills, as their senses struggle to compensate. It’s all for their educational benefit, really.

They may not want to listen to me, but they’ll sure know I’m there.

None of this has anything to do at all with the fact that owning bright purple shoes amuses me endlessly. I swear.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Civics Lesson
Today, class, we are going to talk about an issue that I’m sure is weighing on everyone’s mind. Today we are going to talk about what the Japanese think about the US/Iraq situation. Oh, goody!

As noted by the BBC, the government has been extremely vague at home. This is quite true. Every time PM Koizumi says anything in a press conference or otherwise to the news, he emphasizes that Japan is going to wait and see what the other countries, particularly the US and UK, are going to do. To placate the vast majority of Japanese people who are opposed to the idea of a war, (according to NHK news, about 80%) he continually states that Japan will not give military aid, as is required by the post-WWII constitution. Outside Japan, Koizumi expresses a lot of support for the US and UK resolution and emphasizes that the rest of the world should go along as well to show solidarity. Japan is very, very concerned about its relationship with the US.

Personally, I find it rather embarrassing to be an American abroad right now. I’m constantly being asked when the US will be attacking Iraq, why our president wants to attack so badly, do all Americans think it is a good idea, how many Americans think this is a good idea (please give percentages), and is it true that most Americans can’t find Japan on a map? Honestly, I do not have some sort of direct secret American connection to the White House, from which I receive my updates on exactly what the president’s latest thoughts are. I didn’t vote for him, I think he’s a moron, and honest to goodness, I’m not kidding, not all Americans are the same. Really. I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true. Also, the US is a very big country, with many, many people in it, and some of them can’t even find their own state on a map, let alone a country on the other side of the globe.

Most of these questions come from the math teacher a few desks down who likes to practice his English, and I have to try very hard to explain things without big words or sarcasm, which you can imagine, if you know me, is something of a struggle. I’m not really sure he believes me, or understands me, since he tends to ask the same questions over and over, but I’m really trying very hard to present nice, balanced viewpoints. Who knows if it’s working.

White Day Update
Yesterday was White Day. If you recall my earlier entry about it, you will remember that this is the day when boys are supposed to give girls chocolates or cookies in return for what they got on Valentine’s Day. I am sad to report that I did not receive a single chocolate or cookie. Alas and alack.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Grinnell in Tokyo
This weekend was so much fun! I needed to get out of Miyagi for a bit, and the Grinnell reunion in Tokyo was the perfect thing. This wasn’t an official reunion. It was just a get together for all the Grinnellians Hisako knows in Japan, all in or around Tokyo, except me.

The trip started under a good omen. I managed to get, with the help of Danola’s friend Naoko, really cheap shinkansen tickets. JR East was having a promotional deal for the first 3 weekends in March, so I got a round trip shinkansen ticket, plus free passage on all regular JR trains, for slightly over half of what a regular round trip would have cost. That’s the cheapest trip to Tokyo I’ve ever had.

The train voucher was only good for two days, though, so I went down on Saturday instead of Friday night. I got down there around 1 in the afternoon, and Jamin met me at the station. It was so warm in Tokyo! We walked all over that afternoon, with me just in my sweatshirt. We’re still getting snow in Miyagi. I’ll be glad when the weather stabilizes and really turns into spring.

Jamin still works a crazy schedule at the architecture firm, so we wandered around Tokyo, just talking and getting some coffee in Harajuku until it was nearly time for him to go to work. Yes, it was Saturday in the late afternoon. Yes, he was just going to work. It makes little sense to me or him either. He found it very novel to be out during the daylight hours when other people were around, shopping and enjoying the warm weather. His normal schedule is early afternoon to midnight, and that’s if he goes home early.

Before he went to work, he took me back to his apartment so I would figure out the neighborhood and he could give me the key. He lives in a really nice neighborhood, very trendy. There’s a tree lined street that we came in on, with a Muji and a Gap, which seems a pretentious thing to say, but does provide some measure of how trendy the neighborhood is. Jamin wishes he was awake more during daylight hours, so he could explore more.

After he left, I went out walking for a bit, got myself some dinner, and then watched some of the movies his mom brought him when his parents came for Christmas. I watched “Sweet Home Alabama,” which is a very cute Reese Witherspoon movie, and then “Evita,” which is, in my opinion, too long and quite boring. I may have been a Latin American scholar, but really. At least I can say I’ve seen it now. Anyhow, Jamin doesn’t think he’ll ask his mother to pick movies for him next time. They weren’t all bad or chick flicks, but not really what he would have picked for himself, either.

Just as “Evita” was ending, thank goodness, Jamin came home. We had gotten a call from Hisako earlier saying that the plan was to meet at 9 the next morning, so we should have gone to bed, but instead we stayed up until 2:30 talking and looking at Jamin’s pictures from China and Korea. Eventually, though, we did go to sleep, only to awaken to Jamin’s 4 staggered alarm clocks. He really doesn’t like to get up.

On Sunday morning, we went to Shinagawa station and met Hisako, my Japanese tutor from my second year at Grinnell; her boyfriend Joe, who was in my freshman tutorial on Frank Lloyd Wright; Joe and Hisako’s friend, Jeff, who just moved here in January and works at the international school with Joe; the other Grinnell JET who got here at the same time I did, Steve; Steve’s girlfriend, Yumiko; Jolien, who’s been here teaching English for a year and a half; and Brandon, who studied abroad here and was visiting. Once we were all assembled, we headed off to Kamakura.

Kamakura apparently has a bunch of famous temples, as well as the Daibutsu (“big Buddha”). We couldn’t see all of them, obviously, so we picked two of the best temples, and the Buddha. The first temple we went to was one famous for its bamboo grove. It was so pretty and very peaceful. There weren’t very many people there, and we just wandered the paths among the bamboo, talking and taking pictures. The day wasn’t quite as warm as Saturday had been, but it was still much more pleasant than the Tohoku region is currently, and it was sunny.

After that, we headed back to the main street. We wandered down the street and eventually settled on a soba restaurant for lunch. This being a Grinnell crowd, there were, of course, vegetarians, but none of them put up quite the same fuss as Alex about soba broth being made with fish stock, so ordering wasn’t nearly so much of an ordeal. Then we continued down the street toward the shrine at the end. On the way, we stopped into several shops to look at the lacquer ware for which Kamakura is famous, as well as sampling some little anko pastry things.

I’m not sure why the shrine at the end of the street is famous, but it has some nice bridges and lots of pigeons. There were lots of families with newborns there, several with the babies in christening gowns, although shrines are Shinto. Every time one of the priests would beat on the drum next to the sanctuary, all the pigeons would take off and wheel around until they settled down on the roof again. We went up to a smaller shrine on the nearby hill and took group pictures in traditional Japanese style, except without everyone making a peace sign.

Then it was off to the Daibutsu. This Buddha really is quite large. He’s made of copper, and much like the Statue of Liberty, you can walk around inside him, although we all declined that privilege. He’s sitting down, looking very peaceful, and there was an altar in front of him full of oranges and bananas, and even some bottled water. The Buddha is apparently very health conscious. He also has great big windows in his back, open so the tourists could see out, which was kind of amusing.

From there, we decided to go to the ocean, but on the way, we were distracted by the crepe vendor. They have these crepes all over Japan, and they’re so good. They’ll put just about anything in them, from chocolate and cream with fruit, to pizza toppings or tuna. I got chocolate almond and was not disappointed. The best thing is that it just gets better the further down you eat, because the crepe is warmer and softer and has melted more of the toppings. I’m making myself hungry again.

Eventually we did make it to the ocean, and there were lots of windsurfers out, even though by that point in the afternoon it was feeling rather nippy. The beach wasn’t very spectacular. It was, in fact, rather junky, but whatever. We were just walking around anyway. We made our way back to the train station, where we had some coffee, and then Jamin and I had to leave before everyone else so I could catch a shinkansen back to Sendai in time to sleep before work on Monday.

It was really neat to see so many Grinnell people. Besides Hisako and Joe, I didn’t really know any of the others, but with a school like Grinnell, you can always find people you know in common, and there was much reminiscing about the Perkins in Newton and the Pizza Hut which can never get anyone’s order right, so they’re always giving people free food. I’ll never be able to go back to Grinnell and have it be the same as when I was a student, but there’s always going to be something about a group of Grinnellians. I found myself wanting to speak more Japanese, because these other people were all in the same linguistic boat as me, and they’d get any English words I had to slip in. I came back much happier about the rest of my time in Japan, and ready to travel more, thanks to hearing all their stories about things they have seen and done. I hope Hisako and Joe come up to Miyagi some time, and I’m more inclined to go back to Tokyo myself, to see them and Jamin.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Cry for Help
In case you've been wondering about my work life lately, the reason I haven't had much to say about it is that it hasn't existed. I haven't had to teach a class in 3 weeks. Wheee, exams. I am also running out of English-language books to read, so I've been trying to ration myself by not bringing books to work. I am totally dependent upon the internet for entertainment. *sigh* Pity me!

Donations of silly mail, real and electronic; books; interesting CDs; and suggestions of fun websites now being accepted.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled staring at the ceiling.

Oh, and just so you don't worry that my life is becoming un-blog-worthy, I'm going to Tokyo for a mini-Grinnell reunion this weekend. I just have to make it through the end of today, and then on Monday, when I once again have no work, I'll have something to write about.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Visual Aid
For those of you who have just been dying to see what I've been talking about, you may now see an actual picture of the front text of my Ultimate ALT Sweatshirt.

Oooh, aaah, don't we all love digital cameras. And techie boyfriends who will post things to the internet for us, the clueless without real server access. Thank you, Mark. :-)

Saturday, March 01, 2003

Yesterday, I got to go to work on a Saturday again. What’s more, I got to walk there in dress clothes and high heels. And for what did I get this pleasure?

Graduation, of course. All high schools in Japan, or maybe just Miyagi, hold their graduation ceremony on March 1. I was at Minami on Friday, so I went to their rehearsal, and then on Saturday I went to the real ceremony at Mukaiyama. One teacher at Minami was very concerned about what I was going to wear, and asked me if I had someone who was going to lend me a kimono. I said, no, I was going to wear a suit, and she looked kind of worried and said that all the women would be wearing kimono. Danola had been told the same thing at her school, to which she replied, “I’m not Japanese, nor do I want to wear a business suit. I’m wearing my sari.” I’m looking forward to hearing how that turned out.

Turns out for me, it was a good thing no one tried to put me in a kimono. I would have looked ridiculous. Not one single female teacher at Mukaiyama was wearing a kimono. Most of them weren’t even wearing particularly formal suits. The first and second year students were all in their usual jeans and sweatshirts, as well. I think Mukaiyama is rather non-conformist on a lot of levels.

The real fashion parade was during the entrance of the graduating third year class, as could be expected. Most of the boys were wearing conventional suits, with only about 6 wearing traditional Japanese formal wear. One boy had on sunglasses and a trench coat, and there were several with freshly dyed hair. The girls were really where the interest was. There were numerous kimono, some with extremely elaborate bows, others with pleated skirts. There were evening gowns. There were business suits. There were diaphanous shawls aplenty, fur stoles, sparkly sweaters, crocheted elbow gloves, high heels, traditional sandals, sneakers, and all sorts of interesting hairstyles, many involving fake flowers and fuzzy clips.

The actual ceremony took much less time than the American version. Each class had a representative who accepted the diplomas for the whole class. The representative went up on the stage, the principal read what the diploma said, handed it to the student, who bowed properly while holding the diplomas up, and then turned and bowed to the teachers and the distinguished guests. The representative would then thank the homeroom teacher in an original way. For example, the representative for class 3-1 had freshly shaved his head for the occasion, leaving only hair in the shape of a giant star on the back of his head, which was dyed a nice strawberry blond. He and another boy did a little skit about falling asleep in class. 3-2 gave their teacher a rugby ball which they had all signed. 3-3 serenaded their teacher. 3-4 gave their teachers diplomas. And so on.

After that, the principal gave a speech, in which he seemed to basically give a list of all the significant world events that happened in the last 3 years. (He is not known for his great speech-giving abilities.) Then there was a speech by some random dignitary from the bunch that had filed in at the beginning. No one ever told me who they were. Then a representative from the remaining student body gave a speech, and then the graduate representative gave one. Then they sang the school song and something else, maybe the national anthem, and then I went to stand outside in the freezing cold and applaud as all the students left again.

An interesting thing was the reaction of the students to the return of the substitute teacher who had been filling in for the teacher who was out on maternity leave. The substitute, who was at Mukaiyama for the first 5 months I was here, graduated from Mukaiyama as well, and was treated by many of the third year girls as a sempai, which is kind of like, um, an upper classman at military school or something. Your superior and friend, in general terms. Anyhow, she was like a returning celebrity. The rumor is that she’s going to come back in the new semester and take the place of the part-time English teacher, which would be good, because I don’t like him that much.

I really don’t understand the Japanese school year schedule. Even though we had the graduation ceremony, there’s still at least 2 weeks of school left to teach this semester. Then there’s the closing ceremony, and a week later, the leaving ceremony for the teachers who are getting transferred. When the new school year starts isn’t entirely clear to me, but I think it’s at the beginning of April. I suppose I’ll find out when it happens, as always.