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Monday, April 20, 2009

Black Pen and Cassiopeia Friends

Black Pen and Cassiopeia Friends

I was invited to be on a radio show in Ninohe called Cassiopeia Friends. The show was supposed to be recorded at 7.30 pm, so I decided to head up to Ninohe on the 5.19 train. It’s only 6 minutes to Ninohe so I was there in a flash. I went out to Honda to check out the prices on some used cars, since I’ve now decided that I want to buy a car. Then I walked back to the train station. The radio station is in the train station so I decided that I would have dinner in the restaurant upstairs to kill some time. I hadn’t expected to be back from Honda so early or I would have taken the train an hour later. I had katsu kare, I am such an addict. I can’t seem to avoid eating katsu kare ever. The katsu kare at Totoro, the restaurant in Ninohe’s train station, can not hold a candle to the one at Osaka, Ichinohe’s “mall” restaurant.

After dinner, there was still a half hour left, but there was nothing else to do, so I went downstairs to wait in the radio station. The station manager introduced himself and gave me his card. Then he had me do a tag (record a greeting with the station name). We talked a bit about Barbados and my life in Japan until the others arrived. Along with me, my Irish ALT friend, Jar, was also being interviewed, Yuka came along as a translator and Yuji and Morikawa were the program hosts.
The interview was fantastic. Somehow I understood everything Yuji asked, and was able to answer him in comprehensible Japanese! I was so proud! I haven’t really worked on my Japanese for the year, but it keeps getting better. Maybe I should try actually doing some work. I took a Krosfyah CD and I got to introduce Krosfyah’s song “ Yardie Graduation”. Then a hilarious scene ensued. Yuji attempted to dance. It looked very much like the caricature of an African chieftain doing a rain dance. So I got roped into wukking up in the studio. Lol! After that we played some Irish music and then we gave personal messages. I had a blast! I want to go back. I love radio! I am going to think up a concept for a 5 minute program and see if the station manager will let me do it.
After, the program, Yuka and I went to look at Cherry Blossoms on the river bank. They were so beautiful. I tried to read the Japanese signs… Reading is where my Japanese SUCKS!!! I have a LONG LONG way to go. From there we went to House of Picnic. House of Picnic is the first place I went out to eat in Ninohe, and my favourite place, but there is a table fee, so it can get expensive.
Jar was being his usual comedic self, and Yuji was playing right along. Then a group of doctors came in and it turns out most of them knew Morikawa and Yuji, probably because of their fields. Morikawa is a dentist, and Yuji owns a senior citizens home. (Morikawa is also one of my Principals’ little brother. The world, in small town Japan, is an itty-bitty place. )
Two of the doctors came over and sat with us. The one sitting next to me was the urologist, Susumu. He is absolutely crazy. I didn’t catch the name of the one sitting opposite me, but he was cute, and he was definitely staring at me. After the doctors had finished their own party, some more of them joined us, and the one who had been sitting across from me, went home. The ones we were joined by were a neurologist, a radiologist, and a paediatrician. According to Susumu, the neurologist and the radiologist are good boys, the paediatrician is a playboy, and he (Susumu) is the bad boy. He then told me, and I quote, “I single. I love you. My peh-niss black!” I have not laughed so hard in eons.
Somewhere along the course of the night, Yuji decided to have a house party and Susumu accused him of being kuchibakari (all talk). He said that he would have a party on May 15th and so I should see some of these hilarious people again. I am definitely looking forward to it!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Host Family

There are things about a country that you will never see as a tourist. These are precisely the things I like to see, the reason I like gallivanting around the world. It's not all about the Leaning Towers of Pisa and the Statues of Liberty, although when I am near landmarks, I make a point of visiting them. But the thing that makes a country for me, is the people. So I always make an effort to get as involved as possibe with the people (and as an added bonus, there is no better way to learn the language).

In February I handed in a form at Aiina requesting a home stay with a Japanese family. A few weeks later, Aiina emailed to tell me they had found a willing family and that the lady would be in touch. She asked me if the weekend of April 4th was okay and I, happy as a lark, said fine.

The family lives in Takizawa, which is a town on Morioka's border. I got into Takizawa at 6 the might, and my Host Dad came to pick me up. Now this isn't a massive station. Only 4 people got off the train and there was no one else waiting from anyone, so without introdutcion, we immediately found one another. We drove the 20 minutes or so to the house, which me mumbling in broken Japanese. When we reached the apartment, I was greated by a drawing of my flag, and the word "Youkoso!" Japanese for Welcome. I didn't even get past the genkan (Japanese style step up entrance) before I was bombarded by two little balls of energy. 2 year old I-chan ( aboy) and 5 year old Yuma- chan (a girl).

I off loaded my things in the makeshift guest room. I was quite surprised to have a room to myself. I thought I might have to share with the kids. Then I went into the living room, where we had dinner. Japanese people eat a lot. They don't eat mega-portions like in the US. But they will have meals with tons of sections. For example a restaurant set will usually be a main dish, a soup, a salad, and a drink. The size of the main dish alone is usually too much for me. I wonder how Japanese eat all that and are not fluffier than they are. Dinner was some meat ball things, some hash brown things, two types of rice (I-chan likes one and Yuma- chan likes the other), 3 different salads, and other miscellaneous. After dinner the kids showered and I-chan came running out naked as he was born. It was the first time I saw a naked Japanese male- lol!- although a few days later I would see a fully grown one on his porch in my own town.

The next day we went to Yoishi Open Market. Apparently it was the first one for the year, because it was the first week that it had been warm enough to have market. -chan couldn't come, because he had the cold, so I bought him an Ultraman mask. We'd all watched Ultraman the night before. It's this Japanese super hero series which is like a combination of Power Rangers, Godzilla and the first Star Trek. The episode we watched were from the 60's but they were I-chan and Yuma's faves.

That day I also had my first Remen. Not RAmen, REmen. Apparently Morioka is famous for it. About the Japanese word famous....Breaking it into it's parts, it is literally "has name?". So there is no difference in degrees of fame in Japanese. I think most of the time when Japanese people say famous in English, they mean what we would when we say well-known. Anyhow, enough linguistics, I also had Kuzumaki (nearby town) soft-serve and went home.

That night we watched more Ultraman and after the kids went to sleep, Shawshank Redemption came on and we saw that. It was my first time seeing the Shank. It was great.

On Sunday we went to the onsen. I had mentioned to my host fmaily that I had never been, so they took me. The onsen, is ahot spring, Japanese people go sit in a big hot pool in the buff. lol. It was actually pretty nice. I-chan had never been either. He and Yuma went pretty crazy and kept us on our toes so I don't think I enjoyed it like I could have. It's pretty relaxing though... and I didn't freak out as much about being naked as I thought I would have. After that we ate in the onsen-restaurant. I was pretty tired becuase of the heat.

We heard on the news that North Korea had launched its missile/comms satellite. It passed directly over my prefecture...It's a very interesting time to be in the East.

After the onsen we went to an icecream place and I had a rum and raisin and almond ice cream. Most places that have icecream in Japan only have Vanilla and Chocolate. I don't like Chocolate and I am all vanilla'd out, so I was happy.

Then, it was back to the train station and goodbyes. Yuma kept telling me to come again. I will.

Yesterday, I got a fantastic photo collage of some of the pics my Host Dad took on the weekend. It was great! I had such a blast. Host family is an experience I would definitely reccomend!

Soutsugyoushiki, Ninishiki, Ryuunenshiki

First off, let me say, I have no idea if the title of this post is spelled right. It's what it sounded like to my untrained foreign ears. :)

In Barbados, we have two major parades in November: Remembrance Day Parade aat some time early in December on the Sunday after/nearest to November 2nd and Independence Day on November 30th. Because these are the two largest military parades on the island, there are lots of practices leading up to them and the soldiers call it Silly Season.

In Japan, as a teacher, the March/April period is a Silly Season all it's own. The Japanese school year ends in March and starts in April. The first ceremony that occurs is the Soutsugyoshiki or Graduation. For Graduation, there will be an invited Board. At my Chuugakou (JHS), this Board included the 3 principals from the elementaries which feed into it, representatives from town government, representatives from the Bank and representatives from the PTA. They play music and all applaud as the graduands enter the hall (probably the freezing cold gymnasium). Once all the graduands are seated, the Principal goes onto the stage and reads the citation to the first pupil in the list. After that they just call names and give certificates.

At Chuugakkou, there was a speech from the principal then from the PTA and then from the government. The Government also handed out citation for not being absent in the 3 years of Chuu and in the 9 years of school (sho and chuu together). There were 2 kids of about 70, who had never been absent in 9 years.

Graduation was pretty similar at Shougakkou except the kids graduated in the Chuugakkou uniform... Shogakkou doesn't really have a formal uniform. AFter the speeches they all march out to applause...

All of that takes around two hours.

The second ceremony that occurs in this time is Ninishiki. This is the ceremony for teachers who will be transferring. In Japan, Principals switch schools every 3 years, and other teachers switch in 3 to about 6 or so years. SO every year there are between 2 and 10 teachers in a staff who will be moving on. For me, this was sadder than Graduation. My sho kids go into my Chu, and the kids live in town so even those moving onto High School I will see around the place. But many of the teachers live far away and I am closer to the teachers, so when they leave it's a whole nother kettle of fish.

I can see the practicality of changing teachers every few years. It's keeps the teachers on their toes and it makes sure that a school doesn't get saddled with a horrible teacher for 30 years, which could easily happen in the West. But still, the process is a pain in the butt for an ALT. As an ALT you work more closely with other teachers than most of the staff. Legally, a qualified Japanese teacher is alwas supposed to be in the room, so you ALWAYS work with another teacher. This means over the course of the year (or more) you've developped a rhythm with this teacher. Your classes are now probably fine tuned and synchronised. And then POOF! Old teacher gone, and you have to start all over building a new rapport.

The third of these ceremonies is Ryuunenshiki or School Year Opening Ceremony. This is a big to do. A representative from the Prefectural (state) government even went to the one at Chuugakkou. My teachers were amazed to find that we don't really have an equivalent at home. Also at this ceremony the new students are welcomed in a process very similar to that of Graduation, except that they don't get citations, just stand and bow when their name is called. There was a 6+ footer at chuu... that should be interesting :) As withe every Japanese ceremony, there were way too many speeches. (How much can they possibly say? It's the 3rd ceremony in a month!)

What really kills about all these ceremonies are the enkai. An enkai is a eating/drinking party with workmates. So after each of these ceremonies there is an enkai. For the one after graduation, the graduates also attend. For chuugakkou, no alcohol was served, but then they sent the kids home and there was tons of alcohol to be consumed in one hour at the after party.

Each of these enkai can set you back from 3500 yen to 5000 ($35 to $50 US). For me that is six ceremonies (2 schools- thank God the 3rd didn't invite me to stuff!) For some ALTs that can really rack up the numbers. I will be glad when I go to the last of my Silly Season enkai on Friday and pay out the last 4000 yen for food I would not willing purchase.

If you're ever coming to Japan to teach remember to budget for Silly Season. You'll probably spend AT LEAST $200 US more than in a regular month.
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