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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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