Spider(wo)man

An example of the shenanigans i get up to here in japan. here i am in a spiderman mask running around the busiest shopping center in the city – there is no one else in the photo because people literally fled from me. i was dead sober (is that better or worse?)

Spiderman MaskWhat?

Why Use Logic When You Have Tradition

What an insane week! So much went on I can’t even believe that it is Tuesday. I will start from where I left off in my last post I guess.
After working from Monday to Friday, I had to come in Saturday to help set up for Sports Day (Undokai is what it is called) which was Sunday. Basically, I woke up in the morning and couldn’t understand why I was up, at 6am, to go to work. So annoying! But I got my bum out of bed and cycled to work, where I basically sat around and did nothing. This was because it was POURING rain out. So I arrive to school looking like a drowned rat (no amount of rain gear can stop typhoon wind and rain from soaking you to the bone) only to find out that because of the rain today consists of basically a bunch of speeches in the gym given to the students so they have an idea of what will be happening at undokai. “Where does this leave me?” I ask my JTE. He tells me I don’t have to sit in the gym and listen because it is all in Japanese (duh) and I don’t understand (thanks). So I sit at my desk. Alone. And do nothing. The only upside to this incredibly boring situation was that I got to take some pictures of the work area, and the school, so you guys can see where I go everyday! This only occured to me as Tara (hey gooogs!) had pointed out that I failed to include pictures of my general everyday surroundings in this blog. These photos can be seen in better quality on my flickr.

Teachers shoe wall!

This is where you take off your outdoor shoes and put on your indoor shoes. This is the teachers wall, the students are on the other side. Mine is the far right column, second down.

Japanese Teachers Office!

The teachers office! My desk is the one right there on the right, with my phone out on it, and the colourful nametag I was making.

Hilarious Japanese Response to Self Introduction Sheet

I gave the kids a little self introduction questionnaire to fill out my first day and in one class there was a special needs student, so there was an adult aid there to help him out so he also filled out one, and his responses were HILARIOUS. The famous Japanese name he mentions is a TV show about a man who is married to a woman who beats him! oh god! I didn’t know how to respond so I drew that sad face…

As lunch time finally rolls around, the principal at my school is sitting at his desk, watching me do nothing. Now let me explain the role of the principal, because it is totally different than what we think. In Japan, the principal is like, the leader. He is the Alpha. You don’t even call him by his name, you only call him by PRINCIPAL. Except in Japanese it’s Kocho-sensei. Everything has to be approved through him, but he does none of the work. Everything he wants done gets passed down to the vice principal, who basically has to hand out the jobs to whoever needs to do them. No teacher dares question what the Kocho-sensei says or does. Anyway, eventually he approaches me and (as he was once and English teacher we can communicate, so this is good) he asks, “What are you doing here?” and my only response is “I don’t know”. Then I realize how poor that sounds so I say “I am here today just in case anyone needs any help.” This was the only thing I could think of on the spot, and basically just states that I am only here because I was told to come, and have no general purpose. So he tells me “why don’t you just go home”. THANK GOD. It was hilariously awkward, because I quickly pack up my stuff, and am about to “shitsurei shimas” (basically excuse myself from the working day to peace out home) but as he is the only one there, and he has already told me to leave, I am not sure if I have to do my little “osaki ni shitsurei shimas” (“I apologize for leaving early”), as he told me to go. But I figure he is the principal so I better. So I turn to do my little bow and as I start he just sort of waves me off, like I am some sort of annoying fly. Works for me though, since I don’t have to spend another 4 hours hanging around completely useless. I get home, but there is basically nothing for me to do, as it is pouring rain, and I don’t have internet, and I have watched all movies and TV shows I brought at least 4 times over. Another boring afternoon, but better than sitting at a desk I suppose.

So Sunday rolls around, and I have to wake up at 6 am just in case my JTE calls me to tell me undokai is cancelled (I assumed it would be because it had rained so much yesterday), but lo and behold, the clouds had parted, and it was a beautiful day Sunday! So I put on my sports clothes and head to work for my First Undokai Experience! Woo! It was actually a GREAT day! So much fun! There were a bunch of events, from relay races to three legged races, from tug-of-war to jump rope! The girls put on a dance, the boys made human pyramids! It was insane! Due to the insane legal code Japan has, I am unable to show you pictures that include any children’s faces unless I have permission from their parents, which I don’t, so I cannot PUBLICLY put them up. So I can’t post any cool videos on here. Just trust me, it was insane. I actually got unexpectedly dragged out on the field to compete in a sort of relay race with the kids. They had to flip over these cards and on it was written peoples names (apparently mine) and the kids had to find this person and then complete the rest of the activities with them. So I am casually watching and taking pictures, and suddenly all the kids around me are screaming “RACHEL SENSEI!! RACHEL SENSEI!!” and I realize these two kids are running towards me waving at me! So I run out on the field, take their hands, and we run at the speed of light to finish – and we won! Woo! It was hilarious! I also have befriended the dance teacher, this male teacher who has a mullet and wears sick crazy patterned pants that are multicoloured and anklets.. and is basically is just hilarious… however he doesn’t speak a word of English and due to my lack of Japanese we basically just stand around each other in silence but are best friends. He approaches me and says, “come with me” and drags me by the hand out to the field and passes me this gun (not a real gun, I assume, but like, you fire it and it makes a big bang and it signals the start of the event), and tells me I am to start the next event! As I have never even touched anything that ever resembled a gun before, and I am amongst many small children, I am extremely nevous. He procedes to hand me a mircrophone, and startings rambling in Japanese at me. I am in the middle of the field with a bunch of people staring at me, and a Japanese man talking at me, and I am just thinking to myself, “what is going on?” Then he goes silent. Everyone is staring at me. He backs away. I assume this is when I am supposed to fire this gun off, and as I look around the crowd I have one of those moments that I have while I am here sometimes that is this overwhelming sense of “HOW DID I GET HERE RIGHT NOW?” I can’t explain it, but every once and a while, usually when I am alone, I get this intense feeling that is basically just an overwhelming realization that I am in Japan. Alone. Holding a gun. So I raise it to the air, shout in the mircophone “READY? SET…” and fire that bad boy. WOO! Cheers, and shouts erupt and the kids all run out to the field. The mullet man comes back, smiles, and claps his hands, and then takes the microphone and gun from me and off we go back into the crowd. Oh Japan.

So at the end of the day, after we all pack up the tents, put away all the chairs and pack everything back up – its ENKAI time! Enkai means party, and this one is in celebration of undokai, and will occur at a Chinese restaurant in the city. I am given a map and told the party starts at 7:30 so I quickly cycle home, shower, and then am off to catch the train! I arrive right on time, and am seated next to my female JTE and the party begins. It’s all you can eat and all you can drink, and ends up being quite the interesting experience. Japanese parties are so different than Canadian ones. Although I guess I can’t say I have technically ever been to a work party in the same sense at home. Anyway, the night starts with a bunch of speeches, as each teacher recalls their day, makes jokes, and talks in Japanese (ha). In Japan, you do not refill your own cup, but refill only others. It is interesting because as the night progressed, people would grab bottles of beer or tea and walk around the room and refill others glasses as an excuse to come around and talk to people. It was so interesting! People I have never spoken to before would come around and refill my glass of beer. It was actually hilarious because as soon as I walked in the room, I was treated so differently than I usually am.  For example, the teacher that sits next to me in the office is the music teacher. He is young, and I was told my the guy who worked at my schools last year that he is good fun, and they were friends. However, this teacher has yet to even look at me. I was upset by this at first, becasuse I could always use another friend in the office, but I actually seem to scare this guy. But as soon as I sit down in the restaurant, I hear “Excuse me Rachel” and I turn around and it’s HIM! He pours me some more beer and then scurries off, but I thought that was hilarious because in the office even if I go out of my way to try to talk to him he is gone at the speed of light! Everyone is drinking, having a good time… I see my male JTE chugging a beer straight from the bottle in the corner of the room. My vice principle at one point is hanging like a monkey from the ceiling, legs up like he is hanging from a tree branch. Clearly everyone has had a few. I think I have drank the same amount as these people (did I mention that Asians cannot hold their liquor? This is just a fact. They have told me this. It is so hilarious). I am pretty much dead sober having had only 3 or 4 GLASSES of beer (and glasses, in Japan, are not what we consider glasses. Its like, mini glasses. Probably a third of the size of a beer glass in Canada). But I enjoy watching everyone having a good time. Then everyone starts telling me about what they all think of me. That was … interesting. I didn’t know how to respond. I was told at first I seemed not as friendly as I didn’t talk a lot (hello, I AM IN JAPAN BY MYSELF – I was nervous! I explain this and they say they understand), and they tell me they like me more now as I am more outgoing and talkative (my usual self I suppose). Apparantly the teachers all had lessons with their students which revolved around them all discussion what they thought of me. As I am the first female English teacher this school as had (the previous two JETs were male), I get an interesting response. I am told that the girls all want to dye their hair blonde now. One of the teachers has a student who goes to the school and apparently he and all of his friends are “in love with me” (his words, not mine) and I was the topic of an entire dinner conversation at his house. I assume this is that group of boys that shout “GOOD BYE RACHEL, I LOVE YOU” every time I cycle away from school in the afternoon. I am surprised to hear all this, as the kids are actually quite shy around me (although the teachers usually are too, apparently unless they have a few beers – but I can’t very well give the kids beer).

After the party is over (about 10) there is to be a second party, but I decide to skip out on this one, as I have made plans to meet up with some other ALTs who also had their work enkais today. Upon hearing this mullet teacher becomes upset, and grabs my hand and yells “GIRLFRIEND” and tries to grab me and take me to karaoke. My JTE (drunkenly) steps in and tells me to call him if we want to come (my friends are welcome to join) and he will tell us where they are. It was hilarious to say the least. And, as I am told, everything will go back to normal the next day I go to work, as if none of this ever happened. Such a hilarious night.

So I depart from this party, and head out to meet my other ALT friends down the street. We meet up and start walking down the street, off to find another bar, when we stumble across a friend named Kelly who happens to be a clown in the Kinoshita Circus that is in town. A couple of friends previously met her at a baseball game (she is from Texas) and obviously struck up a conversation as we are noticeable foreigners. We met her again (I was there this time) at the other baseball game and she is always good for a chat. We see her on the street with a bunch of other Japanese kids, and they are all juggling. So we stop in and decide we want to learn to juggle too. Apparently our friend Katie can already juggle (we did not know this) so Kelly starts to teach her to juggle with the pins (those things that look like bowling ball pins). We spend a couple hours here, and the Japanese kids are quite nice. They own all this juggling equipment and practice every Sunday night and tell us we are welcome to come practice and learn with them and use their equipment. Love it! I manage to learn how to juggle with two of the pins, thanks to Kelly! Its tricky to get the rhythm and the technique right but I want to stick with it and learn, it will be a neat party trick! Kelly tells us that we should come to the circus tomorrow, and to drop her name at the ticket booth and perhaps we can get some good seats! We head out, go to a bar, have another drink, and due to PURE EXHAUSTION of the long day and week that is behind us, head home to go to bed (I have missed my last train, so head back with Catherine to her house to crash).

The next morning I have to wake up early, as I have to come back to my apartment to get INTERNET! The Kaz’s (two Japanese friends of ours, the girl works at the BOE but we have all grown really tight with her and she helps us out with everything! She is amazing! Her and her husband are the cutest couple ever, and both their names start with “Kaz” hence the nicknames: Big Kaz and Little Kaz, or the Kaz’s as a couple haha). They drive me back to my apartment where the internet guys are already waiting to set me up! Perfect! I get internet, and then the Kaz’s me and the guy who lives in my apartment (and worked at my schools last year, named Matt) all go out to lunch. I mention that we are going to the circus in the afternoon and Matt decides to come along. Then we drive back to the city and meet up with the Catherine and Katie to go to the circus! Catherine went to pick up the tickets earlier, and apparently, upon dropping Kelly’s name at the ticket booth, we got great tickets (upgraded to better seats) for FREE! Amazing! We head into the circus where the show was spectacular. Lions and zebra’s and giraffe’s OH MY! We see Kelly preforming (she comes out between the acts to keep everyone entertained) and at one point comes into the crowd, where we are sitting. She is trying to get volunteers to come into the ring for something, but being shy Japanese people, everyone refuses. After struggling with the crowd for a while, she notices us, and runs over! “Thank god!” she says. She notices Matt and apparently is looking for males to do this trick in the ring, so she says “Is he with you girls? Can I borrow him? I am bombing out here!” So we shout “OF COURSE!” But Matt is not having it, he’s like “no, no, no thanks. sorry” but we are like “go! she’s our friend don’t worry!” so he eventually caves and follows her out to the ring. Now that she has one participant, others willingly come along (4 boys in total) and they go out and preform a few funny tricks with her in the ring, and are done! Easy! When Matt gets back to his seat he turns to us and says “I should have warned you guys, I have a fear of clowns!” …. hahahahahahah
After the show is over, we see Kelly, so we run down and tell her it was a great show! She tells us to wait here and she’ll take us backstage! So we do, and she comes around and takes us BEHIND THE SCENES AT JAPAN’S MOST FAMOUS CIRCUS! Oh my god it was AMAZING! We get to see the zebra’s and the giraffe up close (its raining so due to the puddles we couldn’t get right up to the gate – Kelly tells us to give her a call later and we can come back and pet them – !!!!!! – when its not raining). Then she shows us where they keep the elephants, the lions, and we meet some of the performers. We hear stores about when the ring of death guys fell out of the ring of death and nearly died. We hear about when the lions once stopped the show because a couple of them decided to fight in the middle of the ring, effectively stalling the show for a few hours until they quit. We learn about the rig they use, how its from 1910, and so old that when engineers came to see it once they said “do you know how dangerous this thing is?” In the dressing room, I notice a sign that hangs proudly above the mirror. It reads: “Why use logic when you have tradition?”

At the end of the tour, us amazed observers have no choice but to head to a bar, have some beers, and absorb the amazing experience we just had. I can’t help but think what an amazing life these performers live. They totally defy all traditional ideas of what a life should be like. They live in trailers, travel the world, doing what they love, all by their own rules. I make a promise to myself to take a page from their book, and always do what I want, making my own rules and living my own life. It’s corny, I know, but seeing their lifestyle really gets one thinking.

Lions at Kinoshita Circus in Matsuyama!

So that was my weekend. Eventful, to say the least. I really hope things never slow down, and we continue to have days where we are completely surprised and in awe of what we see and do. The possibilities are endless, so bring it on, adventure!

Sports Day Practice & Lessons

Well I am still in the middle of my work week, as I am supposed to be helping with Sports Day this weekend so have 3 more days left until I get a break! However, we are supposed to be getting another hurricane (‘tis the season), so if it comes then we will not have Sports Day until the 20th. I really hope the weather is okay and it isn’t cancelled … That way I get a nice long vacation! I would only have to work on Thursday in the case that Sports Day occurs this weekend and with getting internet on Monday that means I can catch up on all my shows and relax for a few days! On the subject of Sports Day, many lessons are cancelled due to practice. It’s insane how much they are practicing for this one day. They practice everything from standing in a straight line with not a single person out of place, to the bows they will give to the principle before each event starts. It’s ridiculous. And it is so hot! I thought I was going to pass out and I wasn’t even doing any of the events, I was just sitting in the shade watching. I asked my JTE if students ever pass out from heat and his response was “sometimes they die, the younger kids and the grandparents because it is too hot for them”. Today it was 32 degrees but “felt like 38” said the weather, and there was not a cloud in sight. So let’s get a bunch of kids outside at and make them run around! Woo! Great idea! Oh and they are not allowed to wear sunglasses (neither am I) or hats, that’s just not appropriate… They were dropping like flies. I sat by the nurse and we made sure that the ones who were shaking (from heat stroke) were okay, had their water, and were safely in the shade. Sweet Lord.

Today’s lessons went well – I had two. I started my second grade lesson by shouting “DO YOU LOVE ENGLISH CLASS?” because the kids are by far not loud enough and every time they speak they are so quiet, so I am trying to encourage them to be louder and obnoxious unlike typical Japanese people. So I yelled louder “YES I DO” and encouraged them to shout that back and ran around the room and screamed “ENGLISH WOOO HOO” with my hands in the air. They weren’t quite getting it, but I figure if I do it every class to start off the Q&A’s with eventually they’ll catch on. I got a lot of them to pay attention though. Today they were learning “responses” (i.e. If I said, “I saw a movie this weekend” they would respond “awesome” or “sounds cool” or “I hope it was fun” or something to that nature). My job was to read them out and they repeat after me. There were positive and negative responses (“Sounds Fun” and “How interesting” versus “That’s too bad” or “Sorry to hear that”) so I would make really funny voices (and of course they all copied my intonation) which had a lot of them laughing. I think the class was a bit more exciting than the usual “repeat the foreigner” rut that the classes seem to get stuck in. My JTE came up to me afterwards and was like “thank you so much, you made them very excited and many were laughing, they enjoyed that class” so I felt I did a job well done. Especially since usually after a lesson I have never gotten any feedback (even if I ask for it).

That’s all for today! How exciting. Haha …Hope everyone else is enjoying their week!

Culture Notes

I feel like this week is off to a good start. Yesterday I taught three classes, with my favourite JTE (who is really good fun! He lets me do a lot in the classroom and enjoys when the student’s are laughing and joking with me, unlike my other JTE who is more strict and by the book). All three classes were morning classes, and the grade 2’s of the Junior High. They are my favourite because they know just enough English that we can communicate, but they aren’t the oldest students, so they aren’t too cool to talk to the new teacher (me). They even told the JTE after class they thought I was cool and a lot of fun! So I was happy. I had kids playing “rock, paper, scissors” to see who would get to talk to me first after class! After lunch I was watching the dance club – I have been sitting in on their practices for something to do, they are really good and fun to watch, and the dance teacher said, “okay, we are done, bow to your teacher”, so half of the kids turned to bow to the dance teacher, which is what they usually do, and the other half turned to the back of the room, to me, and yelled “Rachel-sensei!” and bowed to me. I thought that was so funny! The dance teacher is super nice, and he said he likes having me come to the club, because the students get really excited to show off their dance, so they dance better! After school was done, and I was watching the kids practice for Sports Day, one of the girls from the dance club came up to me and asked if I would let her teach me the dance so that I could dance with them! They perform on Sports Day for the parents and want me to participate!

Today I had two lessons. Both are with the more strict JTE (although the other JTE helps out in the 3rd year class too, meaning there are 3 of us teachers to all the students!). She is still nice, but there is a little less room for improvisation in her classroom. After the first class though, she asked me to come up with an activity for teaching “do” and “don’t” (i.e. Talk, Don’t Talk – was the example she gave), which I am excited for, because this means I actually have to DO something! So I have made up a bunch of different worksheets as an activity in which the students have to say “do __” or “don’t do __” depending on their worksheet, and find partners whose instructions match. A bingo-type inspired game, but the kids will also learn vocab, like, “don’t cry” (written underneath an image of someone crying, but with an X through it), and “watch TV” written underneath an image of someone watching TV. Anyway, hopefully it goes over well and the students enjoy it.

After lunch I went and met the girl who asked me to join dance club, and she taught me some of the dance! Since I had been watching them these last fews days I could pick it up pretty quick, and in terms of language I feel working with the kids helps my Japanese and their English equally, as we both struggle in each others native languages. Its a lot of fun and a ton of the kids, upon seeing us practicing, came to join in and some just to watch. Eventually we had built up quite the audience. I am glad the kids are getting comfortable enough with me to include me in this stuff, because it definitely makes the day much more fun! A lot of the other teachers just hang out in the staff room, happy for the break, but since I have less work, I’d much prefer hanging out with the kids during breaks! I can tell a lot of them are becoming much less shy, and are approaching me more often, so that’s good!

I also will probably stay late after school today again too, to watch practice for Sports Day and perhaps learn my new dance with the dance club. It’s funny that I am always the last to get to school and the first to leave (out of all the teachers AND students!). Technically my working hours are from 8am-3:45pm but I always get to school at 7:50 and stay until 4:30, and like I said, I am always last to arrive and first to go. The dedication everyone has to school here is unique to Japan. School activities are required for most students, and most teachers run their own club (baseball, dance, tea ceremony, etc etc etc), which run after school for several hours. Students socialize during these club activities, instead of in Canada where kids go home right after school and then linger around the mall, play video games, or do whatever else (probably getting into trouble). I suspect this is why kids have such different attitudes here. They are kept so busy with clubs and activities (which they enjoy!) that they don’t have time to come up with ideas on bad things to do (like vandalize, steal, or whatever else, out of boredom). Kids here are, for the most part, very different than kids at home. I often see teenagers giving up their seats on the train to the older or younger passengers. Young kids (as in barely able to walk kids) are sent to the supermarket alone, 1000 yen bill in hand, to pick up an ingredient for supper, or to send a letter in the post office. I see this regularly, and each time it astonishes me because you wouldn’t see that at home. That small child would have that bill taken from him, by an older child. I have never seen anyone give up their seat to anyone on the subway in Toronto. These small things I see daily always make me happy and are another reminder of why I love Japan.

Mandarin Pirates and Uchiko Moon Viewing

I had such a great weekend! On Friday, after that great day at the elementary school, and I was driven home, I caught the train into town to see a baseball game with friends. The game was really fun. Those of us who didn’t already have hats or t-shirts bought some, and we quickly became new fans of the Mandarin Pirates! After the game (we won! Woo!) the team lined up outside the stadium and we had them sign our hats and shirts! It was good fun. It was kind of hilarious though, because as much as the kids who were around were whispering and pointing at these famous baseball players, the baseball players were whispering and pointing at us foreigners. The reaction we get around here is so funny. Katie and I especially stick out because of our blonde hair and light eyes and people are always commenting on it. After the game when we were waiting for the train the famous “masked man” came and gave us baseballs from the game! He is basically just this guy who wears the team uniform but is always wearing a mask, I guess he is supposed to be mysterious and everyone loves him, but to us the idea of a masked man seemed kind of creepy.

Mask Man at the Mandarin Pirates Game!

The next day everyone came to visit meeee! I didn’t have to go in the city, for once, so it was nice. I had everyone over for dinner (we made spaghetti) and drinks and we “watched” movies, although really we talked through them all. It was fun and Catherine and Tim ended up staying over because they didn’t feel like going back home (I was glad to repay the favour, as I have previously stayed at Catherine’s when I don’t feel like coming home from the city – or when I miss the last train!).

On Sunday, Katie, Tim, Catherine and I went to Uchiko for the Harvest Moon Festival. It was a lot of fun. We went to a wax museum (Uchiko is famous for its wax production – I had no idea that wax was made from plants – I hadn’t really thought about it I guess, but the process is actually really cool …). Tim, unfortunately, had to leave early to catch the ferry back to his island, so Catherine, Katie and I went to a restaurant for a few beers and some food to kill time before it got dark and we could enjoy the celebrations. We entered a local bar and were the only ones there. We were served some complimentary squid (ickk, but I ate it all, as is customary in Japan) and then our beers. This bar was clearly host to a specific group of locals, and as each one entered the bar throughout our time there, each shocked expression at our appearance in their bar was hilarious. They would open the door, see us sitting there, say “Ohhhh!” and then proceed to stare at us in wonder. Enter drunken 64 year old lady. We know she is 64 because her reaction upon seeing us, coupled with surprise, is to immediately join us for our food and drinks, and she tells us it was her birthday, and she was out celebrating. This lady was a hoot and a half. She bought us beers, took pictures with us, and was just generally a good time. We had intended to leave the bar earlier, as it was now dark out, and optimal moon viewing time, but we stayed to finish our drinks with this hilarious lady. After were done there we strolled the lantern lighten streets and over the candle lighted streams, under the light of the full moon. It was really quite beautiful, and there was live serene music playing. Tea was being served and the streets were full with locals. It was quite beautiful and worth the trip down.

I hope everyone else had a wonderful weekend! Back to the working world Monday morning! I have to work Monday through until Sunday this week – including the weekends, as this weekend is “Sports Day”, an important school event that occurs at each school in Japan. Everyone comes in Saturday to set up and Sunday is the event itself. Will be a long week but I am looking forward to it! Forgot to mention some other good news recieved while at the baseball game: my request to install internet has been accepted, and they are coming on Monday the 19th at 10 am! I will no longer be internet-less! That was a long time coming, but I am very grateful the day is nearing! I really need to catch up on my TV shows! Fortunately, due to holidays and days off earned by working the weekend, I only have to work on Thursday next week! So internet is arriving just in time! Thats all for now, folks!

Elementary School Visit

So today is a bit different for me (although really, what day isn’t different here?). Instead of biking to my usual Junior High School I am taking a school bus with young children to an Elementary School. The bus stop is quite close to my house, so that is nice, although the bus isn`t so much a bus as it is a van. Kind of sketchy but in Japan things are just done differently. So I get into this van (after confirming this is the right vehicle by stating the name of the school to the driver and him replying `dozo` – like `prego` in Italian, or please i.e offering, in English). So I hopped on in and thus arrived at my elementary school. Now, no one here speaks English, so things have been tricky so far. The English teacher doesn`t even speak English, so he came up to me with the textbook, talked at me while I attempted to decipher what I am supposed to be doing, said “I don`t understand” and he just smiled and walked away. Hmm. Now I am just sitting in the staffroom with no idea what is going on. Although the principal did take my picture for the school newspaper, and the lady who sits beside me brought me some iced coffee, so that was nice. I was also brought some Japanese tea, a delicious CHOCOLATE (yep, actual chocolate exists here, I was estatic) treat, and some ‘blueberry vinegar’ concoction. Without any English from the school, and a complete lack of Japanese on my end, I wonder how I will get by here today. I have a feeling I will be learning just as much Japanese from these young kids as they will be learning English from me. I have spent my morning so far translating my introductory speech (usually given in English to the JHS kids, about Canada and myself) into Japanese so that if I fail epicly with English to these children (and I don`t see how they will understand me if the English teacher can`t) I have some basic words to fall back on. The teachers here are all very nice though, and are very paitent with me. So far we have had a discussion about turnips… I don’t know why or where they had intended to go with that, but it happened. Also, I believe I have been invited to some sort of party on the 30th involving sake. I also have met some kids who play basketball (it was assumed I played basketball due to my height).

At lunch I ate with the kiddies. I actually seem to be enjoying myself a lot around the younger kids. Its much less awkward to use chopped Japanese, and saying even one or two words goes a lot further. You can ask a lot of “what is this?” in Japanese and then the kids can answer so I actually learn a lot. The kids aren’t as afraid of me as the JHS kids seem to be. They more or less just go about their business whether I am there or not whereas in JHS they stop everything and watch me awkwardly.

I only had one lesson lesson in the afternoon (which went AMAZING, the kids ohhhh and awwwwed at all my photos and were much more responsive and involved than the JHS kids, and we spent a good 10 minutes afterwards just asking questions- due to their limited English the questions were just “do you like…” but it was amazing nonetheless), and after that one of the teachers drove me back home! Super nice. I feel so grateful because at the beginning of the day I was so nervous and unsure, but it ended up being one of my more enjoyable workdays. Although the language barrier was an issue here I really enjoyed myself there, everyone was amazing, I loved the kids, and I cannot wait until my next visit back!!

Embarrassing Yourself

Have you ever embarrassed yourself in a room full of kids?

I am beginning to enjoy my time at school a lot more now that I have begun to teach more and more classes throughout the day. Today I had one class first thing in the morning, and another after lunch, which is an improvement from yesterday when I only taught one class after lunch. Tomorrow I will teach three classes! Movin on up..

Anyway, I will get to the juicy stuff. Had quite the embarrassment in my after lunch class (year 3, Junior High School students – so, the oldest and most English speaking of the students I teach). The teacher passed out a BINGO sheet, in which the students had to find a classmate who had done something to fill every square (Target phrase: Have you ever…? I.E. Have you ever read Harry Potter? Have you ever been to Hokkaido? Etc, etc). I was instructed to read out the target phrase for each of the boxes for the students to repeat after me, which was fine, but… it got real awkward real quick when I got to: “Have you ever drunk aojiro?” This problem with this was twofold. First, that sentence sounds really weird, we would be more apt to say “drank” … but whatever. (I looked this up and apparently drank is more informal, while drunk is more formal and more technically correct to be used with “have”, although both are okay) … I will let that slide, because the more pressing matter is how do you pronounce whatever it is that we are asking if you’ve drunk? In the moment, I was very confused. Sitting here at my desk now I can easily attempt of break down the word and make a fair attempt at how you would pronounce it (as you, gentle reader, probably are whilst sitting there at home). But this is not an accurate attempt! Imagine yourself amidst the chaos and glares that accompany the junior high school classroom! I panicked and mumble through the word. Awkward! Next up: “done taue?, heard jyoyonokane? Made umeboshi?” Oh my god. As you can imagine I was as awkward as could possibly be. I had to apologize to my JTE afterwards. I literally stumbled through the Japanese word, as the students stared up at me, wondering if I was saying something in English or butchering their language. Sorry children. Sorry English teachers! Sorry everyone! Awkwardness will prevail when I am around! Be warned!

So that was exciting. The teachers seemed okay with it (although they had to be – what were they going to do start yelling at me in front of the students?) … They just sort of corrected me, and then told the students to repeat. It was awkward though, and I am sure the students were like, “what is she trying to say to us?” The worst part is I never get any of these things before hand. Mostly, I am just sitting at my desk browsing the internet and one of the English teachers will come up to me and say “Rachel are you ready?” And I say “sure am!” Then we saunter off to a classroom where right before I go in I am told what to do. This is pretty much the norm for JETs though, we are warned about this well in advance. No matter how many times we ask if we can help, lesson plan, aid in any way, we are always told no. Or at least I am. Probably because they don’t want someone who can barely speak to be planning lessons. I am certainly not moving myself forward after that display. Oh well. I think the score is now Japanese 999,986, 923; Rachel 0.