Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mid-year Seminar Online

Last week our prefecture had our Mid-year Seminar, I think I already posted about it a little bit. My presentation is online here. Thought you might want to check it out! It's mostly on intercultural communication!

I'm busy busy with work and Sarah being here. I don't have much time to write, but we went to Tokyo for a few days for the compulsory sightseeing, then came back to Fujinomiya and came to school together yesterday. It was nice to show someone where I work, and the students enjoyed having her in class. Today she is off sightseeing with one of my friends. They are braving the bus system for the first time together, so hopefully they figure it out!

One of the English teachers that I teach with is home sick with the flu, so I have had to teach a few classes alone this week. Also, one of the homerooms (40 students) was sent home and couldn't take my test yesterday. Because 14 of them were sick, they just sent home the whole lot to make sure that no one else got sick. This flu business is crazy, I hope I don't pick anything up from school! I haven't been spending such long hours at school lately, but I have been out in public and around lots of people with Sarah! I'll keep popping the vitamin C and hope for the best!

Alright, I better get to work, got class in a bit! Just thought I would do a short update!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heaters and Speech Contest

What a busy few days! I doubt that comment will end for another month when I get some breathing room in December :D Here's some exciting news on the home front!

The weather is cooling down here. I have noticed I am much more acclimated this year than last. Last year at this time I was miserable, coming to school every day thinking they *might* turn on the heater. I have heard a lot of the new people complaining already, which is why I noticed that I must be used to life here. I just finally took out my heater at home and used it last night. I've been using my kotatsu table and blanket for a little while, but that was more out of fun and comfort because I bought a new table. It's been enough to keep me warm recently.

Last night I was tired after a long three days and decided it was much cold enough with the rain that I could use my kerosene heater. At school, I just know they won't turn on the heat. Today I'm wearing my thermal underwear and socks, and two shirts (and will probably put my fleece on soon!) and also have adopted the Japanese "lap blanket" when at work. So, I'm sitting here at my desk with a blanket over my lap. And yes, the windows are open and I'm not complaining (though I closed a few when no one was around thinking the Japanese are crazy).

On Sunday there was a speech contest in Numazu. It's mostly past speech contest season, but my student for some reason entered this one that was so late. In the end it was a good thing, because I doubt she would have been ready for it earlier. I have been working with her after school for several weeks now, and it's been tiring to get home after dark every day (though it gets dark early, I haven't been staying THAT late). She's worked really hard at memorizing her speech and I was really proud of her! I don't think she really likes school or other subjects all that much, but she is passionate about learning English because her brother is studying at a university in America and she wants to do the same. She ended up getting second place in the contest! She won a big trophy and certificate, as well as a gift certificate for some department store I think.

The winners and the judges

My student in the middle with her prizes

The other contestants had really good pronunciation and speaking skills, I was impressed with the contest. Though my student's pronunciation wasn't perfect, she worked really hard and several people in the contest had been to English speaking countries, so she had a hard battle to fight! I think she mostly did so well because she had memorized her speech. After the contest we were invited to a little celebration with cookies and drinks, where she had to then give a short speech in Japanese, a formality that often occurs in Japan. They presented her with flowers and she had to give a small thank you speech to the people who put on the speech contest and things like that. She also said thank you to me during the speech for helping her, which was nice.

Accepting her flowers and giving her impromptu thank you speech

Just before that, I was talking to some of the judges (other ALTs) about how in Japan you always have to be ready to give an impromptu speech. Japanese are always interested in our impression of things, in addition to the fact that it's just normal to ask anyone, Japanese or foreign, to give their impression as a formality. So of course, just after that discussion, I was asked to give a speech, despite the fact that I was in no way a part of the speech contest planning or judging. Why I had to give a speech and not the other teachers who were actually being paid to be there, I have no explanation for except that maybe she mentioned me in her speech. So, I sucked it up as I've become accustomed to doing, and I think it was probably one of my better impromptu speeches. And my student thought it was funny and was taking pictures of me on her cell phone.

Happy it's over and glad she did well!

Overall, it was a good experience for both of us I think. I enjoy working one on one with my students, and we got to know each other a little better and could ask each other questions about our culture and lifestyles. So despite working an extra day with no pay or compensation, I'm glad I did it and proud of how hard she worked to succeed.

After a long Sunday at the contest, I had to go to our prefectural mid-year seminar on Monday and Tuesday. So my Monday morning started off driving 2 hours to Kakegawa, the middle of no where, to an educational facility that has many conference rooms and then also dorms for us to stay overnight. Everyone who has been on the JET program for more than a year has to give a presentation. So, a teacher from my school and I had to give a 50 minute presentation. Our audience was relatively small compared to some of the other presentations with only 16 people. It was a presentation on "Communicating with your ALT" and it was for JTE (ALT = Assistant Language Teacher and JTE = Japanese Teacher of English). The presentation went alright, I hope that the teachers felt it was somewhat useful. It honestly didn't go as well as I'd hoped, but I'm really just glad it's over with. I dreaded it for a long time to be honest.

In addition to giving a presentation, I of course went to several other seminars that other ALTs were presenting. I went to one on "Understanding English Education in Japan" that was especially helpful, as well as one on Teaching Global Issues. I got a few ideas from several other presentations as well. I also got a lot of time to talk to my supervisor. Japanese teachers are really busy, partly because all Japanese appear to be busy. But in reality, my supervisor really is quite busy. She has two kids and has to prepare their lunches early in the morning and drive to school, where she is a homeroom teacher and in charge of the "student uniform committee". Homeroom teachers are like surrogate parents. If students get into trouble outside of school, they are often called even before the parents. They have to worry about the students health, morals and well-being as well. So that means lots of phone calls to students' parents. For uniforms, she has to come to school early some days and stand at the entrance of the school, scolding students who roll their skirts up, don't have their ties straight, don't tuck in their shirts, etc. Also, she has a full load of classes and I'm sure many other things that I don't even know about really. But anyway, back to the original point, I got basically two days of her undivided attention. It was good time to ask questions and just get to know each other better. Overall, though I was dreading the seminar, it ended up being much more useful than I remember last year being.

The JET program that I came to Japan with is being cut in several prefectures. With the economy the way it is and continuing budget cuts to education (I'm sure much the same as in the United States), people are trying to find ways to save money. As some of you know and others don't, JET is pretty much the best program there is for teaching ESL in Japan, and arguably the world. It pays well, comes with great benefits, has good training, and also great support and networking opportunities. That being said, it's also the most expensive for the people who host it in Japan. So as budgets are being cut, more and more schools are going with private companies who pay their teachers less, but also don't make them work during summer and school vacations. I definitely see the reasoning behind going with the private companies, there are positives on both sides. So there were rumors of this happening my my prefecture, as it was being discussed by the board of education to change to private ALTs. Now since I'm planning to leave, you would think it wouldn't matter so much to me, but if they were to change over the system starting this year, it would probably mean that I had to empty my apartment before leaving Japan. That would be especially difficult if I couldn't sell or give my things to other ALTs and would cost me money to throw things like furniture, appliances and electronics away. That is just one more stress that I wouldn't want to deal with when having to leave Japan. It was announced on Monday at the seminar, that Shizuoka has decided to continue on with JET for at least another year until the decision comes up again next year. That was a great relief to hear and start off the week with!

I guess that's all for today. It ended up being a long post about the boring happenings of life lately, but I'll end that on a positive note saying that life in Japan is just that for me -- the same old. Feeling comfortable in life and adjusted to living in a foreign country. I suppose that means a big adjustment when I come back home! Take care everyone!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

“How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” -- Some wisdom from Dr. Seuss

Okay, Okay, this'll be my last post with a Dr. Seuss quote. Maybe. But I really have been feeling this way lately. I know it's because I have been busy which makes time fly by, but I cannot believe we're bordering on mid-November already.

I've been having sort of uneventful weekends lately, with more action packed into the week. I've been staying late to help tutor students and work with a girl for speech contest which has made my days at work longer. Also this past week was one of our town's yearly festivals. This fall festival is a thanksgiving festival for the harvest (presumably rice, because the tea is still in the fields). People enjoy bon-dancing (apparently, cuz I didn't see this) and parading with (floats) through the streets. Different neighborhoods have dashi and they drag them by a big rope through the streets all day and all evening.

Though pretty cool, it was less exciting when I went to get my hair cut on Wednesday morning. In case you didn't know, Japan is full of one way streets, and narrow streets that are basically wide enough for only one and half cars. Well, you can imagine one of these dashi taking up the whole road and moving at -1 mph. I tried to go around the block, but Japan also doesn't have blocks. The roads are created from paths made probably long before the United States was even a country, and the layout is absolutely asinine. So...I drove around for 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get to that road from the other side of the float, but had no luck. So, I was already 10 minutes late for my appointment and parked in one of the "festival parking zones" which wasn't being used by anyone else at 10 in the morning because it really was overflow parking. So then I literally ran up the road to my appointment, arriving 15 minutes late (which is not in style in Japan), sweaty and not wanting people to be touching my hair! Anyway, my hair ended up looking pretty good and it was nice having someone in my own city who speaks English cut my hair!

The Fujinomiya Crew - also my new haircut, though it was long windblown by this time of night...

Back to the festival -- there were tons of food booths with everything from "American Dogs" (corn dogs), to chocolate covered bananas (my personal favorite), crepes, french fries, fried chicken, squid and other delights on a stick, a chinese style pancake, and as always Fujinomiya famous yakisoba (buckwheat noodles with cabbage, meat, fish flakes, etc). Here, the guys pose in front of a booth selling the city's famous food. My kids write about it in their journals all the time. You see, in Japan, every city has a sort of signature food. This is ours. I could think of many more exciting foods.

These orange flags can be found all around the city, in front of every restaurant that sells the food.

I ran into tons of my students, as did Dion and Neil. Mine provided the most entertainment, because they have the best English skills. The baseball boys were out in a huge group. Baseball in Japan is like Football in America, so it's the "cool" sport. They were all hanging out together, being loud and obnoxious and they didn't stop just cuz I came around! We chatted with them for awhile and I was told "I love you" multiple times, most likely because they can't say anything else in English :) Still makes me smile every time. There were eying the baseball teams from the other rival city schools with the meanest looks on their faces which made me laugh out loud. A few other boys were following us around for awhile, which I found hilarious. After about ten minutes of them following us to every place we went, I went up to talk to them and they worked up the nerve to ask to walk around with us. In the end, we posed for a picture together.

Here's a few more pictures of the festival:

I need to learn how to tie my obi like this!

People pulling the float with a rope.

Last, here's a video of a few of the floats. The girl at the end who is getting
ready to wave is one of my students who got excited to see me!

Hope I gave you all a good picture of what a festival in Japan looks like! I'm not sure I'll be back to blogging again until after my sister visits over Thanksgiving! I can't wait to see her and for her to see where I live and life I lead here in Japan. Hmm..we do have sports day next week if not too many students are sick with the flu, so I'll maybe try to post that! Love you and miss you all!! --Ash

Monday, November 9, 2009

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Best Friends in Japan, originally uploaded by jans0176.

I was playing around with my flickr yesterday and the edit feature with Picnik. I thought this picture summed up Dawna's trip to Japan. Though probably only she'll get some of the references, I wanted to share with all of you.

Thanks Dawna for coming to visit. I miss you more everyday and hope you enjoyed yourself as much as I did! I thought this quote described you well, and really us! I love you so much and can't wait to see you next! Proud to call you my best friend!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fall Color Adventure

I'm up really late and should be getting a few things ready for school tomorrow. I was so busy last week I didn't have time to finish the lesson I'm teaching tomorrow. I don't teach it until sixth period tomorrow though, so I can probably get everything ready during the day...but should be doing it tonight. Instead, I'm wide awake from the nap I took this afternoon and still procrastinating. So here's another post to add to the weekend updates.

On Saturday, I set off in search of fall colors. I just started tutoring a student this week who is a training to become a monk at the local temple. Apparently it's a branch of one of the main temples in Japan. I had been there only one time during cherry blossom season, but didn't get to fully explore the grounds. After tutoring him last week (which was basically having an hour and half conversation with him), I decided that it would be the location for my leaf search. Colin, a Canadian who is working part time in Fuji, joined me for the adventure, and what an adventure it was (that's a tid bit of sarcasm, in case you couldn't tell). We did however, capture some good images (on our cameras, and in our hearts).

This is Japan.

All joking aside, I did get some cool pictures of Mt. Fuji. There is snow on top now, and the weather continues to get clearer as rainy season has faded away.
We actually didn't find a whole lot of trees that were changing colors. There were lots of evergreens that were partially dying, though we decided the brown didn't count as fall colors. We did catch sight of Mt. Fuji at one point with a few trees by the side of the road.

Every temple has a five story pagoda in Japan, and each story stands for one of the five elements. Here I was testing out the color accent feature on my camera. Thought it was pretty cool.

After exploring the temple, we moved on to the other local hangout, JUSCO. It's sorta like the mall in Fujinomiya. Whenever I ask my students what they are going to do on the weekend, they seem to always say, "study." That is probably partially true for my students, but I find it hard to believe it's all the ever do. Some of my students have started telling me other things, and going to JUSCO is the most common answer I get. I actually do see my students there pretty often, so it must be true.

We finished the day off at Kappazushi, the conveyor belt sushi place with the shinkansen that brings your special orders. A few weeks ago, we saw some people take down the touch ordering screen. Dion, Neil and I decided that we should try to do it too. I took it out of the plastic holder, but decided that it looked too much like a power cord and that we shouldn't unplug it. Dion and Neil weren't ready to give up, so Neil pulled the cord and the screen went black! We tried to plug it back in, but that restarted the whole thing and it came up with the regular computer start menu and we couldn't get back to the ordering screen. Dion had to swallow his pride and go tell the workers that "Uh....our ordering screen isn't working, I don't know what h appened." We ended up moving tables and it took 3 of the workers including a manager to get the thing working again. Needless to say, we'd learned our lesson and thought we dreamed it up that we had seen others do the same thing.

Basking in the glory of our success

Well, on Saturday, Colin and I saw the table across from us had taken down their screen! I was in shock. We didn't know what to do. Should we chance it again and risk embarrassment? In the true spirit of adventure and discovery, we decided to test out the theory one more time. With a watchful eye on the staff person near us, Colin bravely pulled the cord to the ordering screen and Voila! It turns out you CAN take down the ordering screen. What an adventure.

Check out the rest of the fall pictures here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I'm Famous!

In September the Fujinomiya Association for International Relations had a round table discussion with some of the foreign teachers in Fujinomiya. They asked us questions like, "What's your favorite thing about Japan?" and "What surprised you when you moved here?" The gave us a bunch of candy, soda and chips and proceeded to publish a translation of the discussion along with terrible pictures of all of us (actually I'm gonna leave out the really bad ones). See below:

The Front Page of the Article

The ALTs in my city

So, was their translation accurate? I haven't the slightest clue. I talked about Mt. Fuji, the level of my students English, and about being afraid when the last big earthquake hit. I haven't had any students come up to me to get my autograph yet...I don't know what's wrong with them.

Happy Halloween!

On Friday, my English Club had their Halloween Party. Here are some photos from the festivities:

I dressed up as a witch, pretty original I know! But the kids liked it anyway, and even called me "cute," which I was far from...

Let the mummy wrapping race begin...

The finished product! Winner for "Best Mummy."

This kid isn't even an English Club student...some kids just randomly joined the party. They decided to make this boy a "girl" mummy.

I'm really unsure where these "costumes" came from, but it was an interesting addition to our out of control party :)

I hope you all had a fabulous Halloween! Trick or Treat?!