Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gifts Galore!

Though a custom in Japan to give gifts to people for leaving (and almost any other reason you can think of), I didn't really expect that much from my students or teachers. I already posted about my Friday party and gifts I guess, but here's a picture of just a few of the things I've received! I got a matching rice bowl, tea cup and chopsticks with cherry blossoms on it. The bamboo art thing is a local specialty art from Shibakawa, a smaller city/area in Fujinomiya. It's hard to tell but there is a dragonfly carved out of bamboo that balances on a small branch. I saw them at a festival and thought they were cool, so it was a great gift!

The bright pink thing in front is the jimbei, a sort of pajama type house wear maybe equivalent to a robe. I was really excited about that!! And on the right are some handkerchiefs with cherry blossoms on them. Very cute!! I might have to get another suitcase just for gifts if they keep pouring in!!

Daruma

Long ago when Paul was visiting, I bought my first daruma doll. Daruma dolls are a symbol of perseverance and good luck. I learned about them actually in my first week in Japan at English Camp. The students had to write about and give a short speech about something from Japanese culture. So I've had this thing lying around, but wanted to wait until I had the right wish or goal in mind. The idea is that you fill in one eye when you make the wish or set the goal, and then fill in the other eye after it has come true or been accomplished. So I finally decided the other day that the 30 before 30 goal is the one I want to use my daruma on. So call it a wish or a goal, but it's officially set into stone! It is said that in order to motivate Daruma-san to fulfill your wish, you must promise him full sight upon him granting your wish. So, Mr. Daruma, please give me good luck and I'll give you sight, partially granted by Sharpie, Inc.


When you buy it, it looks like this with no eyes.

A daruma or dharma doll "is a hollow, round Japanese doll modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism." -- wikepedia


Many daruma dolls are burned at the end of the year at temples. You're supposed to buy a new one each year, but I'm granting myself immunity from this since a) I'm leaving Japan and b) my goal spans multiple years. It is said that when you see the daruma with only one eye it reminds you of the goal you have in mind. So I'll keep mine some place in the open when I go back to the US to remind me of this lofty goal I have set for myself!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Perfect Friday

Well, this weekend was huge in reminding me of the reality: I’m leaving in less than three weeks. I have two weekends left in Japan and then I’m out! I had an incredible Friday. I didn’t have any classes and couldn’t force myself to focus at all. I think I was just thinking about everything and taking it all in. Though I didn’t have any classes, I do have to stay late on Fridays for English Club. This week was our last one, so we had a party as we usually do at the end of every semester, this time for me since I’m leaving. We got the usual obligatory soft drinks and junk food, and I made some guacamole for the students to try. Most liked it, some were too afraid to try!

Mt. Fuji has lost most of it's snow! Climbing season starts this week. I'm actually going to a festival
on Saturday that celebrates the beginning of the climbing season!


So much junk food!

I know that it’s a custom in Japan to give someone a going away present when they leave, but I was extremely surprised at how many gifts I received from the students! I got a traditional outfit called a jimbei (like the one I posted awhile back of baby Cohen), lots of hand towel/handkerchiefs with Japanese print, a Japanese print hand mirror, a wind chime, a picture frame, some Japanese sweets and candies, some earrings (because I have a lot of holes), and more that I can’t think of. This was one of those times when it hit me that I was leaving. It was sorta the first of the goodbyes as my first farewell party. I may or may not see most of those students again in the next few weeks as I’m almost done teaching. If I do see them it will probably just be passing them in the halls, so it was a little sad. After the party when I was leaving I had some 3rd year student (senior) run up to me and hug me and say “I will miss you! I wish I could have practiced English with you more!!” It was funny as it’s been over a year since I taught him and I don’t even know his name. But it was cool and sad all at once.


Second year students (juniors)

More second year students

Some third year students (seniors) came back even though
they don't have to come to club anymore.

My only 4 first year students (sophomores), the smallest group I have seen in my two years here.

After my English club party, I biked down to the station to meet Kelly. We went to do purikura at the newly remodeled mall in Fujinomiya. I wish it had been remodeled earlier so I could have reaped the benefits the whole time I was here, but it’s really nice and great for the city I think! Anyway, we ended up doing purikura for almost an hour! We also found some awesome Engrish shirts and bought matching ones. We wore them for some of our photo fun – it was incredible!! After we had a nice traditional Japanese dinner in the food court at a nice restaurant and then headed off to some night onsen. I had forgotten how much I loved it before I went last weekend on my trip. I will hopefully go one more time before I leave Japan, but I’m not sure it will happen or not!!



Overall it was a great evening filled with lots of “I’m really going to miss Japan” moments. So great I went as far as saying it was the “perfect” night. Speaking of gifts, a teacher just came to give me some MORE handkerchiefs as a going away present! Really cute with sakura (cherry blossoms) on them! Guess I'll never be without handkerchiefs again!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tahara

What a weekend! I took a shinkansen bullet train ride down to the next prefecture. Thankfully I had a coffee, some Hakone bakery and a Newsweek to keep me entertained! It's been awhile since I took the shink, so it was pretty sweet!

So I went down to Tahara, out on another peninsula a bit west of here. I met up with my Tokyo roommate and a friend I met through her. They came up to see me and Mt. Fuji in March, but we wanted to get together one last time before Jennifer and I left. Danielle and I met after getting off the shinkansen and took a local line down the peninsula. The area is famous for nanohana, or rape blossoms, so the chairs on the train were covered in the yellow flowers. Apparently during the season, they outside of the train is covered in flowers too!

We hung out and caught up with each other on Saturday night. We also went for a hike through the fog!! I was able to see a little of the city and ocean before it fogged up. I also realized on this hike that rainy season has given me CURLY HAIR! I was in shock for most of the weekend since even why I try to curl my hair in America it goes flat. I've since embraced it and started gelling it everyday.

On Sunday we went down to the end of the peninsula, Irago. It had a nice beach with surfers and a picturesque lighthouse. Below are me, Jennifer and Danielle.

The girls tried some clams, but I was too scared so I had some pineapple on a stick instead! After this, we headed to a buffet at the Irago View Hotel. Then we headed into the bath at the hotel. There was a fabulous bath looking out over the ocean and end of the peninsula. It was a big foggy, but looking out over the ocean is never a bad thing! It was nice and relaxing.


After heading back to Shizuoka, I met up with my friend Brian in Shizuoka City for some pizza. I don't get to hang with him very often, but we always have fabulous conversation! I didn't want to leave, but we were the last ones outta the place! It was a nice finish to a great weekend with fabulous people!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Beginning to End

This picture was posted on the JET Programme website. It's from one of my absolute first days in Japan at orientation. Was interesting to see and think about as my leaving is quickly approaching. I've been in contact with my successor this past week. It's crazy to think about how many things I want to tell her and help her with! There are many things you have to learn as you go, but I'm trying to give her as much help as possible as it's a big transition!!

A lot of people have asked how I feel about leaving. I have had a mix of feelings, but am mostly still in denial! I'm down to 23 days now. I have a lot of things to do and errands to run like sending things home, cleaning the apartment and throwing things away, canceling my utilities and cell phone and internet, arranging for my luggage to be picked up and brought to the airport, setting up a tax agent here so I can get my pension refund and lots more. Of course that doesn't factor in all the gatherings to say goodbye!!

I've been a little stressed about getting things done before I leave, but I know they will all get figured out in the end. I'm trying to enjoy myself and the little time I have left without emotionally "checking out" with all the moving things that need to be done. I am looking forward to coming home and spending lots of time with friends and family, and also my new job. But am trying to put off those feelings a little bit and focus on being here for just a little longer. So far, I'm doing an okay job of balancing all these feelings. Please be thinking of me in the weeks to come as I have so much to do!!! See you in a few weeks people!!!

School Festival

Here's another school festival installment. I said I was going to post more and I didn't, so here it's finally coming!!! Above is our school festival poster. The theme is "Change our School." Ironically, not much changed about the festival from last year...

School festival in Japan possibly comparable to homecoming in America. The students have two days of activities. All of it starts off in the gym. The cheer boys start it up, as you saw in my previous post. Then we have a music contest and come commercials that the 3rd year students make to advertise the food they are selling during the next two days. The brass band and guitar club also play pieces that they've prepared.

The first day is closed to the public, and the kids just get to walk around and see everything. Each culture club at school prepares some sort of display and seniors sell food and have some sort of game as well. Third year students sold fried chicken and croquette, ice cream, rice balls, had a bread shop and sold some other Japanese style snacks. Art club sold fans you could paint, tea ceremony club had several ceremonies you could participate in, calligraphy club had papers and brushes so you could do calligraphy, the "domestic" club sold foods with recipes and sold homemade scrunchies, etc, etc, etc.

Tea Ceremony
Seniors selling rice balls -- they had quite the organized system!

Some Mountain Climbing club girls in their tent display.

One of our Mountain Climbing club students -- he has won some prefectural contests. We have a rock wall at our school. Unfortunately I didn't get to try this because I was wearing a skirt!

Cooking club -- so you know how many calories you're consuming. Also, note the scrunchies on top of the table!



Art club fans. Mine is below -- that says "sakura" or cherry blossom in kanji.

Note how much better Saki's looks than mine...

The second day is open to the public, so many parents and alumni stop in throughout the day. It's basically the same as the day before. On day two, the baseball team has a game and the tennis team has matches going on all day as well.

This is one of my favorite things at school here. My students sometimes seem to not have much personality. I realize this is mostly because of a language barrier, but also because it seems all they do is study and think about school!!! During school festival, the kids loosen up and seem to be having much more fun than any other time of year. It's fun to see. I tried to post as many pictures as was practical here, but you should check out all the pictures on flickr. They give the festival more justice. It shows just how much work the kids go to decorating for just two days of festival!!

Hamburgers at Montego Cafe

For the past few weeks I have been craving a big juicy hamburger!!! I think that Japanese stereotypes have started to infiltrate my life. Dion and I frequent this burger joint in Fujinomiya, and a small group of local foreigners have dubbed this place to have the best burgers in Shizuoka. Last week, I introduced Kyoko and Chiaki to the Montego Cafe. They of course oooohed and ahhhhhed over the size of the burgers, and Kyoko took part of hers home for breakfast the next morning haha! Here we are posing with our burgers below:

Me, Kyoko and Chiaki with our burgers

Me with the owner -- hope he doesn't go out of business when I leave :)

I have a few more outings planned with these ladies before I go. I met them through my eikaiwa adult conversation class as most of you know. Though many times I don't want to leave my house at 7pm on a weeknight to teach, I have really enjoyed the opportunities that teaching that class has given me. I've gotten to make friends with some Japanese people, and enjoy the conversation and fun we have in class. They are eager to learn, much more than my high schoolers!! I think our next outing is going to be a fireworks festival at Lake Kawaguchi for the opening of the Mt. Fuji climbing season. I told them I wanted to go to a festival and wear my yukata, and they found a festival for me! Such sweethearts. So I think we're going to get all snazzy and go check it out!! Pictures to come later!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Leaving Survey

Recently we had to fill out a short survey about our time in Japan for the leaver's directory for JETs in Shizuoka. Thought I would share my answers with you!!


Name: Ashley Janssen

Placement: Fujinomiya Nishi High School

Years on JET: 2 years, 2008-2010

Where you’re headed next: Round Lake, MN -- my hometown…a place I never thought I would return!

What you’ll be doing: Teaching Spanish, English and ESL at the small high school I graduated from and coaching volleyball.

How people can best contact you (facebook, email, phone): facebook, email

Best memories from your time in Japan: Sapporo beer gardens, hanami at Iwamotoyama Park, onsen days with the girls, Oxfam Trailwalker, capsule hotel weekends with the girls in Tokyo, strawberry picking, fireworks, taking a seishun 18 kippu solo trip to Himeji, Miyajima, Nagasaki, Beppu and Kyoto – that’s a lot of train!!!

Favorite places you visited in Japan: Goza Beach in Mie-ken, Beppu, Hiroshima, Fushimi Inari and Zen gardens in Kyoto, Miyajima, Okayama Korakuen

Favorite places you visited in other countries you traveled to while living here (if applicable): I spent about 20 days in Thailand and a long weekend in South Korea. Highlights were elephant riding, cuddling with tigers, lighting lanterns on New Year’s in Ao Nang, biking to the Myanmar border from our volunteer base in Sangkhlaburi, and wandering the shops in Insadong in Seoul.

What you’ll miss the most after you leave (food, places, people etc.): Kappazushi, onsen, seeing Mt. Fuji (almost) every day, road trips on and to the Izu, purikura, my “crazy girl” fan club, the friends that I’ve made, seeing women in Kimono and crazy Japanese styles.

What you won’t miss after you leave (if applicable): the humidity and rainy season, air drying my clothes, having to rely on others to do things for me

What are you most proud of having accomplished while here? Oxfam Trailwalker, the daily overcoming of obstacles that present themselves when living in a foreign country

Do you have any regrets about leaving? (things you should have done, places you should have gone etc.): I wish I had studied Japanese more.

How would you sum up your time here in a single word? adventure

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Celebration

Good morning everyone!! I guess more accurately here is good afternoon, but I slept in 'til noon today. It's such a glorious day outside, so perfect with my sliding doors open and looking out at the mountains and city (of course unfortunately with a few electrical lines in the way...). I've got a load of laundry in the machine, ready to hang in the sun.

I guess it's such a glorious day because I had such an amazing time last night. A sort of celebratory evening. A celebration for what you ask? I GOT A JOB! I am sure many of you already know this from facebook or from talking to me personally, but just in case, I thought I should spread the word around.

It's quite interesting in fact. I didn't even really intend to apply for the job. There haven't been all that many English or Spanish openings that fit my "ideal" school/working situation. I wanted to work in a more diverse school district around St. Cloud or maybe the twin cities. I did a few applications, but realized I needed to start branching out and possibly apply for ESL positions since that's where my experience is and I would have a better chance at scoring a job. Well, there was a job posting for ESL at my alma mater, Round Lake-Brewster High School. The posting was pretty short and sweet and didn't give any details, so I decided to email the principal just to check if it was elementary or high school.

And well, that was the beginning of the end. He asked me to call him to discuss the position, and then we did a phone interview, and it worked out in the end that I will be teaching all at the high school: Spanish I and II, English 12 AP, Speech, and two ESL classes. Worthington has shown some interest in an interview with me, but it would be a full time ESL position, something I'd be okay with teaching obviously since I applied for the job, but in the end I realized that no other school will provide me with the opportunity to actually use both my licenses and teach English and Spanish. The class sizes are pretty small (like 10 kids) which is good for a lot of things, but sometimes isn't ideal if you want to do larger group things. But overall it's about as perfect as I could ask for. The cherries on top are an assistant volleyball coaching position, a SMART board in my classroom, a laptop and desktop computer, and a printer in my room.

It might be a bit of an adventure heading back to my hometown after having been so far away, but I'm looking forward to seeing my niece grow since I only saw her once in her first 18 months of life. I'm looking forward to hanging with my brother and Katie, helping out my parents and having my dad grill me a steak now and then, and being able to go to movie nights and shopping days with Dawna. It will be nice to have so many of the people who are special to me right there! Of course my sister and Nicole are still pretty far away, but at least a cheaper flight than Japan!

A sashimi plate to start off the night!

So on to this celebration!! Every now and then my adult conversation class and I get together for a celebration or night out. It's fun for everyone and they like to practice their English outside of the classroom setting. Last night we went out for a typical Japanese enkai.We started off with sashimi and raw chicken, a Kyushu (the south/west island) special food. I had eaten it once before in Tokyo, and really like it actually! Every time I put it in my mouth though, I have to get over the fact that it's raw chicken. Goes against everything I've ever learned in life!

Yes, that's raw chicken!

Chiaki and I eating the raw chicken.

After a lot of food, beer and conversation, we moved on to nijikai, which translates to "second party," basically like after party I guess...except in Japan there also sometimes is a sanjikai, which means third party. A typical nijikai second party is going to karaoke. I actually have never been to karaoke in Fujinomiya. Well, surprisingly people didn't want to sing all that much and I felt like I was the common thread holding the party together, so I sang a lot of songs. This is completely out of character for me, as I usually have to be dragged to karaoke by my friends. I have started to like it actually, with unfortunate timing since I'm leaving Japan!

Yes, Hirofumi was a rock star.

And so were we!

The whole group that went out. The class is bigger, but this is all that could make it last night.

So, all in all, a great week and weekend. I'll probably do a few more posts about school festival, at least that was my intention last week! I took a lot of pictures because last year I didn't post about it or put up pictures even. So hopefully I can get my stuff together this week. I'm down to about exactly a month left in Japan, so my days and weekends are filling up fast with social gatherings. All to be repeated upon returning home. Gonna take a lot of Starbucks to keep me going!! Take care everyone...til next time.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Japanese Cheer Team

In Japan, there aren't a whole lot of girl cheerleading teams. There are some of course, but more popular is a boys' cheering squad or team called Oendan. They also are usually cheering for the baseball team, rather than the most common football cheerleaders in America. In the videos below, the team is getting the school pumped up for the school festival.

video


video

These videos and also tons of pictures from school festival are posted on my flickr. There are quite a few pictures, but I didn't post any last year, so I wanted you to see what it's all about!